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Monday, 19 February 2018

Releasing negative anchors

An anchor in general terms is something which holds a ship in place by connecting it to the bottom of the sea. When we talk about anchors in therapy, we mean a response which holds the client in a particular emotional state by connecting them to a specific thought or experience.

You probably have some anchors of your own - situations in which an environmental trigger is associated with an immediate emotional response.
  • Do you and your partner feel more loving when you hear 'your song'?
  • Does the smell of your Mum's favourite perfume make you feel secure?
  • Does the sound of the sea bring to mind an image of your favourite holiday beach and create feelings of peace?
If so, these feelings have become associated in your mind ('anchored') to whatever sets them off (usually called a 'trigger').

We often use this idea in hypnotherapy. Suggestions like 'whenever you squeeze two fingers together you will feel just as calm and relaxed as you do now' are designed to give the client control over their emotional state by anchoring positive emotions to pressure on the finger tips. They can then consciously choose to use this to elicit these feelings whenever they need them.

However, some anchors are neither useful nor positive. For example, I once had a client who experienced high levels of anxiety around florescent yellow because the colour was associated in his mind with the night he was in a bad road traffic accident. (There were a lot of emergency service personnel at the scene, all wearing bright yellow high-viz jackets.)

When presented with these we need a way of removing the association - this particular approach is called 'collapsing the negative anchor'.

Collapsing anchors

Essentially the technique involves setting up opposing positive and negative anchors, then allowing the positive one to overcome the other. I use closed hands (like a fist) for the two anchors because it makes step eleven feel very dramatic and satisfying. Also if you are new to the technique it ensures you never forget which anchor to release first; no-one would ever throw away good feelings and keep bad ones!
  1. Start with both hands relaxed and open in the lap.
  2. Ask the client how they would like to feel when they come across the negative trigger. Ideally this will be a strong positive feeling rather than something neutral. Look for words like confidence, courage, relaxation.
  3. Ask them to remember any situation in which they have experienced those emotions very powerfully. This doesn't have to be related in any way to the issue you are dealing with.
  4. Ask them to immerse themselves in remembering and re-experiencing that emotion, then to close one hand into a fist. The other should remain open and relaxed on the lap. Imagine the feelings coming to and from the fist and the rest of the body. This should anchor the positive feelings to the action of closing that hand into a fist.
  5. Gently relax the hand to an open position on their lap and bring their attention completely back to the here and now. (You could ask them to shift position or answer a random question like 'what shoe size are you? to achieve this.)
  6. Check the positive anchor is set by asking them to close their hand: it should feel good when they do this. Relax the hand and bring them back to the here and now again.
  7. Next repeat these steps, anchoring the negative feelings you're working with onto the action of closing the opposite hand before bringing them back to the here and now.
  8. Test the anchor as before (it should feel uncomfortable to close the 'negative' hand) then bring them back to the here and now again.

    Now comes the collapse!
  9. Trigger both anchors simultaneously by closing both fists.
    The effect of doing this can feel a bit odd because the brain is essentially being asked to feel two contrasting emotions at the same time. Given this choice most will swing back and forth a bit but then choose the positive ones.
  10. Ask the client to keep both fists closed but tell you once any confusion or oddness subsides.
  11. When this happens, ask the client to keep the 'positive' hand closed while they 'throw away' the negative anchor, then put the 'negative' hand open on their lap. A grand gesture of flinging the unwanted feelings as far away as they can makes most people feel very good.
  12. After a moment or two ask them to relax the 'positive' hand open on the lap as well.
  13. Test that the process has worked by trying the negative hand alone, and then by thinking about the old negative trigger (the colour yellow in my example). You should find that the client’s feelings are neutral, or even positive.
  14. If not, you'll need to make the positive anchor stronger, and repeat.
This is a very useful desensitisation technique and can be used for phobias, trauma, exam nerves, residual feelings about an ex, jealousy, and many other situations where a single trigger sets off an unwanted emotion.

Want more tips?
You'll find other techniques discussed on this blog, and if you'd like my free ebook on working with the six step part re-frame, please sign up for it HERE.
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Author: is an experienced hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy trainer. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and has co-written the Hypnotherapy Handbook, both of which are available from Amazon.
Find out more about Debbie's services on
Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training - multi accredited hypnotherapy practitioner training, taster days and foundation levels.
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