Now, don’t let the word “metaphor” scare you. It might sound familiar — perhaps from your high school English class — or maybe you’ve never heard it at all.
I like the definition from Englishforums.com:
A metaphor is a situation (generally a literary situation) in which the unfamiliar is expressed in terms of the familiar.
A situation in which the unfamiliar is expressed in terms of the familiar — say, a foggy brain or a heart of gold. Fog and gold are simple and familiar concepts. They’re easy to picture. And so, we use them to describe slightly more unfamiliar concepts — in these examples, the unclear thinking that might come after a hard day’s work (brain fog), or a person who is incredibly good-natured and giving (heart of gold).
Metaphors can also be expressed (and defined) more simply. They’re a comparison without the word “like” or “as”. Here are a few examples off the top of my head:
We know love isn’t really a garden — it’s an abstract concept. But, in order to make it more concrete, we compare it to something that’s easily to understand. You can plant the seeds of love. If you water your garden (nurture your love), it will grow.
ANXIETY AS A METAPHOR
But I’m not here to drone on and on about metaphor. (Hmm — was there a metaphor in that sentence? Did I just make a metametaphor?)
I’m here, as usual, to talk about anxiety.
Let’s see what kind of metaphor you use to describe anxiety. Fill in the blank: anxiety is ______________.
Don’t describe it — compare it to something. Is anxiety a monster? Is anxiety a roadblock? Is anxiety a train without brakes? Is anxiety war?
The metaphor that you use to describe your anxiety probably tells you something about how you view your anxiety — and your recovery process. Doesn’t it? Can you see the difference between seeing anxiety as a “roadblock” and “a train without brakes”?
Once we become conscious of the metaphors we use to describe anxiety, we can work to change them.
ANXIETY IS THAT BIG FAT JERK WHO IS GREAT AT TUG OF WAR
I think the metaphor that many of us use when considering anxiety is this: a tug-of-war fight between “the real you” (or the “old” you, or the “calm” you) and a giant beast named Anxiety. That playground bully. That mean monster with no regard for your feelings.
I once had a therapist who asked me about how I view anxiety. I told her that I see anxiety as something separate from myself — something that I am constantly trying to battle.
“Why battle?” she asked.
“So I can win, obviously,” I replied. “I want to win. I don’t want an anxiety disorder.”
What she said next totally changed my perception of anxiety.
“Summer,” she said, “you’re battling with Anxiety (with a capital A). Picture him as a real being.”
“But,” my therapist went on, “you’re not in a fist fight. You’re not throwing punches. You’re playing a game of tug-of-war.”
It felt right, this metaphor she was crafting for me right there in her cozy little corner office. Anxiety is a tug-of-war between myself and a beast. Anxiety tugs the rope a bit, and I pull back. The stakes are high: after all, I can’t fall. Falling means I lose, of course — so the harder Anxiety tugs, the harder I pull.
“What’s the best way to avoid falling?” my therapist asked me.
“By pulling even harder?” I asked back.
She shook her head. Nope. I was wrong. My therapist had set up an entire metaphor for me to imagine, with all of my senses, only to disassemble it with one insightful sentence:
“All you have to do,” she said, “is just let go of the rope.”
Photo: Speshul Ted (Flickr)
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Last reviewed: 27 Dec 2013