In the last 30 years researches have found that the metaphor is far more common than we realize and in fact every 10 to 25 words used are metaphors. This is a fairly unconscious process, yet it not only effects what we say but it reflects how we actually think and feel as well as how we will act or react. Metaphor, the Body and Healing
While we’re use to children saying things like “I have a headache in my stomach,” we’re often unaware of how quickly we sum up our feelings in metaphors. If someone where to ask you how you feel about your body, what would your first response be? “A heap,” “broken,” or “train wreck?” Would you consider it your “instrument,” “art form,” “temple,” “home,” or “center of being?”
Go back several centuries, when western or allopathic medicine divided the brain from the body. While western doctor were learning to dissect cadavers, thinking of the the body more as a “machine,” and emphasizing disease based models, Chinese healers had been looking at the body as a garden embodying the forces of nature wood fire, earth, metal, water for over 5,000 years. Instead of “repairing the broken machine,” eastern healers have been more interested in “tending the garden.”
Led by discoveries about the effectiveness of placebos, as well as the effects of stress on health, 20th century health care began to reconnect the mind, body and spirit as all being part of the healing process. While the “broken” image is still part of western medicine, there is a growing acceptance of “tending” to our health.
Since our choice of words and the metaphors we use are a good indicator of how the mind and body are or will function, it’s important to recognize the way you speak and talk about your body and health.
With that in mind, consider the following:
• If you are a care giver or health provider, be mindful of the metaphors used by those in your charge. Ask them to describe symptoms and how they feel by encouraging the use of metaphors. While asking the customary “on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever experienced,” encourage the use of metaphors to further define what they’re experiencing. A “stabbing” pain that registers a 5 is going to be quite different than the women who says “it’s worse than labor” and rates it a 6.
• Be mindful of your choice of words and metaphors. Substitute words that are more empowering, make you feel calm, and support in seeking well being regardless of chronic condition.