PNL - Programmazione Neurolinguistica

Four P. A. ST.
Four Positions Attachment Style

Fabrizio Marcolongo

Before describing the exercise I have to explain the concept frame in which this exercise is made. It deals with memory and our memory could be described as made by two elements:

Semantic Memory: the pervasive impression of a person, a job, a travel, a city, a group of people and so on is grounded on the meta-model perspective of generalization, deletion and distortion: the Americans are.... The English are... etc. and these semantic memories are based or not based on specific episodes of life.

Episodic Memory: It is made by a precise episode, it is related to a thing happened, and is told us using the simple past tense but never the form "used to". For example a client can't say "my mother used to drive me to school" but he/she has to try and remember a specific episode such as in "One day she drove me to school and...". There are also, more frequently the three components of the molecules of perception: auditory, visual, and kinaesthetic elements of memory.

For this exercise we can use some other elements deriving from the attachment theory. Mary Main was the researcher who discovered the intimate nature of alteration in memory storage from the inner structure of language. All this stuff was written in the 70s after the great years of the growth of NLP. This production is not "imprinting" and is grounded on the psychology of 1985 and after i.e. the psychology of attachment that is the natural consequence to the psychology of the imprinting.
John Bowlby, the discoverer of Attachment, was aware of the scientific production of Lorenz, and he knew everything about the imprinting but he thought, as a psychoanalyst, that imprinting was too easy for humans, and everything relating to language and all expressed emotions were washed up from the core of "imprinting". So he had to find out the intimate nature of human imprinting that ought to be based on rational analysis of the structure of language [not only kinesthetic], and on emotions that make a perturbation of the structure of language. A real "visual/auditory" structure.
The heiresses of Bowlby were Mary Ainsworth and Mary Main, who were capable to build assessments for this kind of connection between children and their parents.
Mary Main discovered that every very deep relationship we had as children, with the care-giver figures that could not necessarily be our father and mother, could be grounded at least on five semantic memories and five episodic memories related to those semantic memories, so that there is an Adult Attachment Style that describes the human nature.
She wrote the Adult Attachment Interview that is a mix between elaboration of the linguistic laws structure and the elaboration of the main alterations in speech when something goes wrong on the native speaker's mind.
The concept is that Attachment builds up a software in the mind of Human Beings and this kind of software was called by John Bowlby "Internal Working Model", a system that is activated in some occasions, when a crisis happens in human relationships. The IWM is set down and unconsciously guides and filters attention and processes experiences, and it works with similar Care-Giver's "representational system and meta-programs" and they impact on the course of future relationships.
The Attachment Styles are four and their short description is as follows:

Free Attachment Style ­The client explores freely and seek contact with the attachment figure if necessary.

The not free attachment styles is:
Dismissing: The client does not show attachment needs in order to avoid rejection and/or the absence of the care giver.

Entangled: The client is entangled with the mind of his/her parent or care-giver, and for his/her whole life he/she needs to complete, fulfil, succeed in something that is not completed, or something that attachment figures are not aware of.

Disorganized: The client does not have an organized strategy that elicits care when distressed. That determines Psychosis

After this brief introduction we can start with the description of the Four Positions Attachment Style exercise step by step.

And now we can go to the deeper structure of the exercise, knowing that when we deal with parents [Mum and Dad] we can refer to care-givers in general [many clients may have foster parents, or an institutional care-giver, as many adopted people do].

1. Identify the care giver and the situation to work with, and we assume that one of the attachment styles which you want to work with, is the mother's one:
2. Now you can formulate the question of the Adult Attachment Style, and make sure to use exactly the same words you will find at the third step: it is a sort of "hocus-pocus" for the IWM software which opens the lock of the intimate memories about caregivers!
3. I'd like to ask you to choose five adjectives or words that reflect your relationship with your mother starting from as far back as you can remember in early childhood--as early as you can go, but say, age 5 to 12 is fine. I know this may take a bit of time, so go ahead and think for a minute...then I'd like to ask you why you chose them. I'll write each one down as you give them to me.
4. Please write all the terms on the left side of a flip chart; please make sure that the explorer says "exclusively" the terms without explaining them!! It's very important! Now in this step you have to detect only the semantic memory and so you have to make a list of the terms without any explanation!! Be careful, ... for the good outcome of the exercise could depend on it!
5. "Now I'd like to ask you to choose five adjectives or words that reflect your childhood relationship with your father, again starting from as far back as you can remember in early childhood--as early as you can go, but again say, age 5 to 12 is fine. I know this may take a bit of time, so go ahead and think again for a minute..."
6. The other question is: ".... Then I'd like to ask you why you chose them. I'll write each one down as you give them to me."
7. Write down the description that explains why the client has chosen these terms.
8. It could be better if the episodes were about a problematic situation for the client. If not, ... there's nothing to do! ... probably the client has a good attachment style.
9. Ask the client on which episode of the five attachment style questions he/she wants to work on and for what reason.
10. If the reason is the negative impression he/she still retains, that's a good point to start! Now choose an episode to do this exercise.
11. We can use the structure of the Meta Mirror for this kind of episode and treat it as in the Meta Mirror exercise
12. Hypothesize that you have the First Position (1) and the other person [care giver] has the Second Position (2). Build also three other points (3) Third Position: the position of the Client's Counsellor, and the (4) Position of "The moral of the story" (or position of "the Movie Director" if the story were a little clip or the final scene of a great movie).
The procedure is always the same as in the other exercises of NLP:
A) Recall the situation
B) Describe the molecule of memory in the three VAK R. Systems
For the Guide:
C) Please aim towards the target i.e. difficult wrong/painful sensations (K-)
D) Listen to the client's voice speaking to you
E) See his/her body posture, his/her gestures, his/her facial expressions
F) Notice your feelings as a Guide
G) Be aware of what you are doing
H) As a Guide be aware of your mirroring the explorer's body posture
I) Write the description of the 1st position on the flip chart.
J) Make a note to the flip chart about the K ­ [ negative kinaesthetic sensation] of the client.

These are the 'spatial anchors' [position] to use for the exercise

In this step, you and your client are in a sort of "Time Machine". As a guide you will sense how powerful this exercise is. There is a term of literature technique from Batkin production explaining the moment that is refreshed by your new reading the memory of the Explorer as a Guide: M. Batkin called it "chronotopos". It may happen that the explorer recalls memories from the age of two years or less, and obviously the auditory representational system content is not a linguistic one, and everything is mostly remembered by the side of kinaesthetic or visual R. Systems.
13. Now the client has to go to the meta-position spatial anchor to take a break; sometimes there are some negative reactions and the guide had better take a break, if the field between guide and explorer is very effective.
14. Now the explorer can go to the 2nd position and do all the steps listed in 13. Please make a note on the flip chart about the K ­ [ negative kinaesthetic sensation] of the caregiver.
15. Then the Guide writes the VAK of the caregiver's episode on the flip chart.
16. Meta ­ Position.
17. Go to the Third Position: ask the explorer to play the role of his/her Counsellor, and say what he/she could suggest to do/to change in the behaviour of the people in the 1st and in the 2nd position and/or for a better relationship between them. It could also be better to suggest having a systemic attitude [consider the system of the two of them, not only individually] and to think about the positive intention of the caregiver towards the client.
18. Write the suggestions for all the positions [the client's and the caregiver's] in the flip chart: "The third position-counsellor" must have in mind the age of the client and has to suggest something to do appropriately: these suggestions have to be simple, it is better to act/ or to say something, but sometimes it is a long speech that the caregiver has to listen,... it depends on the age of the explorer at the time of the episode. If the episode was in the infantile age and the client wasn't able to speak, better to suggest to do something instead of saying something.
19. Go to the meta-position and think about the alterations to make.
20. Go to the 1st position. Make the amendment about what the counsellor suggested to do/to act in the 1st position. Note how much and how the negative kinaesthetic sensation has changed, if it hasn't please restart from 17th step of the process to check the suggestions previously given.
21. Now go to the 2nd position and make the amendment about what the counsellor suggested to do/to act in the 2nd position. Note how much and how the negative kinaesthetic sensation has changed, if it hasn't please restart from 17th step of the process.
22. Let the client go back to the 1st position again and if the caregiver's attitude has changed, a different emotion arises. If not, please go to step 20. or to step 17. and repeat the process making sure that all the suggestions are made properly for a good outcome of the exercise.
23. At this level please check the outcomes of the step 20. and 22. . If the exercise is properly done, the outcome will be completely changed for better.
24. If so, please step into the fourth position and ask the client what the moral of the story is, what the client learnt from this situation.

This exercise was created in California, during the course of trainer's training. Back to Italy, I tried and used this exercise for many clients in my outpatient clinic practice as a Psychiatrist at the Substance Misuse Service of Italian National Health Service with successful outcomes for the Clients I was looking after.


Bachtin M., Estetica e romanzo, Moscow 1975, it. transl. Einaudi, Torino 1979.
Bartholomew, K. & Horowitz, L.M. (1991). Attachment styles among young adults: A test of a four-category model. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 226-244.
Bartholomew, K. & Shaver, P.R. (1998). Methods of assessing adult attachment. In J. A. Simpson & W. S. Rholes (Eds.), Attachment theory and close relationships, pp. 25-45. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: Collected Essays in Anthropology, Psychiatry, Evolution, and Epistemology. University Of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-03905-6.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss. Vol 2: Separation: Anxiety and anger. New York: Basic Books (reissued in 1999).
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and loss. Vol 3: Loss: Sadness and depression. New York: Basic Books (reissued, 1999).
Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss. Vol. 1: Attachment (2nd Ed.). New York: Basic Books (new printing, 1999, with a foreword by Allan N. Schore; originally published in 1969).
Cassidy J. & P. R. Shaver (Eds.)(1999), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications. New York: Guilford Press.
Dilts Robert "Changing Belief Systems with NLP", Meta Publications, 1990.
Main , M., & Goldwyn, R. (1998). Adult attachment classification system. Unpublished manuscript. University of California: Berkeley, CA.
Main, M. and Solomon, J. (1986) 'Discovery of an insecure disorganized/disoriented attachment pattern: procedures, findings and implications for the classification of behavior.' In t. Braxelton and M.Yogman (eds) Affective development in infancy. Norwood, NJ: Ablex
Main, M. and Solomon, J. (1990) 'Procedures for identifying infants as disorganized/disoriented during the Ainsworth Strange Situation' In M.Greenberg, D. Cicchetti and E. Cummings (eds) Attachment in the preschool years: Theory, research and intervention. Chicago: University of Chicago Press
Schore A. (2003). Affect dysregulation and disorders of the self. New York: W.W. Norton and Co.
Siegel, D. J. (1999). The developing mind: How relationships and the brain interact to shape who we are. New York: Guilford Press.
Siegel, D. J. and Hartzell, M. (2003). Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. New York: Tarcher/Putnam.

The author:

Dr. Fabrizio Marcolongo MD ­
Born in Italy, degree in Medicine and recognised Psychiatrist and Psychotherapist on both countries, Italy and England, he's now practicing as a Psychiatrist and Managers' Awakener as well. Mr. F. Marcolongo's excellence is the use of Movies for training courses on NLP. Being deeply interested in the seventh art, he has mixed his passion for cinema with his professional skills: hence the creation of his original techniques named "Moviemotions" and "FilmCounseling", based on both NLP and cinema-therapy. Other Educational Project recognised as CPD/CME activity by Italian Minister of Health, for Mental Health and Rehab Community Centers. He is a co-editor in a scientific review about psychology, substance misuse and neuro-psycho-biology.