The Magic of Metaphor

Magical Metaphors

Stories for Change

Metaphors are one of the coolest and most flexible ways to use NLP.  An NLP metaphor is simple a story with embedded NLP processes of suggestions for change.

Metaphors or stories (like some of those you’ve read here) are a simple way to use NLP with others, in groups, and with your self.

Stores that are seemingly simple can include profound suggestions for change.  Embedding the process in a story is like adding “a spoonful of sugar” to help the medicine go down.

The stories that follow are by a couple of real masters of the art of metaphor.  Norma and Phil Baretta started studying hypnosis with Milton Erickson before NLP came along.  Erickson’s hypnotic language patterns were the starting place for all the hypnotic patterns and processes in NLP.  These stories are from a program these two masters did years ago that’s all but lost now.

These examples are transcribed directly from the live program. The principles of creating metaphors for change embodied here apply to any area  – not to mention the stories are enjoyable for their own sake.



Case Report #4: Unloading Baggage: Two More Less

(utilizing phonological ambiguity)

Norma: One of my favorite cases has to do with a very good friend of ours who is a physician, an orthopedic surgeon, and he has taken our courses so he knows a great deal about the work we do. We took a trip together. He and his wife met us in Vienna and as we are picking them up at the airport.

Phillip: Which was his first trip to Europe, out of this country.

Norma: He is unloading baggage and there’s like one bag after another. And you know how you’re allowed two bags per person? They had four bags per person.

We had a large car, it’s a Volvo, and had a large trunk, but they ended up sitting with two suitcases on the backseat. Little did we know that those two suitcases would provide a perfect embedded command.

Because when we returned from the trip he comes up with cancer. He has a tumor on his bladder. He tells us, “Now don’t try to pull any of your shtick on me because I’m one of those guys who suffers from Saint Bernadette’s syndrome.  I can do it to other people but it’s not going to work with me.”

You all know about Saint Bernadette? Saint Bernadette was the young French girl who discovered the miraculous waters of Lourdes and then when she was old and ill, they wanted to take her there and she said, “Oh, that’s not for me.”

I call that Saint Bernadette’s syndrome, works for everybody else but it’s not going to work for me. I don’t suffer from this Lord, Saint Bernadette does not apply to me. What I do works on me too.

IN any event, he’s just adamant about this, he’s not going to allow us to work with him. But his wife said, “Go over to the hospital and do what you can.”

How are we going to get past this guy? He’s a brilliant mind. He’s one of the most brilliant people I know. He is astute with words. We’re going to have to figure something out that’s going to bypass.

He was also a student of Roman history, a real Roman history buff. So he knows this one. (thumbs up gesture) But if we do this openly he’s going to go, “Naaah, grrr.”

This is the type of personality he has, very oppositional. So we walk in and I’m standing at the foot of the bed leaning on the footrest and I’ve got my thumbs up but unobtrusively. And Phil’s like this. So all our movements have the thumbs up sign.

I walk in and I say, “Listen, the next time we go to Europe, because I’m looking forward to our next trip to Europe, you have to bring less luggage.”

“Europe,” he says, “I don’t even want to think about Europe.” I said, “Luggage, luggage, not Europe, we have to bring less luggage, in fact you have to bring two more less.” “Yeah, yeah, yeah” he says.

Phillip: Because that’s what he sat with in the back seat.

Both: Two bags of luggage in the back seat.

Phillip: Because that’s what he sat with in the back seat. And he’s a buff with crossword puzzles. And I did a couple of the crossword puzzle responses. And I said, “Well, now you have two more less to do.” And gave it to him and he’s still not picking this up.

Norma: Anybody missing what we’re saying here?

Phillip: Two more less to do. I did two of his puzzles.

Norma: Two more less [tumor-less]. Okay? And then we went outside, this is a very popular physician, everyone loves this guy. So we told them, “When you walk into the room, without saying anything do your best to carry the trays with your thumbs up.” We come back to visit and he says to us, “You guys are doing something. I know you are doing something!” “Never would I do anything to you.” “You are. I know you are. In fact, I have a suspicion you’ve got the whole hospital doing something to me!”

Phillip: You have to take your pills, doctor.

Norma: So, he recovers, thank God. And he is back in the office and about six months go by. During the six months every opportunity he had, “Norma, Phil, please, I know you did something. Tell me what you did.”

“Never, never. Even if we did we wouldn’t tell you but why would we do a thing like that. You precisely said don’t do it. We were precisely listening to what you said.” “No, I know you did something.”

Six months, the phone rings one afternoon, our daughter answers it, we’re in session. She comes knocking on the door. And she knows she’s not to disturb a session but she’s knocking on the door. I open the door and said, “What is it?” She said, “God’s on the phone.”

I said, “Oh, Jordan.” “He wants both of you. Right now.” We excuse ourselves from the patient we’re working with. We go to the phone. I’m on one line, he’s on the other. “Are you both there?” “Yes.” “Yes.” “Two more less.” BANG! – he hangs up the phone.

Phillip: Finally hit the conscious part.

Norma: Got it.

Case Report #7: Stuck in a Rut

Phillip: We had a woman come in who was not in a medical situation but who was in a divorce situation. And was really stuck about what to do, how to do it. She ended up getting the business in this divorce, literally and figuratively. She never was involved in the business but she got the business and she did not know what to do with it or how to deal with the situations that occur with it, all the finances and people had been telling her what to do.

She had people who were advisers telling her what she should do with this or that. And she still was stuck.

So I told her the story about a frog hopping down the road. And this frog heard, “Ribbit,” and stopped. He said, “I found another frog here some place because that’s a frog sound and I’m not making it.”

He hops again and hears, “Ribbit,” again and still can’t locate the other frog. He takes a quick frog and stops and listens and hears, “Ribbit,” and turns his head towards the sound and there’s a hole in the side of the road.

He hops over and looks into this hole and sure enough, there’s a frog in this rut in the road. He says to the frog in the rut, “What are you doing in the rut?” The frog in the rut says, “I don’t know. I was hopping along this road minding my own business, not really paying much attention to anything and I fell into this rut and I can’t jump out. Can you help me?”

Of course the frog on the top of the road is a very good Samaritan and he says, “Of course. Get a hold of my hand.” He puts his hand down into this rut and the frog jumps and jumps and jumps but can’t make contact with the hand.”

So the frog in the rut says, “I have an idea. Why don’t you put your leg down.” The frog’s leg is longer than the frog’s hand. So he jumps and jumps and jumps and still can’t make contact with the leg. Still can’t get out. The frog in the rut says, “I have another idea. Why don’t you jump down here, I’ll get on your back and I’ll be able to jump out.”

Well, the frog on the top of the road says, “I don’t like that idea too well. If I jump down there I’m liable to get stuck down there same as you. I need to be on my way, there are a lot of things I want to do. Good luck.”

He goes hopping off down the road. Gets maybe 50-60 yards off into the meadows and hears “Ribbit,” turns around, and this frog is right behind him. He says, “Wait a minute. I just left you back in that rut. You said you were there for a long time and you couldn’t jump out. I tried to help you out for a long time and I couldn’t help you out and suddenly you’re right behind me. What happened?”

The frog said, “There was a truck coming.”

Norma: She sat there, a total blank and said, “I don’t get it. Why are you telling me that silly story?”

Phillip: And I said, “I don’t explain them, I just tell them.”

Norma: She turned to me and said, “I’m paying you good money here. You tell me what that story means.” And I said, “Well that would be like handing you the skin of the orange with the pulp removed and all you would have would be the skin. So I’m not going to explain it either.” She was furious. So she stormed out and as it happened we couldn’t see her for a couple of weeks because of her schedule and ours. She comes back a few weeks later. She sits in the chair and she says, “Well, I’ve opened a new bank account, I’ve changed accounts, I’ve changed the name of the company…” She was naming off all the things that she’s done to take charge of this business that she got in the divorce settlement. She sits back, takes a deep breath and says…

Phillip: “I guess my truck came along.”

Norma: And it was at that moment that she understood the story.

0 thoughts on “The Magic of Metaphor”

  1. Love the stories , I have a friend that had a mild stroke from high blood pressure and is worried about having
    another one , any tips?
    sincerely David

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