top of page

Meta Models of Reality

Updated: Nov 5, 2021

Meta Models of Reality

January 31, 2019 | James Pesch

Meta Models of Reality

Meta Models are among the basics of Neuro-linguistic Programming as developed by then assistant professor of linguistics, John Grinder (and Richard Bandler.)

Grinder and Bandler explained how“people create faulty mental maps of reality, failing to test their linguistic / cognitive models against the experience of their senses.”

The Meta Model draws on "transformational grammar" (modal operators) and general semantics, the idea that language is a translation of mental states into words, and that in this translation, there is an unconscious process of

  1. Deletion (not everything thought is said),

  2. Distortion (assumptions and structural inaccuracies) and

  3. Generalization (a shift towards absolute statements).

Likewise, in hearing, not everything said is acknowledged as heard. Sometimes, one doesn’t consciously hear themselves say everything they have said. THE META-MODEL In NLP or Neuro-Linguistic Programming the “meta-model of therapy,” ALSO refers to a set of questions designed to

  • Specify information, (Establish Frames of Reference)

  • challenge and

  • expand

the limits to a person’s model of the world. We all have a conscious and unconscious model of reality in our own minds which largely dictates how we behave. NLP TRAINING – META MODEL This Model and these questions are designed to respond to the

  • Deletions

  • Distortions, and

  • Generalizations

in any speaker’s language. This model can be used in any conversation to establish clarity & if done skillfully, rapport.

HISTORY These language patterns were based on the work of family therapist Virginia Satir, gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, and linguistic patterns from Transformational syntax. It is claimed that the Meta-model “yields a fuller representation of the client’s model of the world – the linguistic Deep Structure from which the client’s initial verbal expressions or Surface Structure, were derived” by offering challenges to its limits, the distortions, generalizations or deletions in the speaker’s language. The reverse set of the meta-model is the *Milton-model; a collection of artfully vague language patterns elicited from the work of Milton Erickson. “People respond to events based on their internal pictures, sounds and feelings. They also collect these experiences into groups or categories that are labeled with words. The meta-model is a method for helping someone go from the information-poor word maps back to the specific sensory-based experiences they are based on. It is here in the information-rich specific experiences that useful changes can be made that will result in changes in behavior.” NOTE: The following examples were derived from therapeutic contexts. The developers state that these patterns can be identified in all human communication. Following are EXAMPLES of Meta-Model Linguistic Patterns; also provided is an EXAMPLE of HOW to use Your language to recover lost sensory experiences from the speaker. Meta Model Example 1 DISTORTIONS MIND READING: Claiming to know someone’s else’s internal state. Ex: “You don’t like me.” Challenge: “How do you know I don’t like you?” Recovers Source of the Belief forming information. LOST PERFORMATIVE: Value judgments where the person doing the judging is left out. 3rd Person Pronoun “it’s” is often an indicator. Ex. “It’s bad to be inconsistent.” Challenge: “Who says it’s “bad?” Challenge: “According to “whom?” Challenge: “How do you know it’s “bad?” Gathers evidence. Recovers source of the belief, the Performative, strategy for the belief. CAUSE>EFFECT: Where cause is wrongly put outside the self. Ex: “You make me sad.” Challenge: “How does what I’m doing cause you to choose to feel sad?” Challenge: with a Counter Example, “How Specifically?” Recovers the choice. 4. COMPLEX EQUIVALENCE: Where two experiences are interpreted as being synonymous. Ex: “She’s always shouting at me, she doesn’t like me.” Challenge: “How does her yelling mean that she..?” Challenge: “Have you ever shouted at someone you liked?” Recovers Complex Equivalence. Counter Example. 5. PRESUPPOSITIONS: Ex: “If my husband knew how much I suffered, he wouldn’t do that.” There are 3 Presuppositions in this sentence: 1. I suffer, Challenge: “When You suffer, How do you choose to suffer?” 2. My husband acts in some way Challenge: “How is he (re)acting?” 3. My husband doesn’t know I suffer. Challenge: “How do you know he doesn’t know?” Specify the choice & the verb, & what he does. Recovers the Internal Representation, and the Complex Equivalence GENERALIZATIONS UNIVERSAL QUANTIFIERS: Universal Generalizations such as “all,” “every,” “never,” “everyone,” “no one,” etc. Ex: “She never listens to me.” Find Counter Examples. Challenge: “Never?” Challenge: “What would happen if she did?” Challenge: “Who, specifically, doesn’t listen to you?” Recovers Counter Examples, Effects, Outcomes. MODAL OPERATORS: Modal Operators of Necessity: As in should, shouldn’t, must, must not, have to, need to it is necessary. Ex: “I have to take care of her.” MODAL OPERATORS OF POSSIBILITY: (Or Impossibility.) As in can/can’t, will/won’t, may/may not, possible/impossible. Ex: “I can’t tell him the truth.” Challenge: “What would happen if you did?” Challenge: (“What would happen if you didn’t?” Also, “Or?” Challenge: “What prevents you?” Challenge: “What would happen if you did?” Recovers Effects, Outcome + Recovers Causes DELETIONS NOMINALIZATIONS: Process words which have been frozen in time, making them nouns. Ex: “There is no communication here.” Challenge: “Who’s not communicating what to whom?” Challenge: “How would you like to communicate?” Turns it back into a process, recovers deletion, and Ref. Index. UNSPECIFIED VERBS: Ex: “He rejected me.” Challenge: “How, specifically?” Specifies the verb. SIMPLE DELETIONS: Lack of Referential Index: Fails to specify a person or thing. Ex: “I am uncomfortable.” Ex: “They don’t listen to me.” COMPARATIVE DELETIONS: As in good, better, best, worst, more, less, most, least. Ex: “She’s a better person.” Challenge: “Better than whom?” Challenge: “Better at what?” Challenge: “Compared to whom, what? Recovers Deletion. Recovers Ref. Index. Recovers Comparative Deletion. The following is a take on the Meta Model from another source: You can read this to allow yourself to think more about language. Meta Model Example #2 DISTORTIONS PRESUPPOSITION Presupposition, refers to an assumption whereby the truth is taken for granted. Crucially, negation of an expression does not change its presuppositions: “I want to do it again” and “I don’t want to do it again” both mean that the subject has done it already one or more times. Example 1: “My wife is pregnant.” Presupposition: You have a wife. Example 2: “Do you want to do it again?” Presupposition: You or the person asking has done it already, at least once. Challenge: “who already did it?” “How did/do You know I already did it?” Example 3: “My husband is as lazy as my son.” Presuppositions: You have a husband; you have a son; the son is believed to be lazy. Challenge: “So, you believe your husband and son are lazy?” CAUSE-EFFECT Cause-effect, the inappropriate use of causal thinking (x means y, x makes me y, or x makes y happen) Causality always implies at least some relationship of dependency between the cause and the effect. For example, deeming something a cause may imply that, all other things being equal, if the cause occurs the effect does as well, or at least that the probability of the effect occurring increases. Example 1: “That news makes me angry.” Presupposition: He/she is angry Challenge: “If it weren’t for that news, would you not be angry?” Challenge: “How does that news cause you to choose to be angry?” Example 2: (complex equivalence) “Being late means she does not love me.” Challenge: “How do you know?” MIND READ Mind-reading violation occurs when someone claims to think they know what another is thinking without verification. Example: “If he doesn’t start paying his share of the bills, she is going to leave him.” Challenge: “How do you know this? Has she told you that she intends to leave him if he doesn’t?” NOMINALIZATION Nominalization occurs when a verb is transformed into a noun. A dynamic process (i.e. a verb) is transformed into something static (i.e. a noun). It’s like taking a snapshot of a moving object, you don’t see the movement any more, just the (static) object. In English, some verbs and adjectives can be used directly as nouns, for example, CHANGE & GOOD. Others require a suffix:

  • nominalization (from nominalize)

  • applicability (from applicable)

  • carelessness (from careless)

  • difficulty (from difficult)

  • failure (from fail)

  • intensity (from intense)

  • investigation (from investigate)

  • movement (from move)

  • reaction (from react)

  • refusal (from refuse)

  • swimming (from swim)

Example: “The communication [from ‘communicate’] in this company is poor.” Challenge: “Who is not communicating with whom?” Or (if you know who) How could we communicate more effectively?” Example: “They need my decision [from ‘decide’] by Monday.” Challenge: “What do you need to decide?” (and if you know) “What have you decided?” Note: there are 2 simple tests that can be used to determine if a word or expression is a nominalization: TEST 1: the wheelbarrow test: if you can put it into a wheelbarrow, it is NOT a nominalization. E.g. A drink is a noun, but it is not a nominalization… as it is tangible, it can be put into a wheelbarrow and carried around. Quality control fails the wheelbarrow test and is a nominalization. TEST 2: If the word continuously can be put in front of the noun and still make sense. E.g. improvement becomes continuous improvement, hence improvement is a nominalization. (The fact that continuity can be added indicates that there is a dynamic aspect to this static element). COMPLEX EQUIVALENCE Complex equivalence draws an unrelated conclusion from an event to create a logic that “does not follow” Example: “And now my secretary quit. I’ll be bankrupt by the end of the year!” Challenge: “Are you telling me your fortune depended on your secretary’s employment?” GENERALIZATION * See also: hasty generalization, Glittering generality UNIVERSALS All known human languages make use of quantifiers, even languages without a full-fledged number system. For example, in English: Every glass in my recent order was chipped. Some of the people standing across the river have white armbands. Most of the people I talked to didn’t have a clue who the candidates were. Everyone in the waiting room had at least one complaint against Dr. Ballyhoo. There was somebody in his class that was able to correctly answer every one of the questions

I submitted. A lot of people are smart. Universal quantifiers occur when someone attempts to characterize an entire set (all people, every X, everyone, everything, …). This NLP meta model question can be used when someone is generalizing too broadly. Example: “My co-workers are all lazy.” Challenge: “All of them?” or Challenge: “Which co-workers, specifically?” MODAL OPERATORS Modal operators are intuitively characterized by expressing a modal attitude, such as necessity (have to, must, should) or possibility (can, might, may) towards the proposition which it is applied to. Example: “I can’t put myself together.” Challenge: “What would happen if you did/didn’t?” Example: “I must put myself together.” “Challenge: “What would happen if you didn’t?” DELETION SIMPLE DELETIONS: In a simple deletion an important element in a statement is missing. Example: “Go and do it.” Challenge: “Go and do what exactly?” Example: “That is important.” Challenge: “What, specifically, is important?” Example: “I feel bad(ly.)” Challenge: “How do you know when you feel bad?” Challenge: “How do you know when to choose to feel badly?” Challenge: “When you feel “bad” does it cause you to be unable to do or be a certain way?” Key words: it and that. The appropriate response would be to ask what, where or when exactly? *This also establishes specific Frames of Reference. UNSPECIFIED VERBS In an unspecified verb it is not clear how the action creates or created the result. For example: “I created a great impression on them.” Challenge: “How exactly did you create a great impression Challenge: “on who exactly?” The appropriate response is to ask how exactly does taking “x” action lead to “y” result. COMPARISONS UNSPECIFIED COMPARATIVES / NULL COMPARATIVE An unspecified or null comparative is a comparative in which the starting point for comparison is not stated. These comparisons are frequently found in advertising. For Example: in typical assertions such as “our burgers have more flavor”, For Example: “our image is sharper” or For Example: “50% more”, there is no mention of what specifically is being compared. In some cases, it is easy to infer what the missing element in a null comparative is. In other cases, the speaker or writer may have been deliberately vague in this regard, for example For Example: “Glasgow’s weathers better”. Example: “That was the best plan.” Challenge: “In what way was it better than the other options?” Challenge: “What were some of the other plans?” Example: “Our image is sharper” Challenge: “Sharper, compared to what?” UNSPECIFIED REFERENTIAL INDEX Unspecified referential index, refers to the use of personal pronoun when the context is unknown, or can not easily be understood based on the preceding sentences. For example: use of “they, them, you,” without descriptive context Example: “They say I should go into business, but I don’t know if I have the confidence.” Challenge: “Who is it that says you should go into business?” Challenge: “What do you mean by confidence?” Example: “Yeah It makes you say stupid things.” Challenge: “Does it make everyone say stupid things?” Challenge: “How do you know that it makes you say stupid things?” Example: “I hate watching Team USA in the Olympics. We always lose and it makes me depressed.” Challenge: “By ‘we’, do you mean that you are part of the team?” Challenge: “Always?” ß Generalization Challenge: “How do you know when you feel depressed?” LOST PERFORMATIVE Lost Performative, makes reference to an action but the person who performed the action is unspecified. Example: “Her book was highly acclaimed.” Challenge: “Highly acclaimed by whom?” Challenge: “How do you know that it was highly acclaimed?”

INFLUENCES & Sources: John Grinder did his doctoral thesis on Noam Chomsky’s Transformational Grammar. It can also be traced to the nominalistic tradition of William of Ockham. An effort unrelated by origin but going in the same direction of improving clarity of communication is the constructed language Loglan (and its close cousin, Lojban).


31 views0 comments


bottom of page