Why metaphors?

I first came across the powerful effect of metaphors in coaching when I was myself being coached back in the late 90s. At the time I was an NLP Practitioner, working towards Master level with my own relationship issues. I thought it would be beneficial to get coached by someone with an NLP background.

I went into the first session with my normal, logical thinking patterns, and came out with a completely different awareness of life, the universe and myself. I felt like Alice, having fallen down the rabbit hole and finding herself in Wonderland. I was in total awe of my own internal metaphoric representations, and amazed at how deeply I was affected by them.

Since then, I have been on a journey; a treasure hunt; a quest for more knowledge and understanding; a thirst for learning how other people use metaphors, and a love that fills my heart and radiates out a belief in the magic inside us all. How metaphoric is that? Metaphors are a wonderful, descriptive tool for communication that can inspire others, but they are also much more.

A metaphor can be viewed as simply one person’s description of something as ‘like’ something else. In George Lakoff and Mark Johnson’s mind-expanding book, Metaphors We Live By, they say: “The essence of metaphor is understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another.” (page 5)

When one acknowledges that most of our thought processes go beyond our conscious understanding, metaphors give a unique perspective into how someone thinks, feels and experiences their world. Consider this – the tangible world around us is made up of billions and billions of constantly moving atoms and lots of empty space in between. What we see is our own internal interpretation gleaned from our senses – colours, shapes, patterns….isn’t it all just a metaphor for the real thing? Perhaps metaphors are the closest we ever get to the ‘true’ experience of reality!

Carl Jung explains the importance of the unconscious mind in his book, Man and his Symbols, Chapter One. At some point of perception, we reach the edge of certainty beyond which conscious knowledge cannot pass. The unconscious, however, has taken note of all events and experiences, and will store this information in forms and symbols that may be somewhat obscure. Jung was convinced that by analysing those symbols that appear through connecting with our unconscious, we have access to a much wider and more comprehensive understanding of ourselves, our relationships and the wider world around us.

Our use of metaphors in everyday language is one such ‘key’ to deciphering our unconscious wisdom.

Metaphors give the coach INSIGHT….

As a tool for coaching, the client’s metaphors give you an insight into their unique perception of their situation and their goals. When the client tells you that they can ‘see light at the end of the tunnel’, that is what they are experiencing. There is light for them, and they are in a tunnel. They will unconsciously ‘know’ much more about their situation from this metaphoric viewpoint. They are very likely to know in which direction the light is, how far away it is, and where the light comes from. They will know about the structure of the tunnel, how it feels and looks, how narrow the passage, and whereabouts they are in relation to the tunnel.

And more – this is where the power of metaphor comes in. The client will know, on some level, what needs to happen for them to move towards the light and get out of the tunnel. The answer can come in pure metaphor, the person’s ‘real’ perception of their tangible situation will shift as their perception of the metaphor evolves and alters.

It is estimated that the average person uses a metaphor in everyday language once every twenty-five seconds. If you start to really listen to the language a person is using, metaphors begin to jump out at you. See what I mean, a jumping metaphor! I wonder how it jumps, and what kind of metaphor is one that can jump? Right now, I can picture tiddlywinks; bright, shiny tiddlywinks of different colours and sizes. And each tiddlywink, when you look closely, contains a miniature world…..and there I go, with my own metaphoric description again!

(Extract from Angela’s article ‘Coaching with Metaphors’ – read in full here.) 

What to learn how to ask Clean Language questions to explore Metaphors? Join us for our online training programme on ‘Exploring Metaphors with Clean Language’ – starts on Weds 24th May, with 8 weeks of classes and reflection calls at various times. Click here for full details.