The NLP Milton Meta Model
by Jack Elias, CHT
from Finding True Magic: Transpersonal Hypnosis & Hypnotherapy/NLP
The NLP Milton Meta Model explains how the filters of distortions, deletions, and generalizations, the impactful vagaries of language (called the Matrika Shakti in the Indian Vedic tradition) create and support the “mishap” of egoic minding. The following material, which elucidates the mental processes of distortion, deletion, and generalization, is adapted from Milton Erickson’s Meta Model. Most of the category terminology is original to the founders of NLP.
Mind reading: We are all famous for going into trance in this way. It is a pervasive form of sloganeering — and not just at election time. You need to be watchful of your own tendency to do it, and learn how to stop doing it. Developing the sensitivity to stop your own mind reading is a direct determinant of your ability to bring your clients out of their trance of doing it.
For example, a client might say: “They don’t like me.” To initiate self-inquiry, ask the question: “How do you know they don’t like you?” The fruit of such self-inquiry identifies the source of the information.
Lost Subject (Actor/Performer). Statements of value judgments that leave out the initiator of the judgment.
For example: “It’s wrong to swear.” Question to initiate self-inquiry: “How do you know…, who says…,according to whom?” The fruit: the client identifies the source (of the belief), the subject (as source), or the logic(or prestige) that sustains the belief.
Cause-Effect Relationship. This is most important, not only to identify wrongly held views of particular cause/effect (c/e) relationships, but to put clients “at cause,” completely, regarding how they respond to their experience.
For example: “He makes me mad, sad, happy…etc.” Question to initiate self-inquiry: “How does what he does cause you to decide (to choose) to feel bad?” “how specifically…?” The fruit: the client regains an awareness of choice of how to respond, and of having the power to choose — the first step back to being at cause in one’s life.
Complex Equivalence. Making things the same or equal, but missing that the c/e relationship is arbitrary (i.e., they made it up!).
For example, “Whenever he sees me, he looks away; he doesn’t like me.” Question: “How does his looking away mean…(examine cause/effect)…have you ever looked away when you saw someone you liked?” (note: counter examples broaden awareness of perspectives beyond simply the counter example itself. If there are two ways to interpret something, there generally are more than two.) The fruit: the client breaks the fixation, and destroys the arbitrary “truth.”
Presuppositions. The axioms upon which our beliefs about cause/effect are based. They are the unquestioned c/e relationships that underlie all our concepts of reality, and, they all are grounded in an all encompassing world view, whether the client is aware of it or not. In other words, moment by moment, we proceed in our thought processes from our theory of the origins of the universe (1st Skandha).
For example, “If you knew how much that bothered me, you wouldn’t do it.” (Presupposes: you are bothered…I am doing something…I don’t know you are bothered.) Questions: “How do you choose to feel bothered?” The fruit: 1) Puts the client at cause over response: “What am I doing?” or, “How does what I am doing cause…?” 2) Clarifies action, “How do you know I don’t know?” 3) Requires elucidation of their internal reality (i.e., representation of the events), and exposes the complex equivalence dynamics.
Universal Quantifiers: all, every, never, always, everyone, no one…For example: “They always forget…” Questions: 1) “Always?” Fruit: dissolves the absolute. 2) “What would happen if they didn’t?” Fruit: elicits shadow presuppositions.
Modal Operators…of necessity; of possibility.
a) Of necessity: should, shouldn’t, have to, must, etc. For example: “I have to stay at this job.” Question: “What would happen if you didn’t?” Fruit: client focuses on outcome, elucidates beliefs, cause/effect, presuppositions, internal representations — the whole trance/theater!
b) Of possibility: may/may not, can/can’t, possible/impossible, etc. For example: “I can’t quit this job.” Question: “What stops you?” Fruit: recovers choice and cause, “What would happen if you did?” Fruit: same as (a) above.
Nominalizations. Changing processes into things (grammatically—changing verbs into nouns). For example: “We need to work on our relationship.” Question: “How are you relating that you don’t like?” Fruit: changes “it” back into a process, elucidates the “players,” their actions, the presuppositions, etc…exposes the whole trance/drama. Test for a nominalization: “Will it fit in a wheelbarrow?”
Unspecified Verbs. Leave out functional dynamics in a statement. For example: “She hurt me.” Question: “How exactly (specifically) did she hurt you?” Fruit: cause/effect dynamics, etc.
Simple deletions. Something is left out of the statement, such as a person, a thing, or a process (i.e., the referential index is missing). For example:
“You’re silly.” Q: “How exactly?”
“I’m unhappy.” Q: “About what?”
“They won’t answer.” Q: “Who, exactly?”
“You’re the best/worst!” Q: “Compared to what/whom?” (Note: in this case, the dynamics of comparison are left out: comparative deletion). Fruit in each case: recovery of deletion.
Fragmentation and shadow structures
From these examples, I’d like to propose to you that all thoughts are incomplete. They are either fragmented as those above, leaving out crucial aspects by their lack of comprehensive logic or perspective, or they have “shadow” aspects, implications intended to be left out. This is generally an unconscious intent on our part because we are not trained to be sensitive to the first four skandhas of the origination of our thoughts. We only recognize the fifth skandha tip of the iceberg. Thus, statements may be both fragmented and hiding shadow aspects, and generally are both.
The fragmentation keeps people going round and round in their trances of dilemma because, by nature, the fragmented logic and view of the thoughts denies them access to alternative choices of feeling and action. Fragmentation reinforces the felt sense of finality: the world view our thoughts describe is fixed and true. We become so used to these thought forms, individually and culturally, that we stop noticing the fragmentation, and, hence, rarely challenge it. We don’t do enough self-inquiry.
Example — fragmentation: “I can’t do X.” This is a fixed thought, which leaves out time and process, and generates an aura of finality. Also, it is a strongly structured suggestion, concise and easily repeatable. Repetition creates conviction. As a therapist (and for therapist’s own benefit) respond by adding the tag, “Yet!” Fruit: opens time flow, process, and recognition of possibility of change — everything changes! One word dissolves the fixation, restores fluidity, and initiates self-inquiry. “I can’t do X, yet.”
Example — shadow aspect: A prospective student discussing options for taking the course by intensive or weekend format. Strictly discussing logistics of learning, but body language and voice tone belie a deeper concern. Instead of responding to the issues presented, I say, “First of all, you shouldn’t worry at all about failing this course.” Student immediately relaxes, confesses that indeed fear of failure was the main concern, not deciding the best way to learn.
Flip side of wanting is fear of not getting: success/failure duality. One aspect of the incompleteness of thought is that we always express one side of a thought. Thoughts like coins have two sides, minimum. What is left unsaid is the shadow, and many times, as in this case, we leave it unsaid because it carries a truer statement about our state, about our hopes and fears, that we wish to deny or hide.
Example — shadow aspect: Phase I story — Woman who is tortured by her children. She trained them to treat her like her father treated her. Flip side of complaint about his treatment of her, treatment which she went to great lengths to replicate, is longing for his presence. Recognition of this dictated my response: “Oh, you miss your Dad!” Fruit: Immediate tears, restoration of capacity to feel the held true feelings.
Example — fragmentation: A student in class objected to my use of the word, “Fuck.” I pointed out to her that the word had no power of its own, that we give power to words, suggesting to her that she examine how she has given this word power over her. For the benefit of the whole class, I went into a discussion of inherent qualities of words vs. inherent qualities of objects. As an example, I chose water. Wetness is an inherent quality of water. No matter who you are, no matter what you think, water will get you wet. Words, unlike water, do no have this inherent power — we must invest them with power for them to have any effect.
Another student interrupted with great conviction that, “When a word is said, it has great power.” She started to go on and on about the power of words to affect people individually and in cultural groups, always using the linguistic form, “When a word is said…”
I pointed out to her that she was giving an example of the meta model category of Lost Performer and Deleted Referential Index. She was leaving out the subject, the doer: Who said the word. She was also leaving out the object, the listener: who heard the word. Without these crucial parts of the puzzle her emphatic pronouncements seemed very weighty to some, given the prestige, the passion, carried in her voice. She was persuading them, hypnotizing them with emotional impact, or vividness.
But when these missing pieces were pointed out, it became obvious to her and to everyone that the “power of the word” was totally a function of the investment, by their attitudes, of the speaker and listener.
Used purposefully as linguistic devices and deceptions, these fragmentary and shadow structures are the means for creating vagueness, and large “chunks” of information conducive to hypnosis. They facilitate trance. Specifying creates clarity and smaller “chunks” that enable one to see the dynamics at play. Neither is inherently better than the other:
We use shadows and fragments inappropriately to make and maintain problem states; we can use them appropriately to unravel problem states and to enhance desirable states.
As a therapist, you will generally be specifying (chunking down) to break the client’s problem state through self-inquiry, and then generalizing, etc., to produce and maintain resourceful states. In other words, “chunking” activates their unconscious capacities to reevaluate and change relational processes beneficially over a wide range of interrelated data and experience.
Your ability to do this will be greatly enhanced by studying and comprehending the meta model, and by refining your competency at the art and skill of self-inquiry by practicing with clients and with your own internal dialogue.
Understanding the nature of incomplete thought is essential to waking up and staying awake yourself, and it is essential to working with clients’ trances. The point is not to be able to explain it, but to be able to recognize incomplete thinking as it occurs, moment by moment, and to know how to then utilize it to lead clients to more resourceful trance states and to wakefulness.