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The Meta Model is a set of language patterns with specific questions intended to obtain information and to help the other connect his world model again with his concrete experiences. It restores the connection between language and experience. The Meta Model enables you to choose exactly those words which have a meaning on the 'map' of the other and to accurately determine what the other means with his or her words.

The Meta Model is derived from the work of Virginia Satir. The model allows us to discover deletions, distortions and generalisations in our language.

Surface Structure and Deep Structure

The Meta Model is a tool-kit for retrieving deep structure from surface structure.
We distinguish

  • Syntax level (Words) >> Surface structure
  • Semantic level (Thoughts,Feelings,Meaning) >> Deep structure
This concept was created by Noam Chomsky. He wrote a lot of books about this subject.
To understand the Meta Model we must examine how our thoughts are translated into words. To go from the deep structure to the surface we do three things:
  • Distortion
  • Generalisation
  • Deletion

The Meta Model consists of a series of questions aimed to finding and unravelling the deletions, distortions and generalisations. The questions are intended to complete the missing information, to give a new form to the structure of what is said and to bring specific information forth to give the message a meaning.

Language Patterns - Distortions

Language Pattern Question Explanation

1.  Mind reading

Assuming you know what the other person is thinking or feeling

Example: "You don’t like me". 

How do you know I shouldn't like you?

Find out the source of information

2.  Lost Performative (eternal truth)

Giving valued judgements without mentioning the name of the one who judged.

Example: "Coffee is bad"

According to whom? Who says this is bad?

Find out the source, truth, strategy of the belief (gather proof).

3.  Cause and effect (A>B).

When cause is wrongly placed outside the speaker.

Example: “You make me sad”

How come what I do makes you feel sad?

In what specific way?

What need to be done so that this doesn’t happen?

Find out the choice

4.  Complex equivalence (A=B).

Two experiences are interpreted as a synonym.

Example: "She is always shouting at me, she doesn’t like me"

How does the fact that she shouts means that she ...

Have you ever shouted at someone you like?

Identify complex equivalence


5.  Presuppositions.

Example: "If my husband knew how much I was suffering, he would not do this". Three presuppositions:

(1) I suffer.

(2) My huisband behaves in one way or another.

(3) My husband doesn’t know that I suffer

(1) How do you choose to suffer?

(2) What is his reaction?

(3) How do you know he doesn’t know?

Describe choice and verb.

Specify what he does

Identify internal representations and complex equivalence

Language Patterns - Generalisations

Language Pattern Question Explanation

6.  All or nothing statements

Universal generalizations like everything, every, never, everyone, anyone, etc.

Example: "She never listens to me."


What would happen if she was listening?

Identify counterexample, effects or results

7.  Modal operators

a)  necessity

Has (not)to, must(not), ought (not) to, it is (not) necessary

Example: "I must take care of her."

b)  of (im)possibility

Can (not), will (not), maybe (not), possible, impossible.

Example: "I can not tell the truth."

What would happen if you did (not) do this?


What's stopping you?

What would happen if you did this?

Identify effects, outcome or result

Identify causes

Language Patterns - Deletions

Language Pattern Question Explanation

8.  Nominalisations

Nouns which are made from process words and verbs

Example: "I must improve my communication"

With whom do you communicate?

How would like to communicate?

Turn the word into a process and identify the omission and reference.

9.  Unspecified verbs

Example: "He has rejected me"

Specify the verb

How did he precisely reject you?

How? How specifically?

Specify the verb

10.  General omissions

A)  General omissions

Example: "I do not feel at ease."

B)  Lack of referential index

No specific person or thing stated

Example: "They will not listen to me."

C) Half comparisons

Good better best, less, most, least, worse, worst.

Example: "She's a better person."

About what, about who?

Who is precisely not listening to you?


Better than who?

Compare to who or what?

Identify omission

Identify reference

Identify comparison

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