This week I read this great piece by Marcel Danes about how dictators (and the wannabes) tend to use metaphors in their speeches that encourage people to believe things that they might not be open to naturally.
Metaphors are a powerful tool that can trigger strong unconscious reactions by speaking to reactive, less rational parts of our brains.
Dictators then attempt to use this linguistic skill to manipulate the crowd and stoke hatred.
On reading this, I was reflecting on the opposite end of the scale and how I use metaphors to help clients develop more understanding and compassion for themselves and others.
The use of metaphor is an invaluable tool in therapy and behaviour change.
One of the therapies that I integrate a lot into my work is called ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). This approach utilises a lot of metaphors to help people illuminate issues and to face problems such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, OCD, etc.
Over the years I have found that finding the right metaphor to communicate an idea to someone can open up new possibilities and help them instigate change more easily.
When introduced at the right time, and by making it personally relevant, metaphors often have the ability to allow people to instantly see their issues, from a completely different perspective.
This different perspective can create more flexibility in cognitive processes, providing space for different options rather than feeling rigid and stuck.
People can travel from feeling controlled by fear and panic, to being able to see another path, and think of another way of doing things. This creates a life with more possibilities.
So, whilst the dictators may be using metaphors to help brainwash their followers, I try to use metaphors to help people lead a fuller life where they have agency, rather than feeling like they are being dictated to by their problems.
The aim is that I want you to feel more free to make your own decisions and tread your own path, rather than follow the crowd or your inner dictator.