Confusing the ‘Map’ with the ‘Territory’ Part I

By Bobby Bodenhamer, D.Min.
Pour la traduction française, cliquez ici 

Why is it that I can speak fluently when I am by myself but as soon as I go out into public, I start blocking? Obviously, you know how to speak fluent for there are times you do it. Indeed, for most PWS, there are times that they do it consistently.  Then again, there are times that you block and you usually do that consistently in certain contexts.  What is going on?

Could we not summarily state that your mind-body system has basically two different strategies when it comes to speaking? You have a strategy for speaking fluently and you have a strategy for blocking.  Well, what determines whether I speak from the fluency strategy or when I speak from the blocking strategy?  I sure don’t want to block but I can’t help it. What is going on?

To find the answer, let’s not study the behavior – the blocking. I will leave that to those more knowledgeable of the physiology involved in blocking. Let’s look at what is behind the blocking. How does your brain know when to tell you mouth to speak fluently and how does it know when to tell your mouth to block?  How does your brain know which strategy to fire? I mean, after all, you already know how to speak fluently. Let’s seek to understand why you can’t speak fluently all the time.

To do this, let’s look at what we basically know about how the brain creates meaning for I am convinced that it is the meaning given to a particular context that determines whether you speak from your fluency strategy or your blocking strategy. Ask yourself: “What kind of meaning(s) do I place on those times when I am fluent that permit me to be relaxed and calm that allows me to speak without fear and anxiety about speaking?”  And, “What meaning(s) do I place on those contexts where I block all the time? How do I mentally frame these contexts so that I experience fear and anxiety about speaking that leads me right into blocking?” “What are the differences in meaning between these two contexts?”

A Little History

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Behaviorist explained behavior from a stimulus-response perspective. Something happens that triggers the person to respond a certain way. Later Cognitive Psychology began to look beyond just the basic stimulus-response model and they started talking about other variables specifically cognitions – language. The Cognitive Scientist wanted to know more about what was going on with a person’s thinking that led to a certain response from a particular trigger. This model was later advanced by Bandler and Grinder who specified cognitions or thoughts as a product of our five senses (see, hear, feel, smell and taste) plus the ability to create meaning with words.  These co-founders of Neuro-Linguistics (NLP) determined that we create thinking via the movies (pictures, sounds, feelings, smells and/or taste) that we create inside our heads and, importantly, the meanings we give the movie via language. This comprised the “language of the mind”.

It is this “language of the mind” that allows the NLP Practitioner to understand just what a person is doing inside their head in order to create a certain response to a certain signal. The movies and the language are the basis of all thinking – all perception. In NLP we refer to this phenomenon as mental mapping or just “mapping”.  All behavior has behind it a mental map comprised of movies and/or language. Of these, the meaning created by “words” is where the difference that makes the difference is at.

You have a set of meanings that drive fluency and you have a set of meanings that drive blocking. You have a “mental map” for each behavior and it is this mapping that determines whether you block or whether you speak with a naturally free expression called fluency. No matter the original cause of your blocking, for sure, whether you block or whether you speak fluently is a product of how you map out the situation that you find yourself in.

When our mental map of the world is fearful, limiting, impoverished, childish, anxious, weak and unresourceful, etc., the world becomes a fearful and dangerous place. We do not believe that we have the resources to live in the world as a complete and happy person who verbally expresses himself with great freedom of expression. Such impoverished thinking will trigger fear and anxiety that will trigger the blocking strategy.

On the other hand, if our mental map of the world is one of excitement, opportunity, and enrichment we can face this world with great resourcefulness and strength. When we operate off such mapping, we not only do not experience childish fear and anxiety, we experience great anticipation, joy and excitement over just sharing out of the riches of our lives to all who will listen. Words flow naturally and freely from the well within. For, after all, most anxiety is repressed excitement.

The “Map is not the Territory”; The “Menu” is not the “Meal”.

What does all this have to say about whether I block or whether I speak freely and fluently?  It has everything to do with it. The foundation of NLP is based on General Semantics as developed by Alfred Korzybski in his classic 1933 and still in print book Science and Sanity.  As a scientist, Korzybski brought the mind of a scientist to the world of thoughts and communication.  One of his great insights is summed up in the phrase, “The Map is Not the Territory”.  What does he mean by that?  Korzybski is just saying that our perception; our mental mapping, is not, nor can it be the “Territory” or the world that we represent with the movies and language of the mind.

Think about it. All the pictures, sounds and feelings in our head are not what they represent in the world or in the territory.  They are just symbols of what we have experienced from the world/ territory. Our words whereby we create meaning are just symbols of our experience of the territory. All of our mapping is metaphorical.  Indeed, our perceptions are all abstractions as Korzybski called them. Is there a scientific instrument that can go into the brain and find a picture? A sound?  A word?  No, of course not.  A great mystery of Neuro-Science and Neurology is just how does the brain create these abstractions from the energy manifestations of our neural networks. We don’t know but we do know that we operate off of them as if they are real. Indeed, because they are not real in that sense, they only have the reality we give them.

For instance, when you go to a job interview and fear overwhelms you that you may block, how old do you feel?  For most PWS, they will feel very young. And, there is a reason for that. You cease being an adult because the event triggered you back to when you were a child and you became fearful of speaking to an authority figure. Maybe your father was very harsh and kept on you to “Spit it out, son. Spit it out!” Or, maybe a school teacher would stand you up before the class to read and you would block. The class laughed at you and the teacher made fun of you. On and on I could go with examples that I have discovered from PWS.

What is happening?  You have confused the “map” with the “territory”. You have ceased operating off the map of an adult who has adult resources and you have regressed back to a child and you are operating off of the map you created as a child in those difficult situations. Now, this happens fast – in about 1/3000th of a second. That is one of the reasons that it is so hard to control. But, that is what happens in the vast majority of blocking situations. You cease operating off a map of a resourceful adult and you operate off of a map of a child full of fear, anxiety and embarrassment. This in turns triggers your blocking strategy and you block.

But, when you are by yourself or maybe when you are with trusted friends, you place the meaning on those situations that do not trigger you back to a childhood map but you, instead, operate off your map as a mature resourceful adult.

Indeed, in my opinion, mental health has a whole lot to do with our creating a mental map that accurately as symbolically possible maps out the world or the territory that we are living in right “now”; not, when we were a child. There is no wonder that we experience so much fear and anxiety when we operate off of a child’s map. We are trying to perform in an adult world with the thinking of a child. That is scary.

Click her for Part II