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Metaphors for Metaphors


hi my name is Gabriel i have been studying nlp for five years now . here is my question : how many times can you use a metaphoric filter before the unconscious cannot recognize the commands. From my understanding the unconscious has no problem recognizing one layer of metaphor but how many the limit ???

Example (to a car crash victim who has spine damage):

You know i was catching a train to work this morning and as usual the train was filled with people who all had there own jobs to do places to go roles to fill its quite a way to wake up for work ,with all the commotion of people getting on and off this train your soon to have something grab you attention or interest. anyway as i was watching the head bobbing and swaying from the movement of the train i soon realized we were on a different track. I hear a young boy saying look mommy look now while pointing out the window i see a whole lot of workers fixing the track the train would usually take. How awesome I thought to my self that we can trust the workers to fix all the damage and return the track to its original good condition as fast as possible.

Anyways as you can see it’s a metaphor about fixing the spine.

What I’m curious about is if i take that train metaphor and make up a metaphor for it would it still have a healing effect.

I guess what I’m asking is how many times can you re embed something before the unconscious can not decipher the meaning ????


Hi Gabriel – Milton Erickson used “Nested Loops”. Which is a metaphor inside another metaphor in order to get the conscious mind out of the way and allow the unconscious to heal or accept a suggestion to change behavior.

The pattern is –

  1. Open story one.
  2. Open story two.
  3. Open other stories if desired – 3 and 4 etc. You can have as many as you like
  4. Close story 3.
  5. Close story 2.
  6. Close story 1.

The conscious mind will check out while trying to make sense of this whole thing, leaving the clients unconscious open to suggestions in the embedded story or stories.


  1. Metaphor 1: So, you could have your train story start and then
  2. Metaphor 2: “which reminded me of the road works outside the house last week, where they dug up the old road and while they were working, everyone had to detour around it”
  3. Metaphor 3: “My friend found this really irritating when she came to visit, because she could see my place but not get to it…”
  4. Metaphor 4: “but that was OK, because we had a really nice lunch – I tried out a new recipe using lentils and banana…
  5. Close Metaphor 4: I didn’t think it would work, but the flavors came together really well with some chili and coriander”
  6. Close Metaphor 3: So obviously she did find her way to my place, even though she thinks she is bad at finding things.
  7. Close Metaphor 2: “Anyway, eventually they finished the road works, but I had gotten so used to using the detour that I go that way all the time now”
  8. Close Metaphor 1: “And the train trip didn’t take any longer – the workers really knew what they were doing. When I came home I couldn’t tell if I was on the old or the new track”

So you have several different metaphors about detours, new routes and changes and not knowing how things come together etc.

As far as I know, any limits on the number of nested loops are from the practitioner’s CONSCIOUS mind rather than the client’s unconscious. It’s you who needs to be able to track and design something useful, not anyone else’s unconscious.

A conscious mind can track only a few things at one time – and then we usually need it written down or something.

Unconscious minds are truly amazing and deal with thousands of pieces of information all the time – by filtering out what is irrelevant, by creating patterns and also by paying attention to what is important. They are meaning making machines, and will decipher meaning even when there isn’t any. (This can be a good or bad thing)

See also

Metaphors and Stories
Creating Metaphors for Change
Our Conscious Subconscious Mind

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