Meta Frames

Applying a generalization to itself frequently leads a person to a meta position with respect to his or her own thoughts and beliefs. The NLP notion of 'meta position' is a means of applying a self referenced process to facilitate psychological change and growth. In meta position, one disassociates from and then reflects back upon one's own thoughts, actions and interactions in order to gain new insights and understandings that will help one to act more effectively. This helps a person to recognize that the belief is indeed a 'belief and not necessarily the only interpretation of reality.

One of the most direct ways to achieve a meta position with respect to a belief is to use what is known as a 'meta frame'. Applying a meta frame involves evaluating a belief from the frame of an ongoing, personally oriented context -i.e., establishing a belief about the belief. We can believe, for instance, that some other belief is erroneous or silly. The statement, "You're only saying that to make me feel good," is a common example of how a person might use a meta frame to discount a positive statement or evaluation made by another person.

The difference between applying the belief to itself and meta framing is that, when a belief is applied to itself, the content of the belief (i.e., the values and generalization which the belief expresses) is used to evaluate the belief itself. In meta framing, the belief about the other belief can have a completely different content than the other belief to which it refers.

For example, consider the generalization, "You have to be strong to survive." Applying the belief to itself would involve saying something like, "I wonder if that belief is strong enough to survive into the next millennium." To meta frame the belief, on the other hand, someone might say, "That belief is most likely a reflection of a relatively narrow and male dominated view of life that fails to recognize the importance of cooperation and flexibility with respect to survival."

Meta framing is a common strategy for working with beliefs in psychotherapy and counseling; in which a person's beliefs are placed in the meta frame of his or her personal history or other social influences. Sigmund Freud's technique of psychoanalysis is a classic example of the application of meta framing. Freud was constantly explaining and 'framing' the complaints of his patients by placing them within the framework of his theories. Consider the quotation below, taken from Freud's account of his work with a patient who was obsessed with fantasies about rats (the case of the so called 'Ratman'):

Jpointed out to him that he ought logically to consider himself as in no way responsible for any of these traits in his character; for all of these reprehensible impulses originated from his infancy, and were only derivatives of his infantile character surviving in his unconscious; and he must know that moral responsibility could not be applied to children.

Freud meta framed the man's thoughts and "reprehensible impulses" as deriving from his "infantile character surviving in his unconscious." Freud then implied that, because "moral responsibility could not be applied to children," the man should not blame himself for his compulsions.

Meta framing frequently diffuses the impact of a limiting belief by shifting a person's perspective to that of an observer to his or her own mental processes.

Explore this pattern with one of your own beliefs. Think of some belief, judgment or generalization that limits you. What is a belief about this belief that could change or enrich your perception of the belief?

Belief:_

I have that belief because:_

Like all other Sleight of Mouth patterns, meta framing can also be used to support or strengthen an empowering belief. As an example, let's say someone wants to establish the belief, "My intelligence and ability to communicate make me a survivor." A supporting meta frame could be, "You have that belief because you recognize that the information age has forever changed the factors necessary for survival."

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