NLP Perceptual Positions: What Are They and How Do They Work?

Filed under: NLP Techniques

by Timothy September

The way you view the world and the way someone else views the world is entirely different. Of course, everybody understands this simple concept, but not in the way we are about to explain it.

According to neurolinguistic programming (NLP), there are 3 different ways a person can perceive their reality! The best part is that anyone is able to jump into these three positions at any given time.

They are called perceptual positions. Unknowingly, you jump in and out of each of the three positions throughout your day.

Each of the different perceptual positions have their own pro’s and con’s, and reasons behind why a person may want to jump from one to another. 

While the 3 perceptual positions sound like you have to physically move somewhere, that’s quite the opposite. These individual positions are all inside of your mind and are the way you view reality.

We've made an excellent Youtube video about NLP perceptual positions. Check it out below, then come back here and read the rest of the blog post 😉

With that said, let’s dive in!

Position 1 - The “I” Position (Ego)

As stated in the subheadline, the first position we are going to discuss is Position 1, which is known as the position of ego, self, or ‘I’.

This self position is where you are able to feel your emotions the most. When you are within the “I” position, you are fully encapsulating yourself within your body and viewing the world through your own eyes.

In other words, you are in your skin looking through your own eyes, and are aware that it is you who is experiencing reality in that moment.

When you are in this position, you are owning your emotions and taking responsibility for them. 

If you are in 1st position, you’ll use “I” or “I am” statements quite a lot.

“When I am feeling X…”
“I like X…”
“I would enjoy X…”

In a therapeutic setting, having the client use “I” statements can help them fully embrace how they feel and take responsibility for their emotions. This can help them become clear on goals and take part in the process.

If someone is stuck in position 1, meaning it’s difficult for them to jump into other perceptual positions, you’ll know it for certain.

These types of people can seem narcissistic, where they constantly talk about themselves, make everything about them, and fail to consider other points of view.

Note: The technical term is “dickishness.” Also, as a bonus, the scientific name for someone stuck in position 1 is “dickus-knoggin-narcissus.” 

In other words, being stuck in position 1 can kind of make you seem like a dick. 

Position 2 - Empathy

Second position is all about others and is called the position of empathy.

We want to be clear though, empathy and sympathy are completely different.

Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone else and is from a place of needing to comfort. Empathy though is embodying how the other person may be feeling as though we are them.

Simply put, empathy is about feeling the other person’s feelings.

Experienced therapists are naturally able to move into second position when working with clients. This gives them the resources needed to be able to mentally place themselves in their clients shoes and really consider how they must be feeling in their situation or circumstance.

Being empathetic can build strong rapport and connection with other people, especially when working with others therapeutically or in a coaching relationship. 

Empathy = Caring

It isn’t all puppy dogs and rainbows though. Being stuck in position 2 can have some negative effects on your life. 

If you are stuck in the position of empathy, you’ll make everything about other people. You probably experience feeling like a doormat or let people walk all over you.

Being in this position can be difficult to say “no” to other people because you are always gauging your response based on the emotional level of the other person.

In other words, if you are stuck in position 2, you are probably a really caring and compassionate person, which is also one of your biggest downfalls. You’ll do just about anything to make others happy, even if it means sacrificing your own feelings.

It’s great to dip in and out of second position, but allowing yourself to return to first position can help quickly remedy being stuck in empathy.

Position 3 - They and Them

Imagine having a camera somewhere above you, like a wall or maybe the corner of the ceiling. Imagine that camera is pointing down at you and looking at you reading this blogpost.Imagine you are now looking through the lens of that camera, watching yourself through the camera reading this blog post. You have just successfully dissociated, which is exactly what position 3 is in neurolinguistic programming. The third position is about they and them.

When a person is dissociated or external, it’s difficult to feel or attach emotion. This is great because it allows a more objective view.

If you saw a few people sitting at a table having a conversation and they were complete strangers to you, then you wouldn’t have any specific feeling about them, would you?Position 3 allows you to look at a certain situation or circumstance in the same way you would look at two strangers sitting at a table.

The unfortunate thing though is if you spend a lot of time in third position you can appear cold and distant or uncaring. 

So What Do You Do?

The truth is, if you are able to be flexible and shift between each of the perceptual positions, your life will be much more enjoyable and fruitful. It will feel as though you finally have some choice in the matter when it comes to your emotions.

If you are feeling critical of yourself or have experienced criticism with family and peers, then you can shrink that memory or experience down so you are looking at it like it’s a piece of artwork. Then take that artwork and hang it up, put a little plaque next to it describing what it means to you, and then add a little museum light.Imagine you are moving between each of the perceptual positions as if it was happening. The As If frame will allow you to naturally jump between the three positions.

Use your imagination and think “as if” you are looking through your own eyes in Position 1, able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes in Position 2, or as though you are watching the situation from a safe distance away in Position 3.

Another thing you can do, if you were to choose to do so, is check out one of our newest products called NLP Essentials.

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"I absolutely love the online course. It completely changed my life and consulting career. The information is the best I've ever seen. You guys are incredible at what you do. I love the course so much."

Jason Cyrus