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Metaphors of Self-talk

I love using metaphors in writing and therapy. They’re powerful tools to engage the unconscious mind and change our thinking without even realizing it’s happening. Fact is, we often think and self-talk in metaphor without knowing it, so we might as well intentionally use ones which are positive and promote transformation.
A while back a client described a binge she’d had as “falling into a hole,” after which she gradually returned to “normal” eating. Let’s take a look at her metaphor. What sensory sensations and emotional reactions does this image generate in you? Holes are often deep and dark places and falling into one might cause us to feel claustrophobic, panicky, and maybe hopeless about climbing out. We view falling into one as a bad thing to happen to us. So this client was equating all these feelings with having taken in more food than she wished to and making a judgmental, unconscious statement about her behavior as bad. She was reinforcing a negative interpretation—really only one version among others—of her bout with mindless eating.
When clients frame behaviors judgmentally and negatively (though, of course, they don’t realize their interpretation is damning), I try to counter with a metaphorical reframing. In this case, I said, “Oh, you got over that slight bump in the road, did you? Well, great. Nice work.” What sensory perceptions and emotional reactions does the bump-in-the-road image generate in you? We’ve all gone over bumps in real roads and not paid much attention to them because we expect them to occur and are more focused on the “got over” than the “bump.” Such an interpretation generates feelings of success, lightness, ease, momentum, and it builds confidence in one’s ability.
Here are some metaphors and reframings to describe your eating. Turn:

  • “I fell off the wagon” into “I was testing gravity.”
  • “I slipped” into “I lost my balance.”
  • “I blew it” into “My experiment with eating taught me what I don’t want to do again.”
  • “I pigged out” into “I was giving my brain a rest.”
  • “I went overboard” into “My food gauge was temporarily broken.”
  • “I lost it” into “It took a while to find my way again.”

What are the metaphors you use without thinking? How can you reframe them so that they don’t cast you in a “bad” light but, instead, make you feel better and even move you forward? Language and images make a huge difference in speeding or slowing your recovery. Remember, you’re the captain of your ship!