Why we use metaphors

Therapeutic metaphors are stories or images that convey something that can amaze, inspire or open the mind. Metaphors can be simple and effective tools for teaching and learning. They are more than a way to talk about an experience. They can describe our experience; and they can be lenses through which we can understand and make sense of the world.

The story about the Butterfly Woman 

We want to tell you the story about the Butterfly Woman. The story is a metaphor, a way to describe something that can open the mind of ourselves and our loved ones. It can sometimes help us to understand and talk about things that can be very difficult to talk about directly. The story can be a way to talk about an experience and to describe our own experience in an indirect way, at a distance. As if it was not our story, but just a story someone else has told us. Sometimes this can be helpful. A story can also have a transformative power and help us to find strength to move on in life. 

The butterfly woman is a made-up story about a woman who is raped by soldiers. Her experiences, her life before the rape, her reactions and thoughts are presented. Furthermore, the story contains descriptions about the way in which she sees herself afterwards, reluctantly asks for help and then slowly proceeds in her life through a lot of difficult steps. By presenting this metaphor, a trauma story is communicated, including descriptions of reactions that are frequent after such violence, and also what are considered good steps in a helping process.

You can read the whole butterfly woman metaphor here.

Treatment of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder | The Linen Cupboard Metaphor

Memories in PTSD are a bit like items stuffed in a messy linen cupboard. Whenever you brush pass the cupboard the door flies open and items fall out: in other words, whenever you come across a reminder of the trauma you have flashbacks or intrusive memories, and feel intense fear. A typical response is to try to stuff things back in the cupboard, and to close the door as quickly as possible. But this just keeps the problem going: memories are jammed in the cupboard, and the door will still swing open at the lightest touch.

In this way, memories of the traumatic event find their proper place: you can find them if you choose to, but they won’t come back so
often when you don’t want them to.

The Beach Ball analogy

This metaphor is an example of how difficult it can be to avoid and repress anxiety or traumatic memories.

“Imagine that you’re standing in a swimming pool. With one hand, you’re holding a beach ball underwater. This beach ball represents something that you’ve been actively avoiding or repressing, like an unwanted emotion (e.g., shame, fear, or anger), life experience (e.g., criticism or social rejection), etc.

As long as you can hold the ball underwater, the surface of the pool is smooth and serene. Life is good. But, your actions in the pool are limited. You can’t move around easily. You only have one arm free. And, you can’t hold the ball underwater forever.

At some point, you lose your grip and the ball comes rocketing to the surface, making a big wet mess. When this happens, you frantically try to shove the ball underwater again as soon as possible. This will make the waves subside in the short-term. It also ensures that you’ll continue to be stuck in the same place.” https://tinyurl.com/8btefq16