How to Gain Confidence


NLP ConfidenceConfidence is one of those things that can help in every aspect of your life, and can be gained or strengthed quite easily using NLP. Confidence gained by way of NLP is just as powerful as confidence gained through experience. Once this is understood, and you master the ability to gain confidence through NLP, it becomes a snowballing juggernaut of positivity.

Confidence is a relatively simple psychological tool that provides great power, so why is it so hard for most people to achieve? In my opinion, most of the blame can be put on the fact that all humans spend the first dozen years of their life actively attacking the confidence of all around them. Some people stop this in their teens, others do this their whole lives. This is because of the flawed human instinct that you can gain confidence yourself by destroying the confidence of others. Luckily, this particular flaw we can turn around to work for us.

Take the picture on the top of this page, with the cat who sees himself as a lion. When other cats see him, they don’t see a lion, they see a cat. But the cat’s body language will show to all the other cats that he holds himself in high regard. The other cats will think that the lion cat is very sure of himself, and probably for a good reason. After all, throughout lion cat’s childhood, he must have been thoroughly “tested” by all the other kittens – yet he has such confidence! No other cat will question this confidence, they will simply accept it.


How confidence works

Confidence works as a self-fueling cycle, either for the postive or for the negative. That is why once your confidence is damaged, it can be difficult to send it back on the right path. The following is an example of a negative confidence cycle:


I am meeting some new people for the first time. How am I feeling about this?


Body reflects anxiety. Tense up. Be defensive and do not open up to further emotional damage. This reflects in our body language.


Last time I met some new people, they didn’t like me. I was just being myself. I am clearly not a likeable person. I better act differently.


Oh no! The feelings were bad last time. Don’t let this happen again! Sense of doom and worry!


Now compare that to the following, which is a positive confidence cycle:


I am meeting some new people for the first time. How am I feeling about this?


Body is feeling great. I am relaxed and happy, and this will shine through in my body language and voice.


Last time I met some new people, they liked me. I was just being myself. It seemed to work well. I’ll just be myself again.


I enjoyed the acceptance I gained in my last encounter. I will enjoy this one. Feeling of enjoyment is activated.

How to gain confidence using NLP

Here is a script I’ve written that can show you how to gain confidence using NLP. You can adapt this script to suit your own purpose.


Step one – Do not hold confidence in awe!

If you hold the notion of confidence in awe or fear, you are telling yourself that it is a powerful thing that will be difficult to get. You need to understand that confidence is just a tiny little emotional loop happening in your brain’s limbic system. That is all confidence is! Believe it or not, you have complete power over your confidence right now and at all times.


Step two – Picture confidence as a golden aura around you

Imagine a very, extremely confident person. Let’s call this imaginary person Confido. Picture him walking up to a group of strangers at a party and starts talking with them. They instantly love him, because he is so friendly and confident. It is clear that Confido knew everyone would love him before he even started speaking. Picture a golden aura surrounding him that only you can see. This is his confidence.

You can take this aura and bring it over yourself. Feel how the confidence flows around you. Everything feels natural and you are confident to do anything you want.


Step three – Feel how it is to be 100% confident in a known setting

While you are doing this, you must set an NLP Anchor – I suggest pressing your left thumbnail into your left index finger in a pulsing motion.

Take a memory where you were doing something you really enjoy and feel safe about. Maybe reading a good book on the beach, or talking to a close friend in a comfortable setting. What can you see? What can you hear? Strongly reestablish the setting around you as vividly as possible. Describe it to yourself out loud, right now. Pay attention to your posture – do you look relaxed or defensive? How does it feel to be so confident? You feel sure of yourself, relaxed, and you have a feeling of knowing that things are going well. Make this feeling of confidence as strong and vivid as you can before moving to the next step.

Continue to reinforce this anchor, and every time you feel the confidence, press the anchor again. Each time you do so, let the feeling of confidence double and surge. You must associate the emotional feeling of confidence with the physical sensation of the anchor.


Step four – Feel how it is to be 100% confident in an unknown setting

During this step, whenever there is blue text, you should reinforce your confidence anchor.

Take the feeling of confidence and keep it flowing as you put yourself in a new, imaginary setting. Picture yourself speaking to strangers with 100% confidence. Picture yourself at the party, walking up to a group of strangers who are talking amongst themselves. You have the confident posture of a confident person. You KNOW that because you are 100% confident, you will get along fine with this group. As soon as you approach, the strangers smile with their eyes, you FEEL they are interested in you. You start talking and merge right in with their conversation. The group takes you in as one of their own 100% seamlessly. Mind you are not acting differently, you are being yourself, and everyone loves it. Feel how confident you are just being yourself.

Continue to reinforce this anchor, and every time you feel the confidence, press the anchor again. You must associate the emotional feeling of confidence with the physical sensation of the anchor.


Step five – Take a snapshot of yourself in the confident world

What you’ve just done is imagined yourself being yourself and feeling very confident. You now have a memory of yourself in a very confident state. Even though it is imagined, your unconscious mind cannot tell the difference between an imagined memory and a real memory. In fact, there have been cases where grown-up children have falsely prosecuted parents for child abuse, when in fact the memories were imagined and developed by the probing of incompetent psychiatrists.

I want you to take a snapshot of that memory we’ve just created. Something that encompasses the height of the confident feeling. Now take the snapshot and make it bolder and more vivid. Bring it closer to you, make it larger, the size of a large wall. Make the snapshot detailed and realistic. Feel the feeling of the snapshot, and reinforce the anchor. Make everything as large, bold, and vivid as you possibly can.

Now double it again! Step into the snapshot. Look through your own eyes in that confident setting, feel the confidence as strongly as you can, and reinforce the anchor again. Keep doing this for a good minute or two.

Step six – Use the anchor

Now go use it! Use your anchor and let all the feelings of confidence come flooding in. If it isn’t working very well, then go back to step one and repeat everything. Once you get the hang of this, you’ll truly understand that confidence is a tiny little loop in your mind that you can switch on at will. The logic is undeniable:

  1. By feeling more confident, you appear more confident
  2. By appearing more confident, people react to you in a positive way
  3. When people react to you in a positive way, it reinforces your confidence
  4. (Go to point 1)


Failsafe way of gaining confidence

Of course, if NLP Confidence doesn’t come naturally to you, and you can’t be bothered practicing it and mastering it, you can always just act confident instead. It can be difficult to do because you’ll need to adopt all the correct body language of a confident person.

To do this, just imagine the most confident person doing whatever it is they do. Watch them talk, look at their body language (most importantly) and listen to how their voice sounds. Some tips:

  • Adopt an open posture. No crossed legs or folded arms.
  • Make your neck tall and shoulders relaxed, as if you were trying to see over a wall that was very slightly taller than your eye level. Like a meerkat who is looking for a predator. You know what I mean.
  • Speak clearly and with volume, remember what you’re saying is worth hearing.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously, humour is the most universal language and can help prevent conflict with alpha-male and attention-envy types.
  • Don’t be judgemental to others – but let yourself be open to judgement from others. This relaxes people around you, and helps bring down the barriers between you.
  • Otherwise you can always cheat and use subliminals. In a nutshell, these MP3s talk to your subconscious directly and teach you how to do all sorts of useful things, without you even realising it. Remember that scene from The Matrix where they upload the information for how to do Kung Fu directly into Neo’s brain? Subliminals are pretty much the same thing.
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Virginia Satir – 1916 – 1988 is often referred to as “The Mother of Family System Therapy”. Rather than placing her focus on illness, Satir’s style came to be based on personal growth. She was concerned with the health and healing of each individual human spirit by connecting with a universal life force.
As early as age five, she recalled that she knew what she wanted to do when she grew up, apparently saying “I’d be a children’s detective on parents”. She was educated at the University of Chicago and received her Master’s degree from their School of Social Service Administration. She worked at the Dallas Child Guidance Centre and at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute. Later she helped start the Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. She was instrumental in forming the first formal programme of Family Therapy in the USA.
Her first book was published in 1964 and called Conjoint Family Therapy. Satir helped people to reshape their way of problem solving into more positive ways, she is quoted as saying ” Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem. Coping is the outcome of self-worth, rules of the family systems, and links to the outside world.” She recommends that a person pursue their dreams instead of trying to determine whether the dreams can be realized or not.
She used techniques that blended Eastern meditations and spirituality and incorporated them along with affirmations in her work. She helped people redesign their lives using a variety of techniques such as deep breathing and visualization. She said that “dreams and wishes go together” and encouraged students to use affirmations such as “I own me. I can engineer me.”
Satir taught her students that people learn beliefs from their family but that as adults these beliefs may no longer be useful to the individual. Being afraid to take a risk or letting fear stifle a person are ways of thinking and feeling that no longer serve that person’s best interests. In addition to teaching and writing, Satir formed an educational organization in 1977 called the Avanta Network. The Network continues to provide workshops today.

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  1. I do not have to feel guilty just because someone else does not like what I do, say, think, or feel.
  2. It is O. K. for me to feel angry and to express it in responsible ways.
  3. I do not have to assume full responsibility for making decisions, particularly where others share responsibility for making the decision.
  4. I have the right to say, “I don’t know.”
  5. I have the right to say “No,” without feeling guilty.
  6. I have the right to say “I don’t understand,” without feeling stupid.
  7. I do not have to apologize or give reasons when I say “No.”
 8. I have the right to ask others to do things for me.
 9. I have the right to refuse requests which others make of me.
 l0. I have the right to tell others when I think they are manipulating, conning or treating me unfairly.
 l1. I have the right to refuse additional responsibilities without feeling guilty.
 l2. I have the right to tell others when their behavior annoys me.
 l3. I do not have to compromise my personal integrity.
 l4. I have the right to make mistakes and to be responsible for them; I have the right to be wrong.
 l5. I do not have to be liked, admired, or respected by everyone for everything I do.
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Virginia Satir was a remarkable family therapist who enabled many people to grow. She believed in encouraging them to express their essence. People who met her felt at ease, affirmed and stronger.

Virginia was a marvellous educator. Generating enormous warmth, she employed her intuition, yet underpinned it with a formidable intellect. For example, she pioneered a ‘systems’ approach to family therapy.

She recognised that some families had ‘rules’ – spoken or unspoken – that prevented growth. People got the messages: “It is not okay to see what’s going on; to feel what you feel; to express what you feel; to ask for what you want or to take risks.”

Virginia helped people to communicate clearly and create healthy rules that enabled everybody to grow. Her approach has had influence far beyond family therapy.

* She encouraged people to be their true selves, mobilise their internal strengths – which may have come from overcoming difficulties – and express their essence as people.

* She enabled people to build enriching relationships in which individuals were encouraged to develop their uniqueness – their ‘differentness’ – and continue to grow.

* She provided the inspiration for enabling people to build healthy systems – families, teams and organisations – that were based on ‘similarity of spirit’ and ‘diversity of strengths’.

Virginia is recognised as a pioneer in family therapy. When growing up, she saw herself as a ‘detective’. Looking back on her life, Virginia said she was five-years-old when she decided to be a “children’s detective on parents”.

She explained: “I didn’t quite know what I would look for, but I realized a lot went on in families that didn’t meet the eye.” She went on to provide a philosophy and practical tools that have benefited thousands of people.

The Virginia Satir Global Network offers an in-depth view of her approach. They explain that: “Her entire work was done under the umbrella of ‘Becoming More Fully Human’.” You can discover more about her legacy at their site:

(Please note. The images of Virginia in this piece are used with the permission of the Virginia Satir Global Network. All rights reserved.)


1) Philosophy and Background.

Virginia was born in Wisconsin in 1916. She was the eldest of five children born to Oscar and Minnie Pagenkopf, whose ancestors came from Germany. Virginia had several medical setbacks early in life.

She contracted Mastoiditis when aged 5 and lost her hearing for two years. Seven years later she suffered a life-threatening illness.

Minnie was a Christian Scientist and at first resisted calling medical help. Oscar eventually stepped in and insisted that Virginia get treatment. She had a ruptured appendix and spent five months in hospital.

Looking back, Virginia felt she learned positive things from both her parents. Despite the hospital episode, Minnie was ambitious for her eldest daughter, who showed great ability to learn.

For example, Virginia taught herself to read by the age of three. Minnie later insisted the family move from their farm to Milwaukee so that her daughter could attend High School.

Virginia said that Minnie taught her how to fix things; while Oscar taught her the value of honesty. Both embodied strong ethics.

They also taught her to focus on possibilities– and solutions – rather than get dragged down by problems. She would later say: “Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem.”

Virginia studied hard at High School. Money was scarce – America was going through the Depression – so she took jobs to fund her studies. She then went on to the Milwaukee State Teachers College.

Whilst studying to be a teacher, she worked in a department store and with children at weekends. She also worked at an African-American Community Centre called Abraham Lincoln House. This opened her eyes to racism – people being discriminated against because they were different.

Managing and rejoicing in ‘differences’ became a key theme in her later work with families and organisations. Whilst extremely practical, she also encouraged people to explore their possibilities. Many years later she would describe the importance of weaving dreams.

Qualifying from college, Virginia then spent several years working as a schoolteacher. Wanting to broaden her experience, she worked in different cities, including Ann Arbor, St. Louis and Miami, Florida. Deciding to focus on social work, she began doing graduate work at Northwestern University in Chicago in 1937.

Virginia studied on a part-time basis for the first few years – university in the summer, whilst doing her teaching work during the other months. She then switched to full-time study, finishing her coursework by 1943 and her thesis by 1948. (She also got married in 1941 – and divorced in 1949. More of which later.)

Virginia initially found the academic side tough – but she excelled at the practice. The university culture was, to say the least, not conducive to married women who wanted to pursue a career.

Alongside the academic work, she was given a potentially nerve-wracking placement at the Chicago Home for Girls. She flourished in the environment, even without the benefit of ongoing supervision.

Virginia’s approach was considered ‘unconventional’ – but it produced fine results. She would follow this path for the rest of her life. The University of Chicago did finally recognise her gifts. In 1975 it awarded her a ‘Gold Medal’ for service to humankind.

Marriages and a family

Virginia was married twice. The first marriage was to Gordon Rodgers. He was young soldier on leave when they met at a train station. The couple lived together for a few months, but then he was dispatched to do other wartime duties. Early in their marriage, she had an entopic pregnancy, which led to an hysterectomy.

Returning after the war, both she and he felt they had grown apart. They divorced in 1949. She married her second husband, Norman Satir, in 1951 and they divorced in 1957. Interviewed by Carol Blitzer in 1980, Virginia wondered if there had been somebody like her – a family therapist – to help, then maybe things could have worked out. On the other hand, she wanted to roam the globe. She explained:

“… I don’t see how I could have done what I’ve done in the world had I been married … It wouldn’t be fair to me, it wouldn’t be fair to the other people … I really feel it was a kind of destiny because I’ve been able to get to places. There are some people in the world who have other jobs to do.

She did, however, have a family. During the time of her marriage to Gordon she started working with two young women, Mary and Ruth. During her second marriage she formally adopted them. When publishing her book The New People Making, she dedicated it to them, writing:

“To my daughters, Mary & Ruth and their children Tina, Barry, Angela, Scott, Julie, John, and Michael, who helped to texture me.”

Virginia’s pioneering work –
some of her ideas and innovations

Virginia completed the Masters dissertation and set-up her own practice. Looking back on her first therapy session with a whole family in 1951, she realised then the value of seeing the whole picture.

This was, of course, a time when ‘systems theory’ was coming to prominence. Previously the ‘problem child’ was taken away, treated and then put back in the family. Frequently the ‘problem child’ relapsed into their old behaviour.

Certainly the person must take responsibility. But there was also something in the system – such as ‘family pain’ or unresolved issues – that was shifted onto the family scapegoat.

Virginia believed it was vital to help the whole family to grow. During the next decade she pioneered work on family therapy and used many innovative techniques. (See slide below.)

Virginia taught people how to see the family as a system which had certain ‘rules’. Some rules were open, but some might be hidden; some were helpful, others might cause confusion.

The family might, for example, have ‘rules’ about how people got attention. They might get it by giving clear messages, falling sick, creating problems or whatever.

She helped them to identify the ‘rules’ around many topics – such as showing affection, expressing anger and managing differences. People were then able:

* To see the rules.

* To see the consequences.

* To practice the rules they wanted in the future.

Virginia also helped people to identify different communication and behavioural styles. These included:

* The Leveller.

Somebody who took responsibility and gave clear messages; (Later in her career Virginia used the term ‘Congruent’ – rather than ‘Leveller’ – to symbolise such clear communication.)

* The Placater.

Somebody who pleased others and put themselves last. For example, somebody who took the role of ‘perfect child’, later to grow-up to be a martyr;

* The Blamer.

Somebody who blamed others and created arguments;

* The Computer.

Somebody who was scared of expressing feelings and intellectualised emotions;

* The Distracter.

Somebody who distracted, often by behaving in a problematic way. They might do this to get attention or, for example, create a diversion to stop family conversations that were entering difficult territory.

Virginia got family members to play the different roles. This helped them to understand how each role felt and how such a person could be reached.

“People often have good intentions, but poor communication,” said Virginia. So she enabled the family members to practice giving ‘clear messages’, rather than ‘confused messages’ or ‘conflicting messages’.

‘Clear messages’ called for the person clearly expressing what they wanted to communicate. Their words, body and actions must all give the same message.

‘Conflicting messages’ – sometimes known as ‘double messages’ – created difficulties. Parents might urge their 17 year-old-drug addict son to take responsibility, for example, whilst also providing pocket money the son used to buy drugs.

‘Confused messages’ were just that. There was so much uncertainty and camouflaging about the communication that nobody could untangle the message.

Virginia’s used her warmth and insight to educate people about such dynamics. Many were receptive. They felt that, at last, somebody understood their role in the family. She enabled them to create a healthier future.


Virginia spent almost four decades practicing therapy, teaching and running workshops across the world. She started implemented the family approach by herself, then co-operated with Dr. Calmest Gyros at the Illinois Psychiatric Institute.

Moving to California, she worked with Don Jackson and Jules Riskin, founding the Mental Health Research Institute in Menlo Park. Backed by the US National Institute for Mental Health, she led the first formal training in family therapy in 1962.

The books and workshops


Virginia published her first book Conjoint Family Therapy in 1964. This was addressed to professionals and written in the form of a ‘manual’.

Therapists found it extremely useful because it contained specific guidelines, for example, on how to ‘take a family chronology’ – interviewing the couple about the history of their families.

Virginia saw this as in important part of the first session, particularly when the therapist asked the couple:

“When did you first meet? Who saw who first? What did you feel then? Who made the first approach? What happened next?”

There were several aims with such questions.

* To tell the story of the family’s history, especially with the children listening.

* To help the couple remember – and maybe rekindle – the magic they felt when first meeting.

* To then go back further into each parent’s family and understand the parental models they had when growing up.

This information provided clues about the parent’s behaviour and helped them to understand their own communication styles.

Conjoint Family Therapy was a great book for therapists. (My colleagues and I used it on the two-month long family therapy training programmes we ran in London in the early 1970s.)

Virginia was a magical teacher – something that was hard to transfer to the ‘manual-type’ book. She put her heart and soul into her next book, however, which was called Peoplemaking.

This was published in 1972. (It was followed later by a re-written version, called The New Peoplemaking.) This book helped Virginia to reach a much wider audience. Full of drawings and written in a personal style, it reached people’s hearts as well as their heads.


Speaking directly to the reader, she explained the different communication styles – the Leveller, Placater, Blamer, Computer and Distracter.

She also introduced the idea of ‘Pot’ – ‘high pot’ or ‘low pot’ – to indicate a person’s level of self-worth. (We will explore this concept later.) Peoplemaking presented a great leap forward. Many more people became aware of her work.

Virginia was now travelling far and wide. She ran workshops in America, Canada, Mexico, South America, Europe and Asia.

Her students were also spreading the word. This led to an increased demand for training and for many years she held month-long workshops in Crested Butte, Colorado.

Family sculpture

Virginia was able to move from the ‘concept’ to the ‘concrete’, often bringing ideas to life in a physical way. When running workshops for therapists, she would invite a volunteer to do a ‘family sculpture’.

Let’s imagine, for example, that the volunteer had grown up as the eldest sister in a family where:

– The parents were far apart;

– The mother pushed herself down;

– The father turned his back to the family;

– The eldest sister (the volunteer who was sculpting her own family) acted as ‘mother’ to the family, whilst neglecting her own needs;

– The youngest sister took the role of ‘sick child’, which was maybe the only way of getting attention;

– The brother sat in his room, but occasionally made contact with the eldest sister.

Choosing people from the workshop, the volunteer made a physical representation – a sculpture – of her family. While arranging the people in their appropriate positions, she ‘talked through’ what was actually happening in the family. She explained the relationships, the communications and the roles played by the parents and siblings.

After explaining ‘how the family was’, the volunteer might then sculpt ‘how she wanted it to be’.

Completing the two sculptures, she would then step back and ask the ‘actors’ to move from: a) how it was, to; b) how she wanted it to be. This showed the actual ‘movements’ people would have needed to take to make this happen.

The family sculpture exercise could obviously be quite emotional: but it was vital for therapists to understand their own family backgrounds. They could then use this exercise with real-life families in the future.

I have seen it work superbly, for example, with troubled families. Each person – the mother, father and each child – sculpted how they saw the family at the moment. They followed by showing how they wanted it to be.

The ‘physical movements’ between the two scenarios showed the possible changes people could make to create their ideal family. Virtually every family found the exercise to be helpful.

Virginia’s ongoing legacy

Virginia spent the rest of her life travelling the world, running workshops and laying the foundations for another book. She also set up several networks. She founded The Avanta Network in 1977, which is now known as The Virginia Satir Global Network. As mentioned earlier, this is the main site covering her work, but also provides links to many other sites around the world. You can find it at:

Virginia was a remarkable teacher. It is hard to capture her warmth in wisdom in words. There are few videos of her available in the public domain, though some can be obtained from the various sites dedicated to her work.

One short video is available on YouTube. Virginia herself does not speak at length until near the end, but it is well worth waiting for.

She gives a glimpse of the warmth and knowledge that she generated. You can find it at:


During her final years Virginia began work on another book, called The Third Birth. She saw the first birth as when the ovum and sperm unite. The second birth was actually coming into the world. The third birth was: “When we become our own decision-makers.”

She saw this as when we take charge of our lives, develop our uniqueness and give what we can to the planet. Sounds simple and obvious; but there are many implications to truly making it happen. The Third Birth was not published in finished form, but the manuscript can be found The Virginia Satir Global Network.


Virginia kept teaching but, in May 1988, experienced severe stomach pains. She continued work and began her annual workshop at Crested Butte. One of the participants was a physician and he recommended she get medical treatment immediately as her colouring was yellow.

She agreed to see someone in Gunnison and was flown then to Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto. She was diagnosed as having pancreatic cancer which had also spread to her liver.

Virginia chose to spend her remaining months at home. She chose to pursue a nutritional approach to healing, rather than chemotherapy. By August, however, she was feel extremely ill, and chose to rest. Margareta Suarez quotes Virginia writing the following note:

“To all my friends, colleagues and family: I send you love. Please support me in my passage to a new life. I have no other way to thank you than this.

“You have all played a significant part in my development of loving. As a result, my life has been rich and full, so I leave feeling very grateful.”

Virginia died on September 10, 1988. Following her request, she was cremated and her grave is in Mounts of Crested Butte, Colorado.

Her legacy continues to live, however, in her books, networks and the many students who practice her philosophy around the world. Here a site that continues her great work.

2) Principles.

Virginia pursued certain beliefs to help people grow. Today some of these seem obvious, but it is important to consider the time – and the context – within which she was working.

Bearing this in mind, let’s explore some of the key principles she followed to help people pursue their chosen paths in life.

* People can be true to themselves and grow.

“Sounds obvious, of course you have to be true to yourself,” somebody may say. Agreed, but try saying that in 1975 to, for example:

– The 44-year-old mother who cares for everybody else in the family, denies her own feelings and is suffering from illnesses as two of her children prepare to leave home;

– The 45-year-old father who gave up his dreams to take a steady job in the steelworks to feed the family, but now the factory is closing;

– The 17-year-old daughter who wants to please her parents. She has studied hard and is going to university to study Law, but she is unsure this is the right thing. Maybe she can return to her first love, music, later in life;

– The 18-year-old son who fights with his father. They were closest when he played for the College football team, but have since drifted apart. He has opted to go into the army. Maybe that will bring him what he needs;

– The 8-year-old-daughter who feels lonely. Always shy and in her own world, she has recently felt ill, but nobody will believe her. How can she attract people’s attention?

Virginia believed in helping people to fulfil their potential. Although she saw her job as to help relieve the ‘family pain’, she did this in a positive way.

She often began by asking the couple to relive the magic of when they first met – and then ask each family member about the best times in the family. Most of all, however, she conveyed to each person the message:

“I understand. You want the best for your loved ones – and you are doing your best. Sometimes it is confusing that things don’t work out how you intended. Let’s look at how to make them better.”

She provided a sense of affirmation in two ways, starting with: ‘How things are.’ She recognised the realness of people’s feelings. ‘Madness’ can result from initially believing in your own feelings, but these being ignored or, even worse, disqualified by others.

This causes panic for individuals suffering from, for example, sexual or other abuse. The person wants to cry out:

“See, I am hurting. Now you tell me I’m not. Please help.”

Virginia encouraged people to speak about their real feelings and then moved on to their aspirations: ‘How things could be.’ She helped people to build on their strengths – the life-experience they had built up, especially from the tough times – and stretch to achieve their goals.

Reaching them was not a given, however, because people had to work hard. Lynne Namka, one of Virginia’s students, came from a family where people hid their feelings. She recalls asking her:

“Virginia, do you mean you can really ask for what you want?” She slapped her knee and said, “Honey, you can always ask for what you want!” She added: “Say what you mean and mean what you say. Ask for what you want but know you will not always get it.”

You can read more about Lynne’s view of Virginia at:


Virginia encouraged people to be their true selves, but some found this difficult. So she helped them to express what she called The Five Freedoms. (See below.)

Virginia had the ability: a) To accept and affirm what somebody was feeling; b) To enable them to take responsibility for shaping their future.

This meant acknowledging their experience, but drawing strength from it to help themselves and others, rather than dwell on it. She had both:

* The first empathy.

This is empathising with the person’s actual situation. You are able to see, feel and experience the world from the person’s point of view.

* The second empathy.

This is empathising with the person’s aspirations. You are able to connect with the person and give voice to their aspirations – maybe some they haven’t even thought of yet – then enable them to achieve these goals.

Virginia encouraged people to take charge of their futures. When asked by an angry fifteen-year-old girl about how she could live a fulfilling life, Virginia wrote and sent her a poem called I Am Me. The poem is now well-known and here is an excerpt. You can find the full text at:


Virginia wanted people to have self-knowledge, but not to be self-indulgent. How to make this happen?

She believed the key lay in connecting with other people and building relationships in which everybody developed. This leads to another principle she followed in her work.

* People can build enriching relationships that enable everybody to grow.

Being real was crucial – and so was building real relationships. Virginia saw the family as the crucible in which so much was formed.

She talked about the triad of mother, father and child. She said things like: “If we can heal families, we can heal the world.”

Much of her work was done in a time when the conventional ‘family unit’ was considered the norm – and she may well have developed her ideas as new forms of families evolved.

Virginia believed we all needed affection, acceptance and affirmation. This would give us the strength to adventure. Connection was the key. She said:

“I believe the greatest gift I can conceive of having from anyone is to be seen by them, heard by them, to be understood and touched by them …

“The greatest gift I can give is to see, hear, understand and to touch another person … When this is done I feel contact has been made.”

Communication was crucial, but relationships could still go wrong. Some would be rewarding, but others might be painful.

How to recognise which were helpful and which were hurtful? How to deal with these relationships in the future? Here is an exercise that Virginia inspired to help individuals understand their levels of self confidence.

The Self Confidence Pot

When the Pagenkopf family lived on a farm in Wisconsin, they had a giant pot in the kitchen. The pot had multiple uses, one of which was to make soup. (Virginia tells many stories about the uses of the pot, but we will explore this one in particular.)

Returning home from school, the children wanted to know how much soup was in the pot, asking: “Is the pot high or low?”

The terms ‘high pot’ and ‘low pot’ passed into their language, becoming short-hand for asking about other things. For example: “How is your pot today?” was a quick way of asking: “How are you feeling – high or low?”

Virginia built on this idea and created many different exercises on the theme. Here is one she inspired that develops the original idea. It invites you to go through three steps.

Step 1: You can clarify your level of self confidence.

How high is your self confidence? Sometimes in our lives we feel up, sometimes we feel down. There are many reasons for this – but here is one explanation. Start by drawing an imaginary pot. (See below.)

Looking at the pot, draw a line that corresponds with how high you feel your self confidence is today. If you have high confidence, draw it high up the pot. If your confidence is low, draw it at a lower point in the pot. The next step explores why it may be at this level.

Step 2: You can clarify your ‘pot fillers’ and ‘pot drillers’.

Write the names of your ‘pot fillers’. These are the people who give you encouragement and energy.

You look forward to seeing them and feel more alive after meeting them. Also, describe the things you do to give yourself energy – such as listening to music, reading, gardening or whatever.

If you have lots of things that give you positive energy, then your pot will be overflowing – and you will be more able to pass-on encouragement to other people.

But there may be complications, which brings us to the next part of the exercise.

Write the names of your ‘pot drillers’. These are people who sap energy. They leave you feeling drained and discouraged.

The more significant they are in your life, the nearer they will be to the base. You may also do things to drill holes in your own pot.

Some people may, of course, be both pot fillers and pot drillers. They may have a ‘pleasing – hurting’ pattern. Sometimes they are positive then, without warning, they lash out. Clarify the specific things these people do to encourage or drain you.

Step 3: You can clarify how you can raise your self confidence level

How can you raise your confidence and also encourage other people? Here are some suggestions you may wish to consider.

a) Spend more time with people who give you energy.

Start by spending time with your encouragers. If possible, only work with colleagues you find stimulating. People often find that, as they get older, they spend more time with personal and professional soul mates.

Encourage yourself. Do more of the things you love, for example, listening to music, skiing, visiting the theatre or whatever. Pursuing these activities will put more energy into your pot.

b) Spend less time – or no time – with people who drain energy.

Radical changes are difficult to make overnight but, unless the holes are filled, encouragement will simply flow out of the bottom. You can do two things with the stoppers.

– Stop seeing people who drain energy.

Why take such a drastic step? Energy is life. You need pure energy, rather than poisonous energy. This step may be difficult but, unless the holes are filled, encouragement will simply flow out of the bottom.

For example, two of the main reasons why people leave their jobs are: a) They are working for a manager who makes life difficult each day; b) They are doing work that no longer gives them a sense of fulfilment. So they begin searching for satisfying work with a manager whom they respect.

– Start making clear contracts with the people who both encourage and stop you.

Reward the positive. Give clear messages about the specific things you do like them doing. Explain how you would like to build on these parts of the relationship.

Give positive alternatives to the negative. Say: “In the future, is it possible for you to …” or “I would prefer it if you …”

Present suggestions, rather than label them as ‘bad’. Don’t expect people to respond immediately; everybody needs time to lick their wounds. Don’t argue or fall into the blame game.

What if the person refuses to respond? Then make the decision whether to stay or leave.

c) Be an encourager – a pot filler – for other people.

Encourage other people and they are more likely to support you. Give and give – but don’t become a victim. Do not stay around to have your pot drilled by people who choose to be miserable or ‘observer critics’.

Finally, when in doubt, ask yourself: “Is this activity giving me energy?” If not, switch to spending time with the people – and on the activities – that provide stimulation.


Virginia enabled many people to become ‘pot-fillers’ rather than ‘pot-drillers’ and, as a result, build more enriching relationships. Taking this step often involved respecting and encouraging differences.

This brings us to another principle she followed in her work.

* People can build healthy systems – families, teams and organisations – that enable people to grow.

She found that healthy families demonstrated certain characteristics. Let’s explore two of the main ones.

First, they shared common values.

Second, they respected and encouraged differences – obviously within certain parameters.

Sick families fought over their values and crushed differences.

Virginia here highlighted one of the key characteristics of healthy systems – be these marriages, families, teams or organisations. Such systems are based on common values. They only flourish, however, if on top of these they also encourage variety.

Managing differences can make or break
a relationship, family or other system

Virginia believed that the way people managed their differences determined whether their relationship flourished or died.

Here is an exercise that was inspired by her approach. Although it relates to couples, the principle of managing differences successfully has been applied to many other systems, such as teams and organisations.

Imagine you are working with a couple. You can invite them to go through the following steps.

Managing Differences Successfully
– an exercise for couples

Each person makes lists of the following things.

* Similarities: How my partner is similar to me.

This can cover every aspect of life. Such as values, attitudes, habits, behaviour, physical things, psychological things, philosophical things or whatever. So somebody might list the way their partner is similar to them by writing:

“They have two children – ours; they like walking in the countryside; they get angry about injustice; they like Italian food; they enjoy watching football; they enjoy having pets, etc.”

* Differences: How my partner is different from me.

This can also cover everything aspect of life. So somebody might list how their partner is different from them by writing:

“They are a morning person, while I am an evening person; they retreat into themselves, whilst I want to express my feelings; they have different standards of tidiness in the house; they drink quite a lot; they are a man, I am a woman, etc.”

* Similarities: How we can build on what we have in common.

Each partner then describes how they want to build on what they have in common. Providing these are ‘healthy similarities’ – things that benefit them both – it is good to build on this foundation. People may plan, for example, to share more adventures or projects in the future.

* Differences: How we can manage the differences.

This is the crunch part. Differences can make or break a relationship. They can add juiciness – or they can be a nightmare.

Each person is to take the following steps. Looking at how their partner is different from them, they are to highlight three areas:

a) The differences they want to encourage – because this makes the other person special.

b) The differences they are prepared to accept – because their partner probably won’t change certain habits. Bearing in mind the ‘whole package’ involved in living with their partner, they may be prepared to accept some of the differences.

c) The differences they would like their partner to change – and how. It is vital for them to give a positive alternative.

This final point is crucial. For example: Partner A may be upset because Partner B behaves in a certain way – such as suppressing their feelings, drinking lots of alcohol, fighting dirty during arguments or whatever.

Bearing this in mind, Partner A has several options. Each option has consequences.

* They can simply put up with the behaviour.

* They can harangue the other person, hoping they will change.

* They can give the other person a positive alternative – explaining how they would like them to behave in the future.

Let’s imagine Partner A give the alternative, but Partner B says: “I am not prepared to change.”

Then Partner A can ask themselves: “Am I prepared to stay in the relationship? Is it worth the whole package?” If so, fine. If not, then Partner A has a decision to make.

Virginia opened people’s eyes to the importance of managing differences successfully. This idea was picked up and used by many other people. Looking at my own work, for example, I apply it to building super teams.

Such teams are based on ‘similarity of spirit’ and ‘diversity of strengths’. (Diversity of spirit is a recipe for disaster.) Other people have applied such ideas to explore how to build healthy systems – whether these are families, teams or organisations. This was a life-giving principle that Virginia gave us through her work.


3) Practice.

So what has been the effect of Virginia Satir’s work? She has obviously encouraged many people – it is estimated around 30,000 people attended her workshops.

But her influence stretched much wider. Her books, such as Conjoint Family Therapy and Peoplemaking, reached a much huge audience.

Many educators and consultants embraced Virginia’s ideas – sometimes without ever knowing she had originated some of the concepts. She also helped to found the Avanta Network, the name of which was later changed to The Virginia Satir Global Network, which embraces the following principles.

Guiding Principles:

Built upon the foundation of Virginia Satir’s theory and practice, Virginia Satir Global Network’s work begins from the following assumptions:

* Each of us can live in congruence with our unique selves and in harmony with others.

* The potential for growth and change is inherent.

* Positive evolution personally and globally is not only possible but also essential.



Virginia’s ideas continue to spread. John Banmen brought together many papers to provide an overview of her work and Sharon Loeschen wrote an excellent book called Systematic Training in the Skills of Virginia Satir. You can also learn more about Sharon’s work at:


Contribution to the strengths approach

Virginia made many contributions to the strengths philosophy. For example:

* She encouraged people to be their true selves, mobilise their internal strengths – which may have come from overcoming difficulties – and express their essence as people.

* She enabled people to build enriching relationships in which individuals were encouraged to develop their uniqueness – their strengths and their ‘differentness’ – and continue to grow.

* She provided the inspiration for enabling people to build healthy systems – families, teams and organisations – that were based on ‘similarity of spirit’ and ‘diversity of strengths’.

Virginia said she wanted to be a ‘detective’ that helped to solve the puzzles within families. She was much more. She rightly earned her accolade as a pioneer of family therapy. Virginia helped thousands of people to discover new and enriching worlds.

Posted on Thursday, January 15th, 2009 at 8:49 pm in Philosophers, The Strengths Blog   |  RSS feed | Print This Post Print This Post |  Respond  |  Trackback URL

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Satir Change Model

Satir Change Model

The Virginia Satir Change Model focuses not just
on systems of people but also on individual
people, making it a robust model.

(Late) Status quo

Late status quo describes a fairly stable system
(individual or group) where occurrences are
predictable, familiar and comfortable. This may
mean things are working reasonably well, or it
may mean that there are familiar solutions
(better or worse) for common problems. For
members, it does represent some level of success.

While the system at this stage is balanced,
different parts of the system pay different prices
to maintain this balance. This can be compared to
the role played by some children who keep a
family stable by acting out or repressing their
feelings in particular ways. And, like with
children, the impact of this maintenance on any
particular part of the system may be indicated by
the unhealthy symptoms revealed in it’s

In an organizational context, late status quo
generally refers to a system where things have
stayed the same for a long time. Members of the
system know ‘what to do’ and ‘how to do it’ and
understand where they fit. They may or may not
be satisfied with their place and activities, but
they are comfortable.

Depending on the specific circumstances,
attitudes may range from general acceptance, to

“yah, I know how to do all that …”

to frustration and complaining (blaming and
placating as people find ways to get things done
in a dysfunctional system). Some people may be
looking for changes.

Introducing a foreign element

Either from within or without, a foreign
element that was not a part of the status quo
appears, and threatens to shake up the status

In an organizational context, a foreign
element can be generated internally, inspired
by the desire to improve. This desire can
come from management or from participants
on the operational level; the change can be
mandated or voluntary.

How such desires are substantiated by which
stakeholder how, will greatly affect a systems
reaction to the foreign element, although in both
cases there are reactions. In the case of an
unwanted, unexpected or mandated change the
people within the organization (or other system)
may try a number of strategies to neutralize the
impact of the this alien element. The system may
reject and expel the foreign element; members
may ignore it or use delaying tactics; they may try
to encapsulate the foreign element within the
“normal” ways of handling things to make it part
of the current state; or they may try to find a
scapegoat to attack and blame.

When mandated sequences of events are
experienced a couple of times on the operational
level, trust levels of its people in management
being able to lead goes down quickly and people
anticipate more on potential future management
blaming instead of the by management desired
changes. Whatever happens, people do learn to
anticipate effectively! 🙂


If the foreign element (or its backers) is
sufficiently powerful and persistent to create a
critical mass of discomfort, the organization
enters into chaos. From the Merriam Webster

chaos is a state of things in which
chance is supreme; it is a state of
utter confusion; a confused mass or
mixture. In this state, the system is
disarranged; predictions no longer

valid, expectations are not fulfilled;
things seem to be totally out of

People/systems may react to chaos in a number
of different ways: by engaging in random
behavior; by seeking stability at any cost, and
trying to revert to earlier patterns of behavior’ or
by searching for magical, sweeping solutions —
anything to re-establish some form of normalcy.

It is very easy to get stuck in chaos:

✔ If you see chaos as some “death” of the

Old Status Quo … For more detailed
“stuckness” we can use the following four
preliminary stages of death identified by
Elizabeth Kubler Ross: denial, bargaining,
anger, or depression that individuals can
get stuck in.

✔ When trying to manufacture the

transforming idea as opposed to being
aware and fully present during chaos.
Obtaining and firing the latest silver
bullet is a distracting temptation, one
that needs to be avoided. Taoists say, “My
barn having burned to the ground, I can
now see the moon”.

✔ If you try to avoid or control it. Then you

will prolong it. Best seems to be relax,
enjoy the ride, try a bite of something
new here, and of some there. Be like
Alice, relax, have fun, enjoy and wait for
the transforming idea.

The transforming idea is the out-of-the-box idea
that brings a system out of chaos (sometimes only
for a short while ;-). A transforming idea is like an
“Aha Erlebnis”, inspiration, a sudden awareness of
and understanding of new possibilities. Now that
we have keys, what remains is finding the doors
and actualizing this transformation.

Practice and integration

Entering the practice stage, the system begins to
try out the new possibilities. This can be likened
to birth or to a honeymoon. It seems all problems
have been resolved and things will be wonderful,
and we’re all very excited. At the same time,
systems entering this stage are like children that
are trying things for the first time — somewhat
uncertain, needing time to learn and grow into
the new state. And, with time, by the system
practicing new ways of doing things, some effects
begin to appear in substance.

In an organization, this is the time when people
are learning to use a new tool or work according
to a new process or tasks within a new structure.
This is usually a period of reduced productivity —
performance and outcomes may actually be worse
than prior to the change.

There are many factors that can lead to rejection
of the change and return to chaos:

✔ Reactions of managers who expect to see

results of the new ‘whatever’ immediately

✔ A culture in which people are afraid to

seem less than fully competent and where
admitting mistakes is not acceptable

✔ Time and schedule pressures inhibiting the

learning process

✔ … Name it and it can take you back!

During integration benefits of the new models
become apparent and are experienced as useful.
Gradually a new status quo is formed. What began
as an idea becomes a normal state of affairs. And,
for a while, things will continue to get better …
until we encounter a new foreign element.

This handout is licenced under a Creative
Commons Licence. Its’ main memes were launched
by Virginia Satir.

Brought to you by

Marc Evers (Piecemeal Growth)

Nynke Fokma (Moebius)

Willem van den Ende (Living Software B.V.)


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“I want to love you without clutching, appreciate you without judging, join you without invading, invite you without demanding, leave you without guilt, criticize you without blaming, and help you without insulting. If I can have the same from you, then we can truly meet and enrich each other.”
Virginia Satir
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“I am Me. In all the world, there is no one else exactly like me. Everything that comes out of me is authentically mine, because I alone chose it — I own everything about me: my body, my feelings, my mouth, my voice, all my actions, whether they be to others or myself. I own my fantasies, my dreams, my hopes, my fears. I own my triumphs and successes, all my failures and mistakes. Because I own all of me, I can become intimately acquainted with me. By so doing, I can love me and be friendly with all my parts. I know there are aspects about myself that puzzle me, and other aspects that I do not know — but as long as I am friendly and loving to myself, I can courageously and hopefully look for solutions to the puzzles and ways to find out more about me. However I look and sound, whatever I say and do, and whatever I think and feel at a given moment in time is authentically me. If later some parts of how I looked, sounded, thought, and felt turn out to be unfitting, I can discard that which is unfitting, keep the rest, and invent something new for that which I discarded. I can see, hear, feel, think, say, and do. I have the tools to survive, to be close to others, to be productive, and to make sense and order out of the world of people and things outside of me. I own me, and therefore, I can engineer me. I am me, and I am Okay.”
Virginia Satir
“I want to love you without clutching, appreciate you without judging, join you without invading, invite you without demanding, leave you without guilt, criticize you without blaming, and help you without insulting. If I can have the same from you, then we can truly meet and enrich each other.”
Virginia Satir
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Family therapist Virginia Satir identified five personality types in situations of stress.


The Placater is first of all concerned about how they will be perceived. Their center of attention is on themselves and particularly on their perception of how others see them.

Their response to stress is largely to avoid it. If there are any ‘uncomfortable truths’, then they will generally try to avoid talking about them (and may in fact go to extraordinary lengths to avoid any such confrontation).


The Blamer feels powerless and uncared-for. All alone in the world, they feel that nobody will ever do anything for them.

When they feel stressed, their feelings of isolation increase further. As a result, they compensate by trying to take charge, bluffing their way out, hiding their aloneness in attempted leadership.


The Computer feels exposed when showing emotions, perhaps because they have difficulty controlling them or they may have been criticized as a child for showing emotion. Men, in particular, tend to be Computers.

To avoid having to confront emotion, when faced with stress, the Computer resorts to logic, becoming super-rational about the situation and working hard to appear super-cool on the outside (although they may be churning like mad on the inside).


The Distracter easily becomes confused by stressful situations. Instead of taking some positive action, they are not sure what they should do and so grasp at straws.

In practice, they may well respond to the stress by shifting between the three previous types of Placater, Blamer and Computer. In doing so, they are trying in vain to find some solace in different practices.


The ideal respondent to stress accepts it as normal. They are comfortable with ambiguous and uncertain situations and even engage with threats rather than fighting them or running away.

They thus ‘tell it as it is’, without exaggerating or minimizing the situation. They are comfortable with their own feelings and are able to discuss them.

So what?

So when confronted with stress, know your own situation and seek to become a Leveller.

When working with other people, spot their stress response and react accordingly.

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Virginia Satir (1916-1988)

Virginia was internationally recognized for her creativity in the practice of family therapy. Based on conviction that people are capable of continued growth, change and new understanding, her goal was to improve relationships and communication within the family unit.

Referred to as the “Columbus of Family Therapy” and “everybody’s family therapist”, Virginia Satir stayed at the forefront of human growth and family therapy until her death in 1988.

Virginia Satir, the founder of the Satir model, believed that therapy is an intense experience with the inner Self. The therapist helps and encourages people not only to accept and deal with the pain and problems, but also to accept and live an inner joy and peace of mind.

Virginia Satir, known as a pioneer in the field of Family Therapy, developed unique strategies to improve personal communications and relationships. She is internationally acclaimed as a therapist, educator, and author. Virginia received her Master’s degree from the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Early agency work included working with families at the Dallas Child Guidance Center and four years at the Illinois State Psychiatric Institute. In 1959, Virginia was invited to join Don Jackson, Jules Ruskin and Gregory Bateson to start the prestigious Mental Research Institute in Palo Alto, California. Together, they created the country’s first formal program in Family Therapy.

Honored for her innovative work in human relations, Virginia shared her insights with people throughout the world through books, workshops and training seminars. Virginia Satir’s first book, Conjoint Family Therapy, published in 1964, remains a classic in the field and has been translated into several languages. She authored or co-authored eleven other books, among them Peoplemaking in 1972 and The New Peoplemaking in 1988, both of which have enjoyed large international audiences.

Virginia was known for her special warmth and for her remarkable insight into human communication and self-esteem. For almost 50 years, Virginia Satir worked to help others to better realize their full human potentials.

She believed that this involved a healing process of becoming aware of and connecting with our inner selves and then of contacting others from this center. During her lifetime, Virginia conducted hundreds of workshops and seminars around the world, which featured her classic communication stances and her “Human Validation Process Model”.

She focused on personal growth and health, rather than illness and pathology, and provided the environment in which individuals and families could develop and flourish. Virginia believed firmly that human beings across our planet are all connected. It was her conviction that healing of the human spirit and reaching out to connect with others through the universal life force, of which she believed we are all a part, is essential to world peace.

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