When Bandler Played the Paranoid Blame Game

The NLP Frame Game
That Gave Birth to
The “Sleight of Mouth”
or Mind-Line Patterns

L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

While working recently on updating “the myth” about the origin of the “Sleight of Mouth” patterns, I read Robert Dilts’ description in his recent book, Sleight of Mouth (1999). Robert tells about how he put together the very first list of 14 “Sleight of Mouth” Patterns from an NLP training in Washington D.C. The year was 1980.

“In order to make a teaching point during a seminar, Bandler, who is renowned for his command of language, established a humorous but ‘paranoid’ belief system, and challenged the group to persuade him to change it. Despite their best efforts, the group members were unable to make the slightest progress in influencing the impenetrable belief system Bandler had established…” (p. x)

Richard was working with a young man who was breaking up with a girlfriend and who thought he wanted to work on his “issues,” but who then dug in his heels. Robert says that this young man

“was quite creative at thwarting every option, possibility, or reason that Bandler brought up as to why he might reconsider his opinions about his girlfriend and their relationship.” (p. 272)

So, with his “flare for the outrageous” Richard used an experience of a defective stage setup (the corner of the platform buckled two times so that he stumbled) to create “a ridiculous situation.” This gave him the chance to accuse and blame “Vic” (who tried to fix the stage) of purposefully trying to hurt him. He presented this negative and toxic belief as a metaphor for Ben who refused to consider giving his girlfriend another chance.

In Sleight of Mouth, Robert has reproduced an extensive transcript from that 1980 training as well as his analysis of the transcript. This transcript reveals Richard’s use of “Sleight of Mouth” patterns in maintaining and holding a “thought virus” (negative belief). This transcript actually provided Robert Dilts the basis for separating out his original 14 “Sleight of Mouth” patterns.

Yet in reading it again, I found that it also shows the dark side of Frame Games. So, in a similar way to Robert’s fine analysis, I want to present yet another analysis using the same content. Here I want to present it as NLP’s First Frame Game, or …

When Bandler Played the Paranoid Blame Game

The following frame game powerfully illustrates how a person can take a negative idea or belief and hold it, maintain it, support it, and refuse to let “helpers” fix it. I have only quoted part of the text of the transcript. The ellipses dots (…) indicate parts of the dialogue left out. I highly recommend examining Robert’s full text in his book and his explanations as well.

In that sense, Richard is here also playing for the seminar group the frame game “Fix Me if You Can!” First, the negative belief full of state-dependency Mind-Reading of negative intentions as he plays the Blame Game. This is an especially sick frame game and not one recommended. It does, however, show the persuasive power of language.

RB: The person that put this *(platform) back together, get out. Never again will I trust you. (To Ben) He had his chance, and didn’t test it well enough. I’ll never trust him again. See, he doesn’t care about my future. … He doesn’t care if I break my leg, does he? … How could he do that to me? (To Vic) Why do you want to hurt me? Huh?

[The Blame Game accuses and attacks the motives and intentions of another. To play this game, just engage in some mind-reading and ask the “why” question. This will put others on the defense.]

Vic: I don’t.

RB: Well, then why did you do that to me? [Blame Game driven by “why.”]

Vic: I set it up so that you would learn that that thing [the stage] is solid as a rock now.

RB: But what if it’s not, what if I fall and break my leg?

[Game maintained by the use of “What if…” Vic within the game and engaging in a Frame War]

Vic: It’s all right, it’s solid as a rock. [Assurance, but within the frame.]

RB: So you want me to go out there and risk my life.

[This reflects Frame Dependency (similar to State Dependency). Frame Dependency sees and experiences things in terms of the frame. More Mind-Reading and accusation. The game continues.]

Vic: If I risk my life first, is that all right?

[Inviting RB to play Let’s Test Reality frame game.]

RB: Do you know how many times I have to walk on that compared to you? I tested  it the last time you know and it was fine and then I stepped on it and, boom, there I was. It fell all over again.

[Refusal to play the new game. The Blame Game now supported by another higher frame: “I Refuse to Put Things to the test.”]

Vic: You stepped on the right part. It’s a weird setup.

[Vic tries to explain, but because he speaks from within the frame of the Blame Game, it doesn’t work.]

RB: Yeh, it is. I just don’t understand. It doesn’t make any sense to me. It blows my mind that anyone would do that to me…

[Uses confusion and lack of understanding to repeat the Blame Game.]

Man #1: As long as you avoid stages in the future, everything will be okay.

[Runs with the logic of the Limiting Belief and states consequence.]

RB: See he’s trying to help me. I can’t get anything out of him (Vic). All he’s telling me is ‘go do it again’. …

[Refuses and rejects the Consequence Mind-Line by using it as Positive Intention in the speaker in contrast to Bad Intentions in Vic and so the Blame Game continues.]

RB: Now I really know he’s trying to hurt me. … This guy comes to my seminar and tries to kill me. And he’s still trying.”

[When Vic doesn’t test the stage himself, that’s more “proof” of his bad intentions.]

Man #2: Why do you think he thought he had to put the piece back there rather than move it away?

[Reasoning within the frame. But this “why?” only plays into the frame game.]

RB: I don’t know why he did it. Maybe he doesn’t like me. Maybe he wants to hurt me. Maybe he just doesn’t think about what he’ll do in the future that would hurt me…

[Asking “why” only allowed the Blame Frame to invent more supporting reasons and justifications!]

Woman #1: Yeh, but if he didn’t think in the future what might happen, he probably didn’t do it deliberately.

[The Frame War! “Yes, but…”]

RB: If he didn’t think about my future, then he won’t next time, and then he’s going to get me in some situation where I’m really going to get burned.

[The problem with a direct, frontal attack on someone’s Frame is that it initiates a Frame War … and if it operates within the logic of the Negative Frame, then it just evokes defensiveness and so solidifies that frame.]

Man #2: But you only have one example so you don’t know that for certain.

RB: He did it twice! And I gave him a whole bunch of choices about how to do something to prove to me that he wasn’t trying to hurt me. He said he would walk on it and ‘risk his life’ first. Did he do it? No. He didn’t do it. … He doesn’t care about me. He doesn’t give a damn…

[And the Frame War continues. Push, shove, counter-push, etc. The call to “reasoning” by Man #2 only plays into the Blame frame game.]

Woman #1: Why don’t you both turn the platform over and make sure it works right. Have him work with you to test it.

[Ah, another why question within the frame.]

RB: So you want me to try and get together to work with him … then I’m going to be the one who’s going to stand on it for the next three or four days. You’re on his side. I knew you were with him all along…”

[Re-instatement of the Blame Game, now directed toward the “helper.”]

Woman #1: Then I’ll do it with him… Oh, you don’t trust because you think we (she and Vic) are allies.

RB: Oh yeh, trying to make me look paranoid now, huh? He (Vic) put you up to this didn’t he?”

[The Frame War continues. The kind of thinking that created the problem frame of blame and accusation and suspicion cannot solve itself as a frame.]

Woman #2: What do you want at this point?

[Attempt to step outside of the frame.]

RB: I don’t want anything. I didn’t want it (the stage) back there in the first place. It’s too late now.

[Refuses to step out. Refuses the new Outcome Frame. That would spoil the Blame Game.]

Woman #2: You’re not willing to give him another chance?

RB: He had his chance. … (then repeating of the Blame Frame)…

Man #1: I think you should leave because he might hide outside.

[Playing within the Blame Game Frame… exaggerating it, extending it.]

RB: Maybe I should hide.

[Plays it even further so it doesn’t question the frame!]

RB: Why are you making excuses for him (Man #3)… They’re all on the front row,

every one of them.

[The Blame Game has become the Paranoid Game, “They are all against me!”]

Woman #2: It’s mass action. The mob is taking over.

[Attempting to exaggerate and play with the frame.]

RB: Oh. See, she’s trying to make me look paranoid too.

[The Blame Frame about her exaggeration.]

Woman #2: No, I’m concerned about why you feel that all these people are against you.

[Ah, more Frame War.]

RB: Don’t give me that. (To Vic) Now, see all the trouble you’ve caused. …

[Refusal to defend self, shift into more Blaming. This maintains that frame.]

Man #4: He’s awfully clever to be doing it in such a round about way.

[A tease to play another game, exaggeration… trying to loosen the frame.]

RB: He’s a smart person, man.

[Stays “serious,” this maintains the Blame Frame.]

Man #4: Can we out smart him?

RB: I don’t know. He got me once. He got me twice. God knows who else he’s gotten.

[The Paranoid Frame Game is intensified by using the man’s intelligence as part of the problem.]

Vic: I’ll move it over here. (Begins to move the small platform away.)

RB: Why is he trying to make me look stupid? See, now he’s trying to make it look like nothing happened. …

[Uses the “why” to support the Blame and Paranoid Frame.]

RB: … even if you’d bring in a new stage, I would only be safe for a while. Maybe he’ll go cut the leg on the other side. What do I know?

[Future pacing the Problem Frame! Predicting a negative future based on Paranoid frame.]

Woman #3: How do you know that he set that up in advance?

[Asked from within the frame, and so will only make matters worse.]

RB: Well, I don’t, but that’s not the point. … Even if he didn’t mean it, it did happen. He’s the one that’s making me feel this way now. You see, I’m terrified.

[Refuses the frame, “that’s not the point,” and re-establishes the Blame Frame.]

Woman #3: How is he making you feel that way?

[Challenges the cause-effect frame.]

RB: That’s not the point. The point is that I feel this way. If he hadn’t done those things, I wouldn’t feel bad. Now I have to continue to feel this way…

[Refusing the new frame while using “The Emotional Frame” to re-establish the Blame game. Then solidifies it with the “I have No Choice but I Have to Feel this way” frame game]

Woman #4: Can you remember things you did with him that you enjoy?…

[Invitation to step out of the Blame Frame … to use the Good Memory Frame.]

RB: Yeh. Sure those things are there, but I can’t have any of those in the future…

[Rejection and refusal of the outframe by a “Yes, but…” retort.]

Woman #3: Is this the way you want to be?

[Invitation to outframe with Desired Identity Frame.]

RB: I don’t want to be like this. I want to be the way I was.

[Ah, shift to the Aim Frame, at least momentarily. Sneaky use of using a Past Self to establish the Future Self.]

Woman #3: How were you? Tell me.

[She continues to explore the Aim Frame How were you?]

RB: I used to be confident and happy. I liked people, and trusted people. I’m not like that anymore. See, what he did to me? (To Vic). See what you’re doing to me…

[A slick move to Past Self Image as the desired future Self-Image enables him to regret what he doesn’t have anymore and to Blame Vic and others for robbing him! And the Blame Game continues.]

Woman #3: Do you mean you can’t do anything else or you won’t do anything else?

[Nice invitation to make a crucial distinction between can’t and won’t. An invitation to shift to “It’s My Choice” frame game.]

RB: What difference does it make. I don’t know what to do.

[A whinny way to Refuse a Frame Game, but effective.]

Man #4: What he wanted to do to you is put you in the state you’re in now.

[Now place and exaggeration play to evoke polarity response. Invitation to shift frame games.]

RB: I know. He just wants to feel superior to me. There are a lot of leader killers…

[Refuses to polarizes, takes, accepts and gives it the most blaming, paranoid interpretation possible.]

Playing Frame Games

We all play “games.” We think, feel, act, talk, and transact with each other and we do so in terms of various frames of references. These create our frame games. Some are sick and toxic. Problem frames, blame frames, fatalistic frames, Negative Intentions, and paranoid frames these typically just lock us into various mental and emotional prisons. Others are powerful for running our own brain and managing our own states and destinies: the Aim frame, the Solution frame, the Resourceful frame, the As If frame, the Positive Intention frame, etc.

The frames we set, that we accept, and that we live within establish the games that we play. And every frame involves a meta-level understanding, belief, value, decision, etc. These meta-states establish the contexts and orientation that we then experience. And this means that when we play frame games–

  • we engage in the persuasion arts
  • we evoke various states and meta-states
  • we establish sets of interactions that define the quality of our relationships and
  • we use our neuro-linguistics to create the higher levels of mind and meaning that then govern our lives.


Dilts, Robert B. (1999). Sleight of mouth: The magic of conversational belief change. Capitola, CA: Meta Publications.

Hall, Michael; Bodenhamer, Bob. (1997). Mind-Lines: Lines for changing minds. Grand Jct. CO: E.T. Publications.

Hall, Michael. (2000). Frame Games: Persuasive power for mastering life’s games. (In press).