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The NLP Meta Model 1

What is the NLP Meta Model?

A linguistic chunking down tool that allows us to recover lost information. This is done via specific questioning.

Why would you want to learn about the Meta Model?

How would it be if we could recover information that has been distorted, deleted and genalised so that we could change the internal representations of those experiences or situations?

How useful would it be if through a series of questions we could assist clients in feeling better about a situation by changing their IR?

How would it be if by listening to what our clients say to us and by asking specific Qs we could get them to hear alternative choices?

How would it be if you could get your client to see opposites and different representations of events, just by recovering the lost data and infomation, again through specific questions?

What is the Meta Model?

The meta model is a linguistic chunking down tool that allows us to recognize what’s been distorted, deleted and generalised when someone is speaking, and it’s used to recover lost data and information through specific questions.

It is recovering information from the deep structure, rather than surface structure communication. 

The meta model revolves around the work of Virginia Satir in the ‘60s who achieved amazing results with her clients in family therapy, and she did this by being specific.

In 1972 her book ‘People making’ was published, in which she discussed her therapy work and approaches.

Richard Bandler and John Grinder used their process of NLP modelling to work out why it was she was so successful

John Grinder was also very interested in transformational grammar and researched, amongst other people, Noam Chomsky, who in 1957 had written ‘Syntactic structure’ and from which many ideas became included in the founding ideas of the meta model.

From all of this work the meta model as we know it today was created.

Some definitions;

What are distortions, deletions and generalisations?

  • Distortion: Occurs when something is mistaken for what it is not.
  • Deletion: Some of the experience is left out.
  • Generalisation: Make general statements about what we believe and ignore exceptions. One specific experience is taken to represent a class of experiences. 

What is surface structure?

  • This is a linguistic term meaning the structure of our communication, which generally leaves out the completeness of the Deep Structure through deletion, distortion, generalisation. It’s essentially what we say. 

What is deep structure?

  • The unconscious basis for the surface structure of a statement. Much of the deep structure is out of awareness.

So, in summary, the meta model is about listening, spotting when information has been left out and then challenging it so that lost information is recovered.

Meta model patterns

So let’s take a look at how distortions, deletions and generalisations sound in what a person says, and the approach we can take to recover the information that was intended rather than communicated,

Meta Model Distortions

1. Mind Reading:

Claiming to know 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.


‘I know you don’t like me’
‘I know you are curious’
‘I know you are sad’

There is an obvious distortion in the sentences above as the speaker has no evidence for the statement. The challenge is to ask the speaker to specify their evidence for the hallucination

Challenge: ‘How do you know I am …”

2. Lost Performative

Value judgement where the performer of the judgement is not stated. The speaker expresses the statement as a generalisation true for the world. (Good/bad etc)


‘It’s good to be timely’

 “It’s bad to be inconsistent’
‘It’s rude to be loud’

The distortion, has no evidence, and is frequently based on family or cultural filters. To break the distortion the NLP Practitioner asks the speaker to specify evidence for their statement

Challenge: “According to whom?”, “Who says so?“, “How do you know?”

3. Cause Effect Pattern:

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.


‘You make me sad?’
‘People talking at once causes me anxiety’

There is no cause effect in biological system. There is nothing anyone or anything can do to affect your internal state, it is our internal reaction that is causing the state to change. The distortion here is it’s our response to the external stimuli, not the stimuli itself.

The meta Model challenge is designed for the speaker to access resources and have a different response, and therefore choice.

Challenge: “How specifically does people talking at once ‘cause’ you to choose anxiety ?”
Or offer a counter example

4. Complex Equivalence Pattern

Statements where complex situations, ideas, objects or their meanings are equated as synonymous.


“You always yell at me means you don’t like me”
“He’s a man, he is lucky”

The statements above are highly distorted the speaker is creating meaning by linking two unrelated components. The meta model question is designed to break the equivalence and recover choice. 


“How specifically does my yelling mean I don’t like you?” 
“Has someone ever yelled at someone you liked?

5. Presuppositions:

Presuppositions are the linguistic equivalent of assumptions.To make sense of a sentence the listener and / or speaker accept the presuppositions / assumptions as being true.

Presuppositions are the distorted assumptions inherent in natural language.


“If My husband knew how much I suffered he wouldn’t act that way”

The Presuppositions in this sentence are

She suffers
Her husband acts in some way
Her husband does not know she suffers

You can use any Meta Model pattern to challenge the distortions that are present assumptions in language.


How do you choose to suffer? – Recovers choice.
How specifically is he acting? – Specifies the verb.
How do you know he doesn’t know? – Challenges the mind read

Meta Model Deletions

1. Nominalisations

nouns that have been deleted from a process. Process words that have been frozen in time


“There is no communication here”

Challenge: Denominalise

2. Unspecified verbs

This is where a verb is not specified


“He rejected me”

Challenge: “Who or what specifically?”

3. Lack of referential index

Failure to specify a person or thing


“They don’t listen to me”

Challenge: “Who or what specifically?”

4. Simple deletion


“I am uncomfortable”

Challenge: “Who or what specifically?”

5. Comparative deletion


“She’s the better person”

Challenge: “Who or what specifically?”

Meta Model generalisations

1. Universal quantifiers

Universal generalisations with no specific referential index


Everyone, no one, every, something, never, all, someone

“She never listens to me”

“Nobody like me”

Challenge: “What would happen if?”

2. Modal operators of necessity

Words / phrases that imply necessity.


Should, shouldn’t, must, mustn’t, I need to, I have to

“I have to take care of her”

Challenge: “What would happen if?”

3. Modal operators of possibility / impossibility

Words / phrases that imply possibility / impossibility.


Can / can’t, may / may not, possible / impossible

“I can’t tell him the truth”

Challenge: “What would happen if?”

For examples of the meta model in action have a read of our posts “Increase your willpower with these 3 NLP Tips” and “four words that will kill a relationship


The meta model is a great tool for uncovering what has been left out of what someone has said which gives clarity back to a communication. It opens up choices for people who may be feeling stuck or overwhelmed as well as giving people the tools to change their internal representations. 

Would you like to know more?

Our blog page has many more articles for you to read.

Alternatively, head over to our NLP glossary where you can find a list of NLP terms with lots of links to articles.

If you'd like to find out more about our courses where you can learn more head over to our courses page

Thanks for reading!


ABNLP Trainer
Founder: Insights NLP
Phone +62 (0) 812 3895 2053


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