Thursday, February 2, 2012

Miracle Metaphors

Metaphors have remarkable healing powers. They fix things.

Andrew doesn't believe it*, but it's true.

Here's how it works.

1. You tell me about the rubbish day you've had, which is really just a symptom of the rubbish year you are having, which matches your whole rubbish life.
2. I reflect back to you what you've told me using a nice metaphor.
3. You feel listened to and understood. (Which, for many of us, is enough.)
4. The metaphor helps you to see your troubles as something separate from you. It bundles them up neatly and ties them with a bow. Your problem becomes something that you can sit back and look at or walk around and examine from different angles.
5. You gain the rationality to analyse things more objectively and see the way forward.
6. You get on with life.


* Andrew will argue that the problem still isn't fixed. I say it is because the real problem is not the situation itself, but the way that we become entangled in them. Ensnared. Metaphors free us.


  1. I think we have two main mental faculties - one is automatic coping with the world in familiar ways, and the other is reflecting on that coping in symbolic or abstract thoughts. The reflecting is there so that you can get out of patterns of behaviour that no longer work for you - you recognize your situation as a new kind of thing, or a different familiar thing in disguise, and then a new set of responses suddenly seem plausible. The movement of an reflection into recognition is 'realising' as in, 'I just realised poker machines are hateful parasitic robots set up by fellow humans who want to feast on the fat of my old age and the inheritance of my grandchildren'. A realisation hopefully coincides with a resolution.

    So the metaphor can really help, and in fact is almost exactly how the reflecting faculty helps you normally. Why am I always so broke? I'm haemorraging cash on my mortgage -> Haemorrage -> that's serious -> If I sell my house, and lose a little money, I'll live.

    Reflective listening is a way to provide some extra reflective intellectual horsepower and authority to a stuck persons reflection.

    Of course, whether the new recognitions stick, and the new insights are fruitful and the new responses work is unknown (which is Andrew's point). But at least you aren't stuck in the same way any more.

    (I call this my reflecting telescope metaphor for human mental functions. I shall now climb off my hobby-horse.)

  2. And are interested!

    Hobby horse away!

  3. Here's a link to a couple of posts (one of which is a link to 5 or 6 of the more important posts) of how I got thinking about this:

    I don't think I ever picked up that metaphors are another application of 'this is that', but it fits wonderfully well.

    (You did say hobby-horse away...)

  4. I was going to ask you for a specific example to enlighten me more about this, but Andrew C seems to have covered that quite well.

    Reframing a problem via a metaphor can help, I guess, but I'm not convinced that it always flows to solutions or what you can do on a practical level to deal with it. But what you've proposed sounds pretty much like what the counselling and psychology professions exist to provide...