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The Maps We Make


Our human psyche is a complex set of processes and factors. We are constantly dealing with emotions in our everyday life. Communications are an integral part of our life. We not only communicate with those around us, but we also communicate with ourselves. There’s a saying by Anthony Robbins: “The only thing standing between you and your success, is the story you keep telling yourself!” Such is the power of communication. These internal communications also shape our behaviour and reactions. Our communications have more influence on us than we think.

The external world is the world we live in and where we actively participate. This world is where the experiences that we experience take place. We all have our own unique ways of communicating, behaving, perceiving and experiencing things in our life. Have you ever wondered why people working in the same company have a different opinion of their boss. You may see your boss a great leader while your colleague might see them bossy or dominating? Our communication and behaviour patterns are influenced by various things. Much of the influence comes from within. Here we focus on why we do what we do and how we have behaviours and outcomes.

Taking in information


One creates their perception of reality in their own ways, based on their neurology. Our actual response functioning varies from individual to individual even though our sensory organs share a common biology. When we have an experience, we take in information through our five senses, which are: olfactory(taste), gustatory(smell), visual, auditory and kinesthetic (feel).When a person sees, feels, tastes, smells or hears something, this information is converted into electrical impulses, which then travels to the brain. The brain then makes sense of the received information. For example, when you eat sugar, the information from your tongue travels to the brain, and then the brain interprets this information. So that is how you know that the food item that you just ate, is sweet.

Each one’s experience is their own personal perspective and unique to oneself. For example, if a bunch of people witness a car accident, then they might have their own version of what had actually happened. Additionally, they would also believe that what they themselves saw, is the truth, and have a tendency to disregard others' perspective.

We receive around two million bytes of information every second. For example, if you’re sitting in a room, there’s a lot that is happening around you; the clock is ticking, the phone is vibrating, the birds chirping outside, the clicking of the pen, the curtains moving with the breeze, etc. Out of all this information, we’re consciously aware of only some of the events. The rest of them remain out of our conscious awareness. We perceive only 134 bytes of information. This is because we have limited resources. The conscious mind can handle only 7 (plus or minus 2) items of information at a given time. The cognitive perceptions that we generate simultaneously with our sensing of the world help us to create our own subjective experience (Sibley,2006).

Understanding Filters

Whatever that happens in the external world, is taken in through our input channels, which is our five senses. This information which we have taken in through our senses, then passes through some filters. These filters are responsible for deleting, distorting and forming generalizations. Before we move to understand what exactly is deletion, distortion and generalization, let us first understand filters. Filters constitute your memories, values, beliefs, attitudes, language, time, matter, space, energy, meta programs. Basically, these filters reflect who we are, our history or past experiences and they are unique to us. Some of these filters are unconscious while some of them are conscious. Whatever we see, feel, experience from birth, aid in forming these filters.

From birth to age 7, the conscious mind is not functioning. Only the unconscious mind is functioning. The things happening around the child are taken as is. From the age of 7 to 12 or 14, the child is in the modelling phase. The child may have a role model, and try to act like that individual. This is how these filters that we mentioned above, are formed with age.

Language is just a linguistic description of our experiences. That is, they help us describe our experiences, they aren’t what we exactly experience. Values are what we feel about things or what is important to us. Beliefs support our values and are about what we can do and what we cannot. Together, these values and beliefs form our attitudes. Meta programs are mental shortcuts or innate preferences that help us explain why various people act differently in similar situations. They’re like a script or a program behind the program. For example, an individual who grew up in a vegan family, might say no to to a dish containing eggs. This may have happened because of the childhood conditioning of avoiding food which isn’t vegan.

Generalization,Deletion and Distortion

After the information has passed through the filters, we then delete, distort or generalize it. These can be either positive or negative. Let’s understand each one of them along with examples.

Generalization,Deletion and Distortion

Deletion is the process of selectively paying attention to some information while removing others. For example, a couple goes on a date, and they get in an argument with the waiter. Even though the rest of the date goes well, the partner then cribs about how horrible their date was because of that one incident. This is an example of negative deletion. Positive deletion is when a relative is constantly passing rude comments at you, and you don’t pay attention to those.

Distortion is to see information in a different way as compared to how it is in reality . For example, you look at somebody from far away and think it’s someone you know. But, when you go close to that person, you realise it's not the person you initially thought it was, it was someone else. Negative distortion for example is when you observe a new student’s behaviour in class, and think that this person is dull or boring.

Generalization means to attribute feelings of one experience to other similar incidents or experiences. For example, if a stand - up comedian performs in front of a live audience for a couple of times, and it does not go well, the individual may then generalize that he’s not a good comedian or that he can never be a good comedian. This is an example of negative generalization. Positive generalization will be when you like a movie created by a particular director and generalize that all the movies created by that particular director are good.

Let’s take another example. When you’re giving a presentation in front of a group, whatever information you share with them, each one of them will interpret it in different ways. You say a statement, and when you ask the group what they understood, you will get five different interpretations of the same statement. This happens because after each one takes in that information, they generalize, delete and distort it in their own ways. Our filters mould that information and we communicate the same to others.

Internal Representation of information

After the external reality has been subjected to generalization, deletion or distortion, we then form our perception of reality. We form an internal representation of reality or we can call it a map of the world.We tend to believe that the map of the reality that we have formed is the reality. But that’s not true. The external world may be somewhat different from the map of the world that we have formed in our minds. The map of the world that we have formed in our minds will not have a lot of things due to our limited cognitive abilities and the mental programs that delete, distort or generalize information. Everybody’s internal representation of reality is different. If you and your friends attended a party together, each one of you will have a different experience and a different internal representation of that event. This is because the information has passed through those filters, which is different for each one. Thus the map that one has formed will be unique to oneself and different from others.

This map then automatically leads us to a state. A state is a mood or an emotion. So the internal representation creates a state of mind, because of which your physiology changes. This eventually leads to the outcome, which is your behaviour.

Our maps and the reality


We believe that the map of the world that we have formed in our minds, is the actual reality. However, what we fail to realise, is that the real life experience is different from the map of reality. It is four stages away from what we had actually experienced. We tend to communicate the experiences we have had, based on this map of reality that we have formed for ourselves. Once the map changes, one’s ability to cope up with the reality improves.

In reality, the main issue isn’t the external event. It’s the internal representation of that event which can be an issue. If you have a fear of heights, then is height the problem? Had it been so, nobody would have built tall buildings, created air crafts and travelled in them. So the main issue is the internal representation of that event that is causing the fear.

Deep Structure and Surface Structure


When a client comes for therapy, the client will have a general experience. Various events have occurred in the client’s life. These experiences have been subjected to the filters and the mental programs of generalizing, deletion and distortion. The client then has formed his map of reality. So when the client is communicating to the therapist, he is presenting his map of reality and not what had actually taken place. What the client communicates is the limited expression of what had taken place.This map of reality that the client has presented, is actually the surface level or structure. The deeper structure or the deeper level is the actual experience that had taken place in the external world.

In therapy, the role of the therapist then becomes to start from the experience communicated by the client, and go to the map. Therapist needs to understand the client’s understanding of the world, their patterns of thoughts, their beliefs, self-concept, etc. From there the therapist may proceed to understand what did they generalize, delete or distort. Then the therapist can focus on knowing what did they generalize, delete or distort. And then they can focus on how did they take in that information. That is, how did they perceive the world, which senses were at play. Once all of this is taken into consideration, the therapist can understand what has actually taken place in the real world. Thus the therapist isn’t helping the client to create a change directly in the reality, rather they aim at creating a change in their map of reality.

The client experiences an event, say for example while giving a speech on the stage, the client forgot his lines and went blank. The audience is looking at him, while he is trying to remember. So this external event is where multiple things happened at that exact same moment. All these things that happened at that exact moment is what an experience is made of. This whole experience will pass through multiple filters, and will get reduced to the verbal experience that the client will share with others. When that experience passes through the filters, the client may conclude that “I am a terrible speaker”, “I can never deliver speeches in front of the audience”, etc. So this is thus the surface structure and the deep structure is what had actually happened. When the client communicates this story, he may express it in different ways. Irrespective of the way in which the client has expressed his story, the therapist needs to realise that it is not an accurate description of what had happened. The client expresses only a part of the experience and not the multiple things that happened during that event or experience. The therapist then has to move from this surface structure of the experience to the deep structure. The therapist can work on reducing the gap between the surface structure and the deep structure. Also, understanding the map of the client, his point of view and his beliefs will aid in this procedure. The therapist should bring the client closer to reality and provide them with more choices.

Acceptance and Allowance


A normal tendency of people is to see things in a particular way rather than other equally plausible ways. This is one of the reasons why people’s maps are so restricted.We all have different conceptions of the world, but none of these represents the world completely and accurately. People do not react to reality themselves, they react to their own representation of reality.The lens through which they see other things is narrow. Each one of us sees things differently. We all have a different lens through which we view the world, which has been shaped through our culture, past experiences, etc. We share a connection with others, and so we have a relation with them. Two people can have a different perspective about the same thing. This does not mean that one’s view is wrong. Differences in views exist because we all have different maps. It's important to recognize and respect those differences.

While dealing with a problem, when we focus just on our views and do not consider other views, we reduce possibilities of learning and solving the issue. When one learns to see others' perspectives as an interesting point of view, we automatically widen our maps. The relation between people strengthens when one learns to honour others views,appreciates the differences, accepts and allows it. There’s a difference between allowance and acceptance. Acceptance comes from a space of accepting things as is, not having a choice for it. Allowance is much more than acceptance. Knowing that each one is different and allowing that to remain constant, without feeling the need to change or alter that thing, is allowance. For example, if an individual has a partner that is not expressive, then acceptance would be more of accepting the situation even when one isn’t liking the non-expressive attitude of the person. Allowance is more of being okay and allowing this non-expressiveness attitude and letting it be as is.


Acceptance of a situation isn’t enough, it’s the beginning of an allowance .You also need to have an allowance of yourself. Be open to others views and perspectives. If you’re not aware of the situation, it will continue to persist. Once you be an allowance of it, the situation will transform. If one resists this allowance and acceptance, one is unable to see others point of view, others maps. Our maps are limited as a product of the filters. Once one understands that each one’s views is a product of their maps and they’ve emerged from the deletions, distortions and generalization, the area of conflict reduces. They hold their maps as the truth and fail to realise the distortions in their own maps. When an individual is able to move beyond their maps, they’re able to understand others, empathize with them. Recognizing and respecting others' maps happens when we are an allowance of ourselves. While communicating, our filters shape the reality that we see, which leads us to having a biased view of the world. Thus we need to realise that to increase our happiness and mental peace, it is very necessary to start using the right filters. Even when others are communicating or reacting to a particular situation, we should be aware that whatever they say comes from their filters and maps.


In our everyday lives, it is thus important to realise the role of filters and the internal representation of events. Once one is mindful about the role that these things play in shaping our behaviour and communication, it will aid us in dealing with the external world. If we change our filters and delete our limiting beliefs, we can get different results. One of the most famous sayings of Richard Bandler is that “ Our biggest limit is not in what we want and cannot do; it is in what we have never considered that we can do.” Our life is a series of cause and effect events. Most of us focus on the effects or after happenings of the event. But if we choose to focus on the cause side of the event, we can create our own experiences and shape the path we want to fetch.


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This article on 'The Maps We Make' has been contributed by Shreya Bhatte, who is a Psychology student from Maniben Nanavati Women’s College, Mumbai. She is part of the Global Internship Research Program (GIRP), which is under the leadership and guidance of Anil Thomas. GIRP is an Umang Foundation Trust initiative to encourage young adults across our globe to showcase their research skills in psychology and to present it in creative content expression.

She is passionate about psychology and has this constant curiosity to expand her knowledge in the field. She is more of listener and believes that there’s a lot to learn from every individual that we meet. She likes dancing and watching sports.

Anil is an internationally certified NLP Master Practitioner and Gestalt Therapist. He has conducted NLP Training in Mumbai, and across 6 other countries. The NLP practitioner course is conducted twice every year. To get your NLP certification


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