Complex Equivalence in NLP

I thought that you might like to know a little bit about the NLP Milton Model. We are going to explore one aspect of the NLP Milton Model in this article. Complex Equivalences are sentences that are part of the Milton Model.

As we know our unconscious mind has a mind of its own. It must do otherwise how do we breathe when we are sleeping? It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that conscious thought is the only way of learning and achieving objectives. Sometimes you just need to trust in your unconscious mind.

The power of the unconscious mind

It is your unconscious mind that performs the actions that you need to be safe in hazardous circumstances. If you catch a truck coming at you out of the corner of your eye, you do not have the chance to make a conscious decision to move, you just do it and quickly! That is your unconscious mind. When you get up out of your chair to walk around the room, do you consciously have to think about putting your hand out for leverage? Do you consciously have to think about positioning your feet so that you do not fall over? Do you consciously have to think about which leg you move first in order to walk?  All of those actions are the domain of the unconscious mind.

All thinking and actions that we take for granted are generated in the unconscious mind. That includes thoughts. You are just minding your own business maybe getting up for a cup of tea, and you have a thought, and then you have another thought, a series of thoughts follow and you are in a world of your own. Where do these thoughts come from? They come from your unconscious.

Now you might just be beginning to realise the power of the unconscious mind. If you are having consistent negative thoughts, if you are having thoughts that do not empower you, or thoughts that are leading to unwanted actions, then these are being driven by the unconscious mind.

Unconsciously on our side

The good news is that our unconscious mind is on our side. It is only behaving in a way that it thinks is supporting you. It is following what it thinks are your instructions. It’s just that sometimes it gets the instructions mixed up.

An example. If you are getting angry all the time, or feeling guilty all the time, then the chances are that something happened with you in the past that is triggering this anger, or guilt in the present. The event in the past is unresolved at the unconscious level, and so in order for you to resolve it, your unconscious mind keeps bringing it to your conscious attention. You unconscious knows deep down that having that unresolved anger or guilt is not good for you and it wants you to resolve it so that you can live you life happily.

NLP Milton Model

Milton Erickson, the late American psychiatrist upon whom the NLP Milton Model was founded, used to say that his patients came to him “because their unconscious mind had fallen out of rapport with their conscious mind.” He saw it as his job to bring the conscious and the unconscious mind back into rapport. In order to do this he used certain specific language patterns which have now become known as the NLP Milton Model.

The Milton Model language patterns are vague. They are vague statements, or questions that confuse the conscious mind and allow communication directly with the unconscious mind.  Complex Equivalences are one of the nineteen different language patterns in the Milton Model. They occur when in a sentence two things are equated, where their meanings are equivalent.

Examples of how to use and how not to use Complex Equivalence statements

“The fact that you want to learn this means that you will do.” Now, that sentence is vague, isn’t it? It is vague because we can’t be sure that what has been said is true. It might be true and it might not be true. However it is presupposed in the sentence that it is true. It is a Complex Equivalence.

“She has ignored you again which means that she is annoyed with you.” How does it mean that? It might mean that and it might not mean that. It is a vague statement. These statements distract the conscious mind. The conscious mind goes off wondering if what has been said is true. The unconscious mind however is only interested in the lesson that it thinks it is being given.

In the first sentence, the unconscious mind thinks, “great, I do want to learn this, and so I will.” The first sentence then was a very empowering sentence and assisted in helping someone feel better about learning. This is how the Milton Model is used in NLP.

The second sentence is certainly not empowering and is an example of how these language patterns can be abused. The unconscious mind thinks “oh, she’s annoyed with me.” Obviously we are not sure whether this is the case or not, it is guessing based on an interpretation of the other persons actions. The person communicating has forced the other person to contemplate a negative by communicating at an unconscious level. The conscious mind might rationalise what that person said and hopefully ignore it but the seed has been planted at an unconscious level.

  • “You are relaxing and so you are more likely to learn.”
  • “You have come a long way and so you are more likely to understand this now.”
  • “Your ability to learn means you can easily change your behaviour.”

These are all Complex Equivalence statements that might be used constructively and positively in an NLP setting.

You can learn more about the Milton Model and discover more Milton Model patterns in our NLP Resource Library.


Learn how to use these phrases and techniques with elegance and ease. Train to be an NLP professional with Excellence Assured. We have NLP Practitioner and NLP Master Practitioner training courses available online or at our various UK NLP centres. Study NLP with our excellence assured.