How to stop being so hard on yourself Using the Techniques of Association and Dissociation

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stop being hard on yourself


Have you ever considered the possibility that you could learn to be your own best friend?

That might sound like crazy talk for those of us who have a history of being too hard on ourselves. Yet there exists a set of techniques that truly allow us to utilize the power of our incredible imaginations and become genuine friends to ourselves. These techniques are called association and dissociation, and they work by allowing us to shift our perspectives. 


Basics of Association and Dissociation:

The core component of dissociation is seeing yourself in a picture at a distance, while association involves being inside the body experiencing physical sensations. Simply put, dissociating means seeing yourself as outside your own body, while associating involves going into the body fully and inhabiting it. 


Benefits of Association and Dissociation:

These techniques can be useful to help you improve your mood. If you are feeling low, and unpleasant thoughts and memories arise in your mind you can dissociate from them to provide a bit of space between yourself and the thoughts, and lessen their potency. Alternatively, if there are pleasant thoughts and memories arising you can associate into them in order to gain some energy and enjoyment from the experience.

Association and dissociation can be found in Unit 4 module 7 of the iNLP practitioner’s course.


Here is the story of how I first learned the paradigm-shifting strategy of becoming a good friend to myself using the skills of association and dissociation.


In 2018, I went to a monastery in northern California to volunteer and meditate. While there I met a very interesting man who, aside from founding and running a non-profit company in Africa, was studying for medical school. While we were cooking food for the community in the kitchen, I noticed that he had a tattoo on his arm of the algebraic squared ² symbol above his name. I asked him what the meaning of this was, and he proceeded to share his story with me involving the technique he learned that made some incredibly positive changes in his life. This is how he became the squared version of himself. 

He divulged that he had a difficult childhood growing up and was constantly too hard on himself. Luckily, he discovered a strategy that helped him turn the tide of negative internal self-talk into wholesome self-talk. 

He first dissociated from his own body and associated it into a new character, imagining himself as if he were his own close friend that deeply cared about his well-being. He would look at his life as if he was this friend, and as a result, started using much kinder language and followed advice that was more supportive and conducive to his well-being. 


This dissociative technique afforded him many insights and it became a powerful and positive tool in his life, so much so that he got the squared symbol tattoo as a reminder of the tool’s efficacy. I related to his experience of being hard on himself growing up and was inspired by his creative use of association and dissociation. 

I’ve utilized this technique in my own life as well, and it has provided me with a much-needed perspective and a broadened range of choices. 

For instance, I tend to get frustrated about the length of time it takes me to develop and grow in various practices like meditation and reading. I want to develop patience and concentration now! Why isn’t it progressing at the pace I want it to? 

When I dissociate and then associate into the perspective of my own good friend who cares for my well-being, I tell myself that these things take time and that I should cut myself a bit of slack. I tell myself to seek contexts and situations where my environment will support training and growth, like signing up for a semester of school or something along those lines. Association and dissociation allow me to walk out of a stuck state and into a solution-oriented state.


How to Apply Association and Dissociation in NLP:

To practice dissociation in NLP, you can imagine yourself standing in the corner of your room or talk about yourself in the third person. To practice association, you can use feeling-oriented language and imagine immersing yourself in the body. 

The new behavior generator is a perfect technique taught by the iNLP center that utilizes both association and dissociation. In the new behavior generator, you dissociate in order to get a neutral perspective regarding a problem you are facing, and then generate other possible actions that would be beneficial and useful. 

association and dissociation

Here is an example of how it works:

One of my friends was studying for an important upcoming finance test and was having trouble settling down and getting into a concentrated state of mind. I guided him through the new behavior generator in order to identify possible novel choices he could implement into his study habits. The steps are as follows:

  • First, I asked him to close his eyes and imagine himself at a distance, in the problem environment with his desk and study materials in front, feeling frustrated and ill-at-ease. Watching himself feel this way as an outsider, as a neutral observer.
  • Then I asked him to imagine some alternative behaviors instead of just sitting there in frustration. He imagined himself breathing in deeply and slowly, focusing his attention on his breath and imagined some new thought patterns that could be useful. For example, he realized that he would be able to leave and go do fun things as soon as he got his work done.
  • Next, I asked him to associate into his body and imagine himself in the study environment using these new techniques. I made sure he was comfortable with these new choices by asking him to reflect on whether or not he felt these new behaviors were appropriate. 
  • I then asked him to return to his own sense of his physical body, and then to imagine a time in the future in which he is using these new techniques.


Afterward, he commented that the new behavior generator was a great experience and he definitely wants to do it more often in the future. 

The new behavior generator serves as a catalyst for creativity by allowing us to step outside of ourselves and role-play as a neutral observer, and then experience what it would be like to have more powerful behavioral options to choose from. 

The above post was provided by my guest host Lisa Smith at the iNLP Center.

I hope everyone enjoyed this article.

To your continued success, 





P.S. You may be interested in this Discover How And Why Some People Have Their Every Wish Granted By Doing Nothing But Speaking…While Others Work Themselves To The Bone Only To Wind Up Broke, Unhappy And Lonely.

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