First published in Anchor
Point Vol. 16, No. 7, July 2002
Healing Embodied Metaphors:
Becoming the Person You
Were Meant to Be
Metaphors are one of the most powerful change techniques
available. Embodied metaphors provide a direct link to the emotions
and deep patterns of behavior. In Metaphors We Live by Lakoff
and Johnson (1980) tell us that our conceptual system is metaphorical
and in Women Fire, and Dangerous Things Lakoff (1987) tells us
that thought is embodied and grows out of perception, movement, and
physical experience. A number of recent researchers have identified
the importance of the body in creating consciousness. Antonio Damasio
(1999) has identified body level feedback systems as intricate
aspects of emotions and even consciousness. In addition to neural
structures, emotional states are defined by changes in the chemical
profile of the body, changes in the viscera, and changes in the
degree of contraction of the muscles of the body. Damasio believes
that emotions are an important part of our homeostatic regulation and
survival mechanism. Candace Pert (1991), another researcher, believes
that our body is the unconscious mind and can best be addressed
through right brain, expressive therapies such as dream work or art
therapy. The reason we need to address emotional states in the body
is because negative emotions are stored in the physical body long
term and must be released before healing can occur. These stored
negative emotions can create numerous emotional problems and can even
set the stage for disease.
Negative emotions are accumulated over a life time are stored not
only as memories but also in the physical body. These stored emotions
can become an integral part of our personality and identity. Since
these emotions do not represent an individual's true nature these
emotions can often block an individual's success in a variety of
areas in life. Focusing directly on the embodied emotions can create
change across contexts. It is also a way of bypassing conscious road
blocks and engaging the creativity of the unconscious mind. Working
at this level ensures that the changes are ecological and are in line
with the individual's deepest values. In fact this type of change
work often has a spiritual component.
This article describes a more structured approach to working with
embodied metaphors. The approach is based on Robert Dilts' (1990)
method of combining problem states with resource states to create a
desired state. When working with metaphors the process can be
rewritten as follows:
problem metaphor + resource metaphor = desired outcome
The basic idea in this process is that individuals have all the
resources that they need and that these resources have been obscured
by negative emotions. Once the negative emotions are released from
the body the individual will be able to access these more resourceful
states. In addition to the states we normally think of as emotions,
such as anger or guilt, states such as confusion or "I don't know"
can be address successfully through this embodied metaphor process.
In a sense this is a process which helps people become who they were
meant to be.
The process can be out-lined as follows:
1) identify the state to be addressed,
2) develop the associated embodied metaphor,
3) identify a time prior to the problem metaphor,
4) develop or create a resource metaphor,
5) invite the resource metaphor to interact with the problem
6) check the results. In addition to knowledge of NLP this
article assumes a basic understanding of clean language. In
Metaphors in Mind Lawley and Tompkins (2000)
provide a complete description of clean language.
1. Identify the Problem Emotional State
The initial problem state can be a single emotion or a pattern of
problem behavior. These patterns of behavior can be aspects of
identity or personality. (Future articles will describe how to
identify and change identity and personality states.) The most
important point is to use the client's own language when identifying
the state to be addressed.
2. Develop the Problem Metaphor
The next step is to elicit the kinesthetic submodalities
associated with the problem state. The first questions will be used
to discover the location in (or around) the physical body and to
determine a size and shape of the state. Questions that are useful
here are: "And whereabouts is that anger?" and "And does anger have a
shape or size?" Once the kinesthetic submodalities have been
described ask the client "...like what?" For example if the
kinesthetic submodalities are oval, bumpy, and brown ask: "And oval,
bumpy and brown like what?" The response may be "a rock." Rock then
becomes the metaphor and has a physical location related to the body.
3. Identify a Time Prior to the Problem Metaphor
The next step is to identify a time before the individual ever
experienced the problem state. It is good to choose a time when the
individual was feeling resourceful. Asking for the time immediately
prior to the problem state may not be useful, since this may be
another problem state. If the problem state is a severe trauma you
risk associating the person into a traumatic memory. A good question
here is: " And can you remember a time before you ever had Rock and
you felt safe (or comfortable, etc.)?" Then ask "And how old might
you be?" The age, for example Five, will become the name of the
resourceful younger self.
4. Develop a Resource Metaphor
There are a number of ways to develop a resource metaphor. A few
simple methods will be covered here. One is to use the younger self,
such as Five, as the resource metaphor. Another is to develop the
metaphor of the state that the younger self was feeling. Before Rock,
Five may have been feeling Sunshine or Warm Fuzzy in chest. If the
client experienced a particularly traumatic event, then the client
may feel the need for help. Often this help is spiritual in nature. A
good question might be: "And would Five like to have a helper ?"
Examples of helpers are: Big Bear, Angels, or Buddha. Helpers
represent some aspect of the individual or their belief system.
Interestingly, helpers may not match the adult's spiritual beliefs.
5. Invite the Metaphors to Interact
Once the problem state and resource metaphors have been developed,
then invite them to interact. It is important not to force
interaction. Questions here might be: "And would Angels be interested
in visiting Five?" and "And what would Big Bear like to do with
Rock?" During this part of the process, often all that is necessary
is to keep the process moving by asking: "And what happens next?"
Continue the process until there is a resolution. A resolution occurs
when the problem metaphor has been transformed or moved or when the
younger resource state or helper reaches a logical stopping point.
The problem metaphor may transform into something else, for example
Rock becomes Yellow Light or Rock is moved back to Wall. A stopping
point is often an age appropriate activity for the younger self
(Five), such as having a snack and taking a nap.
The interaction phase may not be simple and straight foreword.
Other states may need to be addressed or additional resource
metaphors may be needed. This is dependent on the nature and severity
of the problem state. A common problem is the discovery of an "I
don't know" state which may need to be healed before the original
state can be addressed.
6. Check the Results
An important part of checking results is to determine if there has
been a change in the problem state metaphor. The adult self does not
need to understand what this change means. Another part of checking
the results is to determine if all the parts of the individual used
in the process are left in the appropriate place and form. Younger
selves may want or need to grow up and helpers may need to return to
their source. This is usually accomplished with some simple
questions: "And do any of the parts we addressed today need anything
more?", "And does Five want to grow up?", and "And does this process
feel complete to you?"
The Healing Embodied Metaphors process is useful with a number of
different problem states. This can include problem emotions,
unresourceful states, beliefs, and even enhancing resourceful states.
Once an individual has becomes familiar with this process, then the
individual can recognize, in the moment, that they are experiencing
an emotion that is the result of old stored negative emotions. A
number of people who have felt a special connection to their resource
metaphor have been able to engage this metaphor when needed in other
One of the most effective ways to use this process is to help
individuals heal negative patterns of behavior. In this way the
individual becomes more congruent and better able to respond to
life's challenges. Once the negative stored energy is released
Individuals may experience increased creativity and an increased
ability to use their emotions as valuable resources.
Damasio, Antonio (1999). The Feeling of What Happens. New
York: Harcourt Brace & Company.
Dilts, Robert, Hallbom, Tim, and Smith, Suzi (1990). Beliefs
Pathways to Health. Portland, OR: Metamorphous Press.
Lawley, James and Tompkins, Penny (2000).
Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through symbolic Modelling London: The Developing
Company Press; and their web site www.cleanlanguage.co.uk
Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1980). Metaphors We Live
By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Lakoff, George (1987). Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things.
Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Pert, Candace (1999). Molecules of Emotion. New York:
Copyright © Donna Weber, 2002