Beauty of Metaphor
The experience of being a human is complicated. So complicated in fact that even in trying to describe our own feelings or experiences, we get stuck using language that barely skims over the depth of our emotions. For example, would “sad” accurately represent the experience of losing a job, breaking up with a significant other, or processing the death of a loved one? Technically yes, but there is much more behind each of these experiences that simple descriptors of our emotions cannot grasp. This is where metaphors come in.
Definitionally, a metaphor is a descriptive use of language that helps us understand something abstract, by comparing it to something we are more familiar with. We do this all the time without even thinking.
It’s freezing outside, my kids’ room is a disaster, etc.
Now when it comes to therapy, the use of metaphor becomes particularly useful for communicating the abstract experience of our feelings or emotions. For example, how would you describe depression to someone who is not experiencing it and get them to understand?
Prescriptively, you could say you were experiencing a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest that is interfering with your daily activities.
Do you feel heard? Understood? Like the other person totally gets what you are going through?
However, by using metaphor, we can immerse the other person in a perspective where they can experience something similar to what we are feeling without needing us to explain every aspect of it. So instead of the prescriptive explanation, you could say:
Everyday I wake up in quicksand, and even the simplest of tasks takes every ounce of energy to move through, resulting in me being pulled deeper into this dark pit.
Now why does this matter? There are many things in our lives that are hard to describe or are just hard to talk about. If we attempt to open up on these items and do not feel understood, the default for many people is to stop trying to explain. By incorporating the use of metaphor into the therapeutic process, a whole new mode of communication and understanding can be opened. Not only can the use of metaphors provide your therapist a better picture of what you are experiencing, but the activity of developing these comparisons can give you a new perspective. By taking a step back and experiencing your feelings through the metaphor, you can find new patterns or understandings that you may have been too close to see in the first place.
As I said at the beginning, human beings are complicated. So complicated in fact that we have a hard time even understanding ourselves. By incorporating metaphors, both in conversations with others and in reflection with ourselves, we can start building a more robust understanding of the emotion behind an experience and the experience of the person as a whole.
Celeste Rodrigues-Forbes MSW, RSW is experienced in the areas of anxiety and trauma, plus many more. For more information on Celeste and her work, click here to link to her full bio page.