The Power of Metaphor

Have you ever noticed that it’s really hard to change your emotions with positive self-talk?
One of the reasons is there’s often something even more powerful at work, and it’ll take more than just refuting propositional statements with positive ones.
Another force that shapes our emotions is metaphor.

One of my mentors told me we live and die by our metaphors. Metaphors are word pictures that we have. It’s the framework and the lens through which we interpret our experiences. And they shape our experiences. They can become our experiences. Our metaphors can be powerful forces for positive or negative in our life.  If we picked the wrong metaphor then we build a really strong foundation and framework to hang our experiences, feelings, and beliefs on. It becomes the house we live in.

One of the key things to remember is to capitalize on the power of metaphor is that we get to choose our metaphors.
We don’t get to choose our circumstances and experiences but we choose the metaphor in which we place those experiences.

If I picture myself on the ocean in a rowboat during the black of night during a raging storm and I’ve got 40-50 foot waves crashing over me. My family is with me but I’m the only one rowing! For some reason, they’re just sitting there, like dead weight. And not only are we in the middle of this storm and I’m the only one rowing, now there’s a hole in the boat. Water’s leaking in, we’re taking it on and not only is my family not bailing out the water it was their neglect that caused the hole and the water coming in in the first place.

To top it all off, we barely surviving and barely hanging on, I hear an airplane in the distance and it starts taking runs on us, firing its guns. We’re just completely exposed and alone.
I’m the only one keeping us from capsizing but there’s a shield in the boat. It can shield us from the bullets! But no one else is taking it up. I’m yelling for help, but no one is listening. Or now one can hear me above the roar of the waves. They’ve just given up.

In order to protect us from the attacks from above, I have to make the decision to either take my hands off the oars or raise the shield to protect myself. Either way, I have to do it on my own.

Can you imagine the stress being in that situation?
This may not be the picture you have when overwhelmed or under stress.
But you may have a work picture like that a metaphor for what you are going through. You may even have a metaphor for your life.
With this metaphor, in a sense, we are putting ourselves out on that water, out on that boat. It may not be literally where we are but it can become our emotional and mental reality.

Picture the same type of life circumstance but what if I don’t picture myself in a storm. What if I view this as a stage in a video game, as one challenge of many. And I realize that the storm will end, that I’ve got unlimited lives and I can hit the reset button or the pause button. I could go pizza, step away, get some sleep, wake up the next morning, pick up the controller, unpause the game and play a little bit more.

Even better, what if I picture that I’m in the Battle of Helm’s Deep. That I’m not alone, I’ve just been momentarily separated from my family. It’s not that they don’t care, that they left me to myself, they just have their own orcs to fight and they are battling to rejoin me. We’re in this together. And the sun will rise and Gandalf will show up with reinforcements, in just the nick of time.

Two cognitive distortions are Catastrophizing and Discounting the Positive; choosing a negative, destructive metaphor is cognitive distortion on steroids because it adds the power of story and creativity to it.

If you struggle emotionally, if you paint yourself into mental and emotional corners that are painful, I encourage you to take a look at the metaphors you may be building. Rebuilding and renovating them may make a huge difference in your life. It will not change how you view your circumstances and life, it will change your view of yourself within them.

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Licensed professional counselor and health coach in Portland, OR Pre-marital and couples counseling. Individual counseling for anxiety, depression, insomnia, sleep disorders, sexual addiction, porn addiction, career, transitions, grief, burnout, personal growth.

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