NLP Meta Model, by John David Hoag (2023)

The function of the Meta Model is to help us identify and transform problematic deletions, distortions and generalizations in our thinking and communication with others,

How The Language We Use Can Delete, Distort and Generalize
Our Thinking and Communication

"The basic principle behind the Meta Model is Korzybski's notion that 'the map is not the territory.' That is, the models we make of the world around us with our brains and our language are not the world itself but representations of it." -- Dilts and DeLozier, Encyclopedia of Systemic Neuro-Linguistic Programming and NLP New Coding, 2000.


The Meta Model, NLP's first formal model, was published in 1975 by Richard Bandler and John Grinder in their ground breaking book, The Structure of Magic, Vol. 1. It extended features of general semantics (Korzybski) and transformational grammar (Chomsky), and developed via modeling the successful therapeutic language interventions of psychiatrists Fritz Perls and Milton Erickson, and family therapist Virginia Satir.

The Meta Model formalized these developments into a richly defined set of linguistic patterns that can either facilitate change or create obstacles in a person's mental maps of himself and the world.

Expanding & Revising Mental Maps

"The meta model represents, as far as we (Bostic and Grinder) have been able to determine, the first complete syntactically based language model for an express purpose ever created. The thirteen (or so -- it depends on how you count them) verbal patterns that constitute the meta model are a highly effective verbal model for use in the specific context of therapeutic change.

"They are designed for the express purpose of challenging the limitations in the mental maps carried by clients who seek professional assistance in changing themselves through the processes of therapy. Under the impact of the systematic use of the meta model patterns, clients... expand and/or revise the mental maps that contain the traps, flaws and limitations that prevent them from shifting to more effective and congruent behavior." -- Bostic and Grinder, Whispering In the Wind, 2001, p.148.

Significant Progress

The NLP Meta Model remains an immensely powerful tool, 30 years later, both for individuals outside the therapeutic context and for clients seeking help from NLP professionals. In my own practice, I have seen clients make significant progress in relatively short periods of time by acknowledging specific Meta Model violations (limiting patterns) and suggesting better alternatives for my clients to consider.

Some Meta Model violations, it should be noted, can be the result, rather than the cause, of other limiting patterns. "Mind reading," for example, is not necessarily linguistically originated but is, instead, often the linguistic representation of self/other identity confusion, boundary ambiguity and other core state meta patterns.

Meta Model violations are simply obstacles on the path to success and happiness. Removing an obstacle is not the same thing as traveling a path -- it simply makes travel possible and reveals something about the territory in which the path is located.

Different individuals have different numbers and kinds of Meta Model violations in their thinking and speech. The absence of Meta Model violations does not indicate that a person does not have any problems in life. But the presence of Meta Model violations clearly indicates at least one limiting factor in thinking -- language which, by no other factor than its structure, deletes, distorts and generalizes thinking.

Deletion, Distortion and Generalization

As described by Bandler and Grinder, "Deletion is a process by which we selectively pay attention to certain dimensions of our experience and exclude others. Take, for example, the ability that people have to filter out or exclude all other sound in a room full of people talking in order to listen to one particular person's voice... Deletion reduces the world to proportions which we feel capable of handling. The reduction may be useful in some contexts and yet be the source of pain in others.

"Distortion is the process which allows us to make shifts in our experience of sensory data. Fantasy, for example, allows us to prepare for experiences which we may have before they occur... It is the process which has made possible all the artistic creations which we as humans have produced... Similarly, all the great novels, all the revolutionary discoveries of the sciences involve the ability to distort and misrepresent present reality.

"Generalization is the process by which elements or pieces of a person's model become detached from their original experience and come to represent the entire category of which the experience is an example. Our ability to generalize is essential to coping with the world... The same process of generalization may lead a human being to establish a rule such as, 'Don't express any feelings.'"

The function, then, of the Meta Model is to help us identify problematic deletions, distortions and generalizations in our internal thinking patterns and our linguistic interactions with each other, and to propose ways of transforming them or revising their use in certain contexts.

The Meta Model Extended

The Meta Model was extended in 1997 when Richard Bandler asked L. Michael Hall to write the 25-year update on the Meta Model. Hall's extensions are presented and discussed in his book, Communication Magic and include nine new Meta Model forms based on Korzybski's General Semantics, Cognitive Therapy and Rational Emotive Therapy (Beck and Ellis).

The Milton Model

The Milton Model (so named after Milton Erickson) is related to the NLP Meta Model. It was based specifically on Bandler and Grinder's modeling of Erickson's hypnotic language with clients. It is often mistakenly described as a mirror image of the Meta Model, using Meta Model violations in a positive way to produce therapeutic trance. While there is significant overlap in language forms, the Milton Model contains forms which do not appear in the Meta Model (various types of ambiguity, pacing and leading, tag questions, etc.), and vice versa.

This Document

This web page and the accompanying "Meta Model Flashcards" include definitions, descriptions and examples of all the Meta Model patterns including L. Michael Hall's extensions, several sub-patterns I have specified, and selected Milton Model language forms.

How To Use The Meta Model On Your Own

Because of the size of the Meta Model, I generally advise clients to learn it in small chunks. One way to do this is to read it over once without the intention of remembering it, noticing any patterns which one recognizes in one's own thinking or communications. For many people, a few will stand out. Focus, then, on learning those few well -- tune your ears to hear them in the speech of others, and catch and transform them in your own thinking and speaking.

Some of the most commonly problematic Meta Model violations are: Mind Reading, Modal Operators, Cause and Effect, and Complex Equivalence.

with examples and additions by John David Hoag

1a. Simple Deletions (Unspecified Nouns)

Vague nouns (or pronouns) which create confusion and ambiguity.

Negative Examples:
a. "It's time for you to face reality."
b. "Get a life."
c. "This situation is impossible."
d. "There are certain things you just can't get through your head."
e. "It's not what you know, it's who you know."

Positive Challenges : Point to missing specifier:
a. "Whose reality?"
b. "What kind of life?"
c. "Which situation?"
d. "Which things specifically?"
e. "What's not what who knows? Whom does who need to know?


Woman: "You got a telegram from headquarters today."

Man: "Headquarters? What is it?"

Woman: "It's a big building where generals meet."
-- (From the movie, "Airplane")

Clouseau: "You know, it's strange."
Woman: "What?"
Clouseau: "I said, 'It's strange.' "
Woman: "Yes, I know. And I said, 'What?' "
Clouseau: "Oh, you mean, 'What is strange?' "
Woman: "Yes."
Clouseau: "Yes, yes."
-- (From the movie, "Revenge of the Pink Panther")

Monk: "I should tell you… I'm afraid of…places."
-- (From the TV show, "Monk")

"[The Mouse said,] '...the patriotic archbishop of Canterbury found it advisable —' "
"Found what?" said the Duck.
"Found it," the Mouse replied, rather crossly: "of course you know what 'it' means."
"I know what 'it' means well enough, when I find a thing," said the Duck: "it's generally a frog, or a worm."
-- (From Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll)

1b. Simple Deletions (Unspecified Adjectives)

Adjectives the meanings of which are unspecified. Unspecified adjectives are a frequent indicator of interpretation rather than observation and often beg the question of lost performatives (see below).

Negative Examples:
a. "I attract jerkish behavior."
b. "Must you wear that silly hat?"
c. "Why the smug look?"

Positive Challenges: Point to missing specifier:
a. "Jerkish in what way?"
b. "Silly in whose opinion?"
c. "What kind of look is 'smug'?"

1c. Simple Deletions (Unspecified Relationships)

Relationships between terms or ideas which are assumed and unspecified.

Negative Examples:
a. "I need to buy new clothes before I can feel confident."
b. "I've had this problem a long time, so it will be hard to change."
c. "I can't have a relationship until I lose weight."

Positive Challenges:
a. "Is there anything you feel confident about that doesn't require new clothes?"
b. "What is the relationship between time and ease of change?"
c. "What specifically connects relationships to your weight?"

2. Comparative Deletions

Phrases and sentences which imply a comparison but delete the object on which the comparison is based, or which do not specify the basis of comparison. Frequent words: even, very, more, less, greater, lesser, bigger, brighter, smarter... etc. (than what? how?)

Negative Examples:
a. "Even you can understand what I'm about to tell you."
b. "If your tastes were better, people would like you more."
c. "Do you think you could talk less and think more?"

Positive Challenges: Specify the deletion:
a. "Even? Compared to whom?"
b. "Better? Than what?"
c. "Talk less and think more than whom?"

Dramatic: TV Series: "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles", aired 3/6/2009, episode "Ourselves Alone":

[Knock on door. John Connor looks out window]:

JOHN: "Someone with a clipboard."

[Various characters indoors exchange significant glances, very serious. Soundtrack: thumping percussion. Sarah opens door revealing an apparently ordinary woman in business dress.]

SARAH: "Can I help you?"

WOMAN: "Hi, there. I'm Molly Malloy. I'm with the Department of Child and Family Services?"

SARAH: "How can I help you?"

(Video) London Seminar in Digital Text and Scholarship: 'Protocols for Encoding Shakespeare'

MOLLY: "Well, I was hoping I could speak with you about Riley Dawson. She's not here, is she?"

JOHN: "No, she's not."

MOLLY [looking at John]: "Are you John?"

JOHN: "Yes."

SARAH: "What's this regarding?"

MOLLY: "Would it be easier if I came in for a quick chat?"

[Sarah and John step aside to let Molly in.]

3. Unspecified Referential Index

A phrase which deletes who is doing the acting. Using a general subject that doesn't refer to a specific person. Frequent words: a person, someone, people, they, one, we. Also, generalizations which apply to classes or groups of individuals: "Americans, Catholics, Jews, managers, workers, men, women, etc."

Negative Examples:
a. "A person could get really fed up with you."
b. "People don't like you."
c. "One isn't going to learn what one doesn't want to know, is one?"
d. "A wife should at least fix a man dinner."
e. "A body has to wonder what's going on in that brain of yours!"

Positive Challenges: Specify the deletion.
a. "Which person?"
b. "Which people?"
c. "Which one?"
d. "Which wife should fix which man dinner?"
e. "Whose body?"

4. Unspecified Verbs

Process words which are missing a complete description and verbs that are, to a greater or lesser degree, unspecified. Also, omitting the verb, or the object of the verb, or both.

Negative Examples:
a. "Don't force me to get angry with you again."
b. "You never express your feelings."
c. "I wish you wouldn't chatter on like that."
d. "Oh, stop whining."

Positive Challenges: Point to missing specifier.
a. "Force you how?"
b. "Express in what way?"
c. "Chatter?"
d. "Whining exactly how?"


Doctor: "Captain, how soon can we land?"
Captain: "I can't tell."
Doctor: "You can tell me. I'm a doctor."
Captain: "No, I mean I'm just not sure."
Doctor: "Well, can't you take a guess?"
Captain: "Well, not for another two hours."
Doctor: "You can't take a guess for another two hours?"
Captain: "No, I mean we can't land for another two hours."

-- (From the movie, "Airplane")

Scientist: "So! Everyone in England is being turned into Scotsmen. Right?"
Assistant: "Yes."

Scientist: "Now. Which is the worst tennis playing nation in the world?"
Assistant: "Um, Australia. "
Scientist: "No, try again. "
Assistant: "Australia?"
Scientist: "No, try again but... say a different place."
Assistant: "Oh! I thought you meant I said it badly. "

-- (From Monty Python's Flying Circus, "You're No Fun Anymore")

5. Nominalizations

A process (verb) which has been converted to a thing or event (noun). A common nominalization is adding "-ing" to a verb to make it a noun.

Negative Examples:
a. "Men have no appreciation for feelings or intuition."
b. "Women like you are not successful."
c. "If only you had a new thought now and then, your understandings wouldn't be so trivial."
d. "You have a hard time with decisions."

Positive Challenges: Convert the nominalization back into a process.
a. "What do you appreciate about men?"
b. "We succeed best at what we love."
c. "I wonder if I understand your intentions."
d. "So that's what you've decided."

JDH: Inductive Nominalizations of Identity: adding "-er" to a verb to classify an identity by means of a complex equivalence. "I see you walking. Therefore you are a walker." The process is one of complex equivalence: "I see you walk and that means you are a walker." The speaker who is unaware of this linguistic pitfall may often only believe a 'meaning' has been arrived at when the process has been converted to a class.

6. Modal Operators

Words which dictate or imply what is possible, right and/or necessary.

6a. Modal Operators of Necessity: must, mustn't, have to

Negative Examples:
"You have to get your act together."
"I have to make at least $500,000 a year."

Positive Challenges:
"What would happen if I didn't?"
"According to what criteria?"

6b. Modal Operators of Possibility: can, can't, could, couldn't

Negative Examples:
a. "You can bring me a beer."
b. "I can't stand your hair anymore."
c. "She could be more intelligent."
d. "He couldn't be dumber."
e. "I can't get the hang of this."

Positive Challenges: Highlight the modal operator:
a. "What would happen if I didn't?"
b. "What would happen if you could stand my hair?"
c. "She could be more intelligent if what?"
d. "What prevents him?"
e. "Can't? What if you could?"

6c. Modal Operators of Judgment: should, shouldn't, ought to
(see also Lost Performative)

Negative Examples:
"You should be a better cook."
"You shouldn't wear those colors."

Positive Challenges: Same as challenge to Lost Performative:

"According to whom?"

Note: When "I" is the subject, challenge parts. Example:

Internal Dialog :
"I should be better at this."

"According to whom?"
"According to me."
"According to which part of me?"

6d. Modal Operators of Contingency: would, wouldn't

Negative Examples:
a. "Surely you must have realized I would get angry [if you did that]."
b. "You wouldn't look natural in a car that expensive."
c. "I would make a change."

Positive Challenges: Highlight modal operator:
a. "You would? How would you rather get?"
b. "I wouldn't? If what?"
c. "You would, except for what?"

7. Presuppositions

Statements in which some unstated element must be assumed (pre-supposed) to be true in order for the statement to make sense (to be true or false). That is, the surface structure of the statements (the specific words and their meanings) omit or obscure the deep structure of the statements (their underlying message or presupposed truths). In the Meta Model, presupposition forms are named for the manner in which the sentences that contain them either delete or obscure them in the surface structure.

29 Meta Model Presupposition forms were explicated by Bandler and Grinder in "The Structure of Magic" Appendix B, 1975.

In this page's collection of Meta Model forms, only one presupposition is included for reasons of brevity.

Please click here to read the full article on Meta Model Presupposition forms.

7a. Selectional Restriction Violation

Attributing conscious awareness to an inanimate object , to an abstraction, to a mode of communication, or to a creature or entity that doesn't have that mode. ("A chair can have feelings.")

Also, Denying conscious awareness in conscious beings, or denying a mode of communication or capability to a creature which does have that mode.

Also, Excluding complementary categories by definite description (gender, race, religion, etc.).

Negative Examples:
a. "You have the personality of a stump."
b. "Your dress probably wishes you were younger."
c. "Men cause wars."
d. "Women are manipulative."
e. "To my parrot I'm just 'The Food Lady'."

Positive Challenges: Challenge directly or reframe with the same structure.
a. "Stumps always speak highly of you."
b. "My dress definitely wishes you were smarter."
c. "Believing men cause wars causes a war between the genders."
d. "So then, every woman is always manipulative and no man ever is?"
e. "So then, what are you to the food?"


Monk: "I happen to believe that all men are brothers. Every man's bent antenna diminishes me."

-- ( From the TV show, "Monk" )

“This is the way science believes early fish developed lungs...”

-- ( From the TV show: Miracle Planet : ‘New Frontiers’, 2005)


"For the first time, Juno will map Jupiter's entire atmosphere down to a depth of 350 miles. Jupiter's vast weather systems may finally yield their secrets."

-- (From the National Geographic Channel program "Naked Science"; Episode: "Journey to Jupiter" 2009. First aired 3/12/2009)

Positive Challenge: "Jupiter's weather systems are intentionally holding back their secrets?"

8. Universal Quantifiers

Words that are absolute generalizations without a referential index. Frequent words: always, never, every, all, none, etc.

Negative Examples:
a. "You always wear that shirt."
b. "With you, it's always something."
c. "She's that way all the time."
d. "He's never on time and never dressed properly."
e. "Every time I try, I fail."
f. "None of my efforts have ever succeeded."

Transformations highlight the universal quantifier and open it to question. General examples include:

Positive Challenges:
a. "Always? I never wear anything else?"
b. "Always? Without exception?"
c. "So she's never not that way?"
d. "Never? Not once?"
e. "Every single time? Without exception?"
f. "None? Not even one?"

9. Cause - Effect

The implication or direct claim that one thing causes, or is caused by, another when there is no well-formed logical support or demonstrable, sensory-based evidence to support a causal connection. Frequent words: makes, because, if...then, as...then, then, since, so.

Negative Examples:
a. "Look what you made me do."
b. "Whenever you come along, our team loses." (subordinate clause of time presupposition of cause & effect: "Our team lost because you came along.")
c. "It's your own fault she left you because you didn't like her music."

Positive Challenges:
a. "How exactly did I make you do that?"
b. "So our team always wins when I am absent?"
c. "No woman has ever left a man who liked her music?"

Negative Internal Dialog Examples:
a. "I'm not responsible for my actions because my parents were abusive."
b. "If it weren't for the economy, I'd be doing fine right now."
c. "I didn't call, so he killed himself."

Positive Internal Dialog Transformations:
a. "Children of abusive parents behave in different ways."
b. "I could be doing fine right now, regardless of the economy."
c. "Who have I not called who hasn't killed himself?"


"The last time I trusted a dame was in Paris in 1940. She said she was going out to get a bottle of wine. Two hours later, the Germans marched into France!!!"

-- "Sam Diamond", played by Peter Falk in the 1976 movie version of Neil Simon's play, "Murder by Death."


MAN IN PUB: "Excuse me, but you are Sherlock Holmes, aren't you?"

HOLMES (Impersonated): "Well that depends. Do you have a relative who was recently sent to prison?"

MAN IN PUB: "Me? Why, no."

HOLMES (Impersonated): "Well, yes then. I am Sherlock Holmes."
-- 1988 movie, "Without A Clue" starring Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley

---MONK: "I can't go to Florida."

ASSISTANT: "Why not?"

MONK: "Because it's someplace else."

-- From the TV show, "Monk"



: "Do you know what horrors lie beyond that wall?"

CONAN: "No."

VALERIA: "Then you go first."

-- From the movie, "Conan the Barbarian"

10. Mind Reading

10a. Believing one knows the thoughts, feelings, intentions, meanings, motivations, or other internal processes of another person - with no basis in reasonable, logical grounds for interpretation or direct, sensory observation.

Negative Examples:
a. "You are just trying to make me look foolish."
b. "You are deliberately annoying me."
c. "I'm sorry to bore you with my story."

Positive Challenges:
a. "How do you know what I'm trying to do?"
b. "Are you sure you know my intentions?"
c. "So you think you will bore me?"

Negative Internal Dialog Examples:
a. "They must be thinking how foolish I look."
b. "I knew she was going to say that."
c. "I'm boring her."

Positive Internal Dialog Transformations:
a. "I wonder what they're thinking."
b. "I thought she might say that."
c. "I notice her eyes wandering. I wonder what that's about."


Clouseau: "Brace yourself for what I am about to tell you. I am none other than Chief Inspector Jacques Clouseau."

Woman: "No you're not."

Clouseau: "Oh yes I am."

Woman: "No you're not."

Clouseau: "I am."

Woman: "Mm-m, you're not."

Clouseau: "I am."

Woman: "You're not. You are not."

Clouseau: "Look. Here..." [handing her his photo identification card]

Woman: "Yes..." [gasps] " are!..." [staring at the identification card] "...Oh my God!!!"

Clouseau: "Yes, I admit it's not a very good photograph."

-- (From the movie, "Revenge of the Pink Panther")

10b. Believing that another person knows, doesn't know, or should know the thoughts, feelings, intentions, meanings, motivations, or other internal processes of oneself without direct communication.

Negative Examples:
a. "You know how I feel about you."
b. "You always knew I would leave you eventually."
c. "You know what I'm going through!"

Positive Challenges:
a. "So you know what I know? That's impressive. How do you do that?"
b. "When do you believe I began to always know that?"
c. "So that's what you think."

Negative Internal Dialog Examples:
a. "They can all tell I don't feel confident right now."
b. "She should know I want to be left alone for awhile."
c. "When I think of something, he always picks up on it!"

Positive Internal Dialog Transformations:
a. "They may not perceive how I'm feeling right now."
b. "She can't know I want to be left alone for awhile."
c. "We often have very good rapport with each other."

10c. Believing one knows that another person doesn't know or understand what is apparent to their sensory observation, what has been or is being expressed or explained, or what their capabilities are to understand.

Negative Examples:
a. "You wouldn't understand."
b. "I already told you."
c. "You don't know how hard I'm working."

Positive Challenges:
d. "How do you know that?"
e. "Are you certain?"
c. "So you think I don't know how hard you're working."

Negative Internal Dialog Examples:
b. "Even if I told him, he couldn't appreciate it."
c. "She just can't understand despite my efforts to communicate."
d. "If I wait, eventually they'll figure out what I want."

Positive Internal Dialog Transformations:
a. "If I told him, I'm afraid he wouldn't appreciate it."
b. "She doesn't seem to understand what I've been trying to communicate."
c. "If I wait, eventually they might figure out what I want."

10d. (Crystal Ball Gazing) -- Believing one knows an unknowable future for oneself or others.

Negative Examples:
a. "I'll never find a man who loves me. "
b. "He'll always be an addict. "
c. "My future is dark and full of pain. "

Positive Challenges:
d. "So you'll be surprised when he shows up?"
e. "How can you be sure?"
c. "How can you tell so far ahead of time?"

Stacked Meta Model Violations with Mind Reading includes claiming any of the above types of knowledge about another person's internal processes plus using other Meta Model violations (stated or implied) as evidence (cause-effect, complex equivalence, missing referential index, universal quantifier, lost performative, etc.).

This category includes arm-chair psychologizing such as presuming the ability to diagnose mental disorders or claiming to know or understand another person's unconscious processes without either professional expertise or the ability to back up the claim with reasonable and widely accepted standards of observable behavior and criteria.

Negative Examples:
a. "You don't know what I'm going through! (but you should)"
(mind reading + modal operator of judgment)

b. "You burned the vegetables [and that means] you don't love me."
(mind reading + complex equivalence)

c. "You wouldn't understand because men never do."
(mind reading + missing referential index/selectional restriction violation, cause-effect)

d. "If you weren't so neurotic you'd do what I say."
(characterological adjective, cause-effect, presupposition)

e. "You always forget where you put the car keys. You're obviously getting senile."
(universal quantifier, complex equivalence, static word 'senile')

Positive Challenges:
a. Note: Stacked Meta Model Violations are less accessible to productive interactive challenge since, if one violation is challenged, the others are tacitly accepted presuppositionally. Yet, to challenge all of the stacked violations is cumbersome in natural conversation. More effective response modes will be found under The Hoag Model (to be published at a future date).

11. Complex Equivalence

Statements where complex situations, ideas, objects or their meanings are equated as synonymous. Frequent words [which are often omitted from the surface structure of the sentence]: that means, that just means, it must be that, [rhetorical] what else could it mean?

Negative Examples:
a. "The boss has his door closed. He's planning to fire me."
b. "You're not eating your vegetables. What's the matter? You don't like my cooking?"
c. "You bought me white flowers instead of red ones. You don't love me like you used to."

Positive Challenges:
a. "You mean every time your boss closes his door somebody gets fired?"
b. "If I liked your cooking, would I have to eat my vegetables?"
c. "So only red flowers mean I love you?"

Negative Internal Dialog Examples:
d. "I don't know what to do. I must be really stupid."
e. "I'm getting frustrated. I can't do this."
f. "They're succeeding and I'm not. I just don't have what it takes."

Positive Internal Dialog Transformations:
d. "I don't know what to do. What resources do I need in order to have a better idea?"
e. "I'm getting frustrated. Perhaps I'll take a break and see if there's a better approach."
f. "They're succeeding and I'm not. What specifically are they doing differently?"

12. Lost Performative

Value judgments made without specifying who is making the judgment (e.g., the performer of the judgment is deleted from the statement.)

Negative Examples:
a. "It's a good thing your head is attached (or you'd forget it)."
b. "You have lousy taste in clothes. It needed to be said."
c. "Your ideas are stupid."

Positive Challenges:
a. "According to whom?"
b. "Who needed to say it?"
c. "Says who?"

Negative Internal Dialog Examples:
a. "I'm no good at relationships."
b. "I'm a slow learner."
c. "I'm a computer dummy."

Positive Internal Dialog Transformations:
a. "Sometimes I think I'm no good at relationships."
b. "I notice that, compared to Jim and Kim, I'm faster at learning some things, slower at learning other things."
c. "Working with computers is not currently one of my top skills."


"Conditions on Jupiter are so turbulent, that the storms should blow themselves apart."

-- (From the National Geographic Channel program "Naked Science"; Episode: "Journey to Jupiter" 2009. First aired 3/12/2009)

Positive Challenge: "'Should'? According to whom? Or by what specific model? Is it possible that the storms should NOT blow themselves apart in the context of a larger model we do not yet understand?"

META MODEL, Extended (Hall)

13. Either/Or

Statements or questions which engage one's attention on a consequence which presupposes something else. It creates what Erickson called, "an illusion of choice" and directs attention to consider only the two possibilities mentioned.

Negative Examples:
a. "Are you doing that on purpose or can't you help it?"
b. "Are you dense or just naive."
c. "Either we win or lose."

Positive Challenges: Outframe the limitation in choices.
a. "Are those my only two choices?"
b. "Are those the only two options you can think of?"
c. "Could we win in one sense and lose in another? What would have to be true if we did neither?"


"On the one hand we are headed toward utter destruction and doom, and on the other hand we face waste and lack of meaning. I hope to God we have the sense to make the right choice. "

-- (Widely attributed in various forms to Woody Allen. If you know the specific source of this quote, please let me know. This version appears in the book: Beliefs: Pathways to Health & Well-Being, by Robert Dilts, Tim Hallbom and Suzi Smith. -- JDH)

14. Over/Under Defined Terms

Terms that rely on purely abstract definitions which do not reference anything or anyone specific. Such terms rely on multiple levels of indirection and tend to produce trance (positive or negative). They are over-defined when we treat the words as ‘real’ in themselves, when in fact they are abstractions, and they are under-defined in the sense that they do not use sufficient specific facts and details that clearly extend to actual referents we can point to or perceive with our senses.

Negative Examples:
a. “I married him because I thought he’d be a good husband.”
b. “Crime is caused by problems in socialization.”
c. “I get impatient because I’m not being productive.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “If he became a good husband, what specifically would be different?”
b. “What part of socialization causes which specific crimes?”
c. “What do you want to produce?”

15. Delusional Verbal Splits (Elementalism)

Using language to compartmentalize and dichotomize elements of a whole so that we think and talk about them as if they actually exist apart from the whole. Maps created with elementalism do not accurately represent the territory and prevent us from thinking systemically. Common delusional verbal splits include: ‘mind’ and ‘body’, ‘space’ and ‘time’, ‘thoughts’ and ‘emotions’.

Negative Examples:
a. “My mind wants one thing, but my body wants another.”
b. “Rationally, I know it’s not true but my emotions still believe it.”
c. “Part of me wants to stay, and part of me wants to leave.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “Does your mind really stand alone?”
“What context does your mind occur within?”
“What would it be like if your mind-body wanted something?”
b. “If your thoughts and emotions merged into an attitude, what would it be?”
c. “Who will you be when those parts merge into one?”

16. Multiordinality (a type of nominalization)

Over-generalizing the meaning of words to the point where a word has a multiplicity of meanings and can be applied, ad infinitum, to itself. For example, “I have a thought about that thought (and a thought about that thought about that thought),” etc.

Deleted in multiordinal terms is the level or dimension of abstraction being used in the generalization. Example words include, “mankind, being in love, marriage, job, thought, education, ethics, religion, sanity, insanity, object,” etc. These terms are infinitely valued stages of processes with a changing, ambiguous content.

Negative Examples:
a. “I’m having second thoughts about our relationship.”
b. “I’m in love with being in love.”
c. “This isn’t a marriage.”
d. “I’m afraid I’ll use poor judgment again.”
e. “My goal is to be happy all the time.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “What thoughts are you having?”
b. “What kind of love are you talking about?”
c. “If this were a marriage, what would be different?”
d. “When can you determine that a judgment will be poor?”
e. “If you break your leg, do you want to be happy about it?”

17. Static Words (a type of nominalization)

A fixed or rigid meaning applied to a multiordinal term. Static expressions sound like pronouncements from heaven, made as if by an all knowing deity or inaccessible legislator, or spoken with an attitude of, “Everyone knows that…”

Static expressions map reality in absolutist and dogmatic terms and phrases, assumed (or intended to be taken) as true without challenge.

Negative Examples:
a. “That’s just the way life is.”
b. “Kids are a pain.”
c. “You’ve got to be together to be together.”
d. “It’s lonely at the top.”
e. “Money can’t buy you happiness.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “Life? What do you mean? All life? Which part of life? For whom? When?”
b. “Which kids are a pain when they do what?”
c. “If I were together, how would I know it?”
d. “Is that always true?”
e. “What kind of happiness are you talking about?”

Case study: Sometimes Meta Model violations are so rampant, it's hard to provide discrete examples. The following excerpt contains multiple examples of 'static words', as well as presuppositional statements and selectional restriction violations. Clue words are bolded. My comments are in blue. See what you can recognize. -- JH:

The Science Channel, 5/12/2009

"The Ends of the Universe: Hubble's Final Chapter: A final Mission to Hubble Attempts to Repair the Massive Telescope"

-- "Final" by whose decision, specifically? -- Static word.

Excerpted audio transcript. Quotes are from multiple unidentified speakers on the screen. Non-quotes are narrative voice-overs.

"Hubble has done fantastic things. It's measured the age of the universe, about 13.7 billion years. It's confirmed the existence of black holes and shown us where planets are formed. Ultimately, where we come from."

NARRATION: Born to parents at NASA in 1990, crippled at birth, but completely cured by engineers and astronauts, Hubble has revolutionized our science of the cosmos. It has become a global superstar and a household name.

-- The Hubble telescope was "born"? What gender is it? -- Selectional Restriction Violation

-- The Hubble has revolutionized? It has a will of its own? -- Selectional Restriction Violation

"The fact of the matter is, you can't hide Hubble. Hubble is so phenomenal."

NARRATION: But after years without maintenance, the telescope is desperate for help. Now it faces the most dramatic and exciting moment in its life: the final visit and farewell from its astronaut rescuers.

-- A desperate telescope. -- Selectional Restriction Violation

-- A living telecope -- Selectional Restriction Violation

-- "Final visit" -- Static Word. According to what authority?

"Now we're coming down to the last opportunity to go and visit the Hubble and upgrade it. If we don't do it right, there's not going to be another opportunity to make up for our mistakes."

-- The last opportunity -- Static word. By whose decision?

-- There's not going to be another opportunity -- Static word. By whose decree. Was this decision handed down from Heaven?

NARRATION: With a massive final mission to revive the greatest science tool today, Hubble and its amazing support team are about to make history again.

-- Can the producers of this film say "final" one more time without specifying the source? -- Static word.

"The astronauts are going to do the equivalent of open heart surgery, and doing that level of repair in space has never been done before."

-- Telescopes have a heart? -- Selectional restriction Violation

18. Pseudo-Words (a type of nominalization)

Linguistic maps that reference nothing either in the mind (including abstract logic) or the external world. These can be nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, expressions, etc. They are either names of things which do not exist, or fictions based on false or idle theories. As such, they may be context dependent. I.e., ‘unicorn’ references nothing in the external world, but does reference something in mythology. Example words: heat, space, infinity, ownership, awful, horrible.

Negative Examples:
a. “It’s terrible being alone.”
b. “The violence of truth oppresses me.”
c. “Scientists may have found the edge of the universe.”
d. “We can’t finish building your house. We’ve run out of inches.”
e. “Before time began, there was nothing.”
f. “I have a sense that I am flawed.”
g. “I can’t recapture my motivation.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “What don’t you like about it?”
b. “If I could experience the violence of truth, what would I see, hear or feel?”
c. “If the universe is the whole of everything that physically exists, its ‘edge’ forms the boundary between it and what else?”
d. “Where did you get the inches you already used?”
e. “Are you referring to a time before time began?”
f. “Flawed as opposed to perfect? Please show me perfection.”
g. “Perhaps I can help you find it. Can you show me a photo of it?”

19. Identification (a type of nominalization)

The root of the word ‘identity’ is ‘idem’, meaning “the same.” No two things are ever exactly the same in all respects, so no two things can be identical. No one thing is even the same from moment to moment. Therefore, identification is abstract, resulting from deletion of distinctions. Example words: is, am, are, an, was, were, be, being, been, like, etc.)

Negative Examples:
a. “I am a loser.”
b. “You are high maintenance.”
c. “This car is so ‘me’.”
d. “I am not the type of person who can succeed.”
e. “I don’t like who I am.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “What, specifically, have you lost?”
b. “How are you maintaining me?”
c. “How is it like you?”
d. “How is it useful to identify with a type?”
e. “How are you different from the ‘you’ you don’t like?”

20. Emotionalizing

Using our emotions for gathering and processing information: “I feel it, so it must be true.” Emotionalizing confuses internally generated and externally generated experience, so that instead of simply experiencing an emotion, we use it as evidence of a corresponding negative external situation. Emotions arise in response to differences or similarities between our maps and the territories they represent.

Negative Examples:
a. “I got fired today.” [Note: This was stated by a client who had not been fired. His explanation for the discrepancy between what actually happened and his statement was, "Well, it felt like I had been fired."]
b. “The world is a hopeless place.”
c. “He loves me, I can tell.”
d. “What a sad life this is.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “What words did your boss use to fire you?”
b. “So you are feeling hopeless?”
c. “How can you tell?”
d. “What about it makes you feel sad?”

21. Personalizing

Interpreting events, especially the words or actions of others, as specifically targeted toward us and/or as an attack on us. This process inaccurately connects external events to our self-image, self-opinion and self-definition, and ultimately relinquishes response-ability for our own choices and actions. Example words: I, me, mine.

Negative Examples:
a. “I’m under constant attack by society, finances and relationships.”
b. “They make hamburgers too big, out of disregard for my health.”
c. “She doesn’t want me here. She asked how long I’d be staying.”
d. “He abandoned me. Every football season he was glued to the TV.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “Is someone attacking you right now? Can you point them out to me?”
b. “If they make a hamburger, what do you have to do to get fat from it?”
c. “How do you know she wasn’t just planning her time?”
d. “How do you know when to take that personally?”

22. Metaphors

Understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another. Metaphor is different from simile. Metaphor: “My love is a rose.” Simile: “My love is like a rose.” Metaphors are an important feature of language, but they can create negative states when we take their meanings, and the fact that they are metaphors, for granted without examination. Like identification, they delete differences. Example clue words: is, are, were, be, etc.

Negative Examples:
a. “She is damaged goods.”
b. “We are swimming in a sea of man-made toxins.”
c. “Time is money.”
d. “He’s a pain in the neck.”
e. “Life sucks.”

Positive Challenges:
a. “How was she injured?”
b. “The ‘sea’ is similar to what in your experience?”
c. “What else is time?”
d. “What does he do, specifically?”
e. “Is that all that life does?”

Selected MILTON MODEL Forms

Tag Questions

A question added at the end of a statement, which changes the focus of the listener's attention to answering the tag question, away from the preceding statement. Tag questions are sometimes accompanied by a temporal shift.

Negative Examples:
a. "You always manage to turn the tables on me, don't you?"
b. "You've really done it this time, haven't you?"
c. "You'll never learn, will you?"

Positive Challenges: Return focus to the statement.
a. "Is that what you believe?"
b. "Done what as opposed to which time?"
c. "Is that today's lesson?"

Conversational Postulates

A "yes or no" question to which the listener responds by actively doing what is implied. The simplest example is: "Can you tell me what time it is?" (Most people will look at their watch and tell you the time, answering with behavior rather than answering the actual question.)

Negative Examples:
"Will you please stop telling me that?"
"Would you mind not looking at me like that?"
"Can you move your fat duff over a bit?"

Positive Challenges: No action. A simple 'yes' or 'no' answer, or no answer at all if presuppositions are embedded -- without doing what is implied.

Ambiguity (selected)

Syntactic Ambiguity
Where the function of a word can't be quickly known from the immediate context.

a. "The Smiths are visiting relatives."
b. "Frank is a training consultant."
c. "The peasants are revolting."

Scope Ambiguity

Where the scope of the linguistic context can't be determined. Using a modifier in a linguistic context where it is unclear which other part(s) of the sentence the modifier refers to.

a. "I noticed your messy habits and towels on the hanger." (Are the towels messy? Are the habits on the hanger?)

b. "Speaking to you as a person of intelligence, language isn't always clear." (Is the speaker a person of intelligence, or is the listener a person of intelligence?)

c. "There is a time and a place for everything and this is one of them." (Is "this" a time or a place?)


"We finally arrived on the shores of Africa... One morning, I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I don't know." -- (Groucho Marx, from the movie, "Animal Crackers", 1930 )

"It was a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater." -- (From the 1958 hit song, "Purple People Eater" by Sheb Wooley ) [ Question: Was it a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple creature that ate people, or a creature that ate one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people? ]

. . .

Learning to recognize Meta Model violations is useful in understanding and managing certain forms of verbal abuse.

Meta Model violations are obstacles on the path to success.

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