Internal Metaphors Revealed
A metaphor equates one thing to a decidedly different thing with which it has some characteristics in common.
Often metaphors compare an abstract concept or feeling, such as loyalty or love, to something tangible, such as Velcro or an evergreen tree. David Grove, the developer of Clean Language, uses the term metaphor broadly; he includes similes, analogies, parables, and the like.
Take a look at some common-day metaphors you’ve likely heard or even said yourself:
- “It’s like I’m hitting my head against a brick wall!”
- “I’m up to my eyeballs in work.”
- “I want to get out from under all this clutter!”
- “I’m happy as a clam.”
- “I want to feel more connected to my partner.”
We’re all natural metaphor makers. It’s how we make sense of the world—by comparing it to something else we know. And it’s the cleverly efficient way your mind, body and brain have stored your experiences, filing away the survival strategies you’ve developed over the years to manage in the world.
Sometimes you have helpful metaphors, but you don’t know where to find them; they need to be located (yes, in or near your body!) and perhaps strengthened. These might be metaphors for things like your confidence, feeling relaxed, connected, or energized.
Sometimes it’s the metaphors themselves that are a problem.
Once they may have served you well, but perhaps they are no longer helpful; in fact, they may be holding you back. Yet there they remain—hidden and stuck—silently dictating what you think, feel and do. You may have, for example, have put a solider on guard in front of your heart, keeping you safe… but also keeping others out. Now you are better able to take care of yourself, but that solider is still vigilantly on duty, keeping others away–and he’s exhausted! And you are not fully present and connected with those you love.
Your metaphors are waiting to be unearthed and transformed. You can change your metaphors so you can get unstuck, grow, and attain a greater sense of wholeness and passion for whatever you choose to do next.
The Clean Language Process
Think of building a town for a model train set. It is full of objects that serve a variety of purposes. You might have a train, running on a track, which may split in places. The tracks may go by a bank, a school house, and homes. There may be switch controls that regulate the train’s going and coming. About each of these, there will be added details and purposes. Similarly, Gina and you are creating a model of your internal metaphors to explore.
As your facilitator, Gina listens deeply and guides your attention among your metaphors with a systematic series of questions, using mostly your exact words. This isn’t a conversation, but an invitation to explore your internal world. It is self-exploration, not self-explanation. You’ll discover you know a lot about your metaphors and what you want to have happen to them–what changes feel necessary.
Insight into the sources and meanings of your metaphors is not necessary for change. Today’s brain scientists are demonstrating that the brain has the capacity to grow and change (they call it brain neuroplasticity.) And researchers are finding it’s experiential, mindful processes that emphasize creating positive inner experiences and building inner strengths that lay new neural pathways, adding new neurons and synapses that direct the mind/body/brain to more helpful and healthy choices of thoughts, feelings, and actions.
The experiential metaphor process Gina uses is called Clean Language, which has three basic parts:
Metaphors: You don’t have to be a poet to be using metaphors. Nor are the ones we use in Clean Language created the way you might pick one when writing a poem; instead, you experience them as they already exist in your mind (like dream images), and you are now discovering them. The images that make up your inner metaphors relate to one another, and these relationships mirror the patterns of your behavior, feelings and thoughts.
Clean Language Questions: As your facilitator, Gina uses a unique sentence structure, based on your exact words, to ask questions about the images you describe. She focuses your attention on their details and their relationships with one another. You’ll notice her speech does not sound like ordinary conversation; it is grammatically a bit awkward and very sparse. This encourages you not to engage cognitively or conversationally with her. She is there to guide your exploration of your metaphors, not to interpret their meanings or add observations or determine what you should do with them. You might say you are co-facilitators.
Modeling: Together, Gina and you are developing a full picture of your metaphor “landscape”, a map that identifies and locates all your internal images. Through a series of questions, and possibly over a number of sessions, you will collect details about the metaphors that encode your experiences and how you responded to those experiences. In a surprisingly emotional and physical way, you’ll discover there are things you want to change with these images, and Gina will help guide you through discovering how that can happen. As changes occur with your metaphors, you’re apt to feel profound shifts emotionally, as your mind seems to work through old blocks and create new ways of meeting the world.
A Mind/Body Technique
A Clean Language session is truly a mind/body experience. It can be felt in the body … in profound and surprising ways. This is one reason body workers like shiatsu and acupuncture therapists and energy workers of all sorts find combining Clean Language with their work so effective: while CL uses mostly words, and sometimes drawings and moving in space, clients report all sort of things happening inside—and the body workers can feel the shifts, too.
It’s not unusual for clients to sigh or burp or yawn or cry—all releases of some sort. They describe things moving from the outside in or the inside out: energy, light, perhaps a river or a current of electricity, air, even a divine presence. Drains are cleared, dams are deconstructed, shields are kept in place but made porous to let in what is safe and welcome. Each person’s metaphors have unique characteristics, but often some natural flow is re-established … as the body workers confirm.
Different Than Guided Imagery
Other guided imagery approaches suggest metaphors to you, and you are guided as to what to do with them. (“Imagine yourself in a restful place with the sound of soothing water nearby. You walk towards the sound … your guide gives you a gift to take back with you….”) Though the images and suggestions may be very appealing and appear to be helpful and soothing, your mind/body/brain is less likely to be permanently affected because these are not the same metaphors that store your information. If these personal metaphors remain unchanged, you are likely to relapse back into your old patterns of behaviors, thoughts and feelings.
The Clean Language process elicits from you the personal metaphors by which your mind and body encode your experiences and beliefs about what helps you to be safe and thrive. Working to change these metaphors, in the ways you determine they can and should be changed (and you’ll be surprised to find you will know what will and won’t work!), can promote lasting transformation.
Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, David Grove, a psychotherapist from New Zealand with a background in NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) and Eriksonian Hypnosis, was working with trauma patients and noticed a pattern. When dealing with memories and issues too painful, too shameful, too frightening, too potentially overwhelming, or simply trying to find words for the indescribable, patients frequently used metaphors. Grove began working with the metaphors themselves, without interpreting them and without discussing the “real facts.” He developed what he called Clean Language, a sparse, grammatically awkward, limited number of questions to be asked using the client’s exact words, with the intention of reducing as much as possible the influence of the facilitator’s assumptions and word choice— keeping the facilitator’s language ‘clean.’ With these questions, Grove guided the client in exploring–and changing–his/her metaphor world. And the clients got better.
Penny Tompkins and James Lawley, NLP psychotherapists and coaches in England, took Grove’s work further. To quote David Grove himself, “Just like building blocks of a carbon atom that have been re-combined to form more complex compounds, Penny Tompkins and James Lawley have synthesized elements from a variety of sources such as Neurolinguistic Programming, Clean Language and systems thinking–and added both mass and structure.”(Foreword to Metaphors in Mind, 2000). They have developed a model of the process at work when a client engages with his personal metaphors, and generously share their ideas with others around the world.
Today, Clean Language and Symbolic Modeling facilitators apply the techniques not just to psychotherapy, but to coaching, mediating, teaching, body work, patient interviewing, journalism, sales and marketing, weight management, academic research, and a myriad of other applications.