Metaphor is the expressive medium of symbols, an expression that exists in a more raw, personified context. From a psychological perspective, metaphor provides the ability to make psychological connections (Shengold, 1981), while the narratives of what is expressed through metaphor allows for the individual to conceptualize the experience. Lakoff & Johnson (1980) informed that “most of our conceptual system is metaphorically structured; that is, most concepts are partially understood in terms of other concepts” (p. 56). Of the infinite conceptualizations, “the metaphor is itself a metaphor of the indirect kind. Therein lies its strength and capacity to permit multiple perspectives, even contradictory trends in the psyche…one thing is not necessarily more important than another” (Samuels, 1985, Metaphor, para 7).
I see metaphor as something that “requires reflection for its appreciation” and on an emotional level, “the image may touch one’s depths before the conscious surface is affected” (Samuels, 1985, Metaphor, para 3). Metaphors dissolve the boundaries of the concrete and allow the imaginable to enter into conscious awareness as the metaphor is “moved by appearances before there is any factual or rational understanding of them” (Romanyshyn, 2002, p. 168). Metaphors, then, allow for the conception and transformation of new psychic categories. Hillman (1979) explained that “psychic images are not necessarily pictures and may not be like sense images at all. Rather they are images as metaphors” (p. 55).
Through metaphor, one’s perception of the experienced environment allows for the production of new interpretive experiences, which is viewed as the conception and transformation of new categories (Borbely, 1998). The development of metaphorical thinking depends upon the establishment of unyielding ego boundaries (Searles, 1962). Through metaphor, an addict, an individual, can experience an emotion through the words used to convey an emotion, as the metaphor can be interpreted as an expressive medium for symbolism. When discussing metaphorical thinking and ego, we explore the significance and differences of imagination and of fantasy. The realms of imagination and of fantasy, in essence, harbor, to an extent, the utilization of metaphor to allow for symbolism to either transcend or hinder the function of ego.
“A metaphoric sensibility is necessary because it holds the tension between concrete and symbolic modes of thinking” (Romanyshyn, 2007, p. 213).
Romanyshyn (2007) posited a “metaphoric tension” between the extremities of an “identity pole” and a “difference pole,” and he stated that analysis needs to encompass a “metaphoric sensibility” (Romanyshyn, 2007, p. 212). He suggested that the metaphoric tension then places the individual between what is identified and what the individual will deem different. Metaphor allows for the capacity to tolerate intense and powerful emotions through imagination; the abstract conceptualizations allow for imagination to exist (Henderson & Sherwood, 2003; Schwartz-Salant, 1995).
When writing my dissertation I discussed how the expressed metaphor provides the ability to make psychic connections as the utilization of metaphor allow for the individual to both organize and interpret the experience acquired. When an individual, an addict, experiences intolerable affect, how is he or she to not only internalize this experience, but also convey its psychological impact? As language provides a relationship to both the inner and outer reality, metaphor is then allowing for imagery, and the emotions and memories associated to be expressed. Wilkinson (2006) stressed that healing occurs not in the retelling of a story or experience, but rather through reclaiming previously dissociated material in a way that enables connections and meanings to be made and held in the mind. She noted that metaphor provides this function, as it is an integration of both the left and right hemispheres of the brain allowing for both speech and memory. Regarding memory and the retelling of the original experience, the focus of perception is not what may be in existence, but in how such an existence shall be perceived (Schwartz-Salant, 1989).
Borbely, A. (1992). A psychoanalytic concept of metaphor. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 79(5), 923-936.
Henderson, J. L., & Sherwood, D. N. (2003). Transformation of the psyche: The symbolic alchemy of the splendor solis. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge.
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Romanyshyn, R. (2007). The wounded researcher: Research with soul in mind. New Orleans, LA: Spring Journal.
Samuels, A. (1985). Symbolic Dimensions of Eros in Transference-Counter Transference: Some Clinical Uses of Jung’s Alchemical Metaphor. International Review of Psycho Analysis, 12, p. 199-215
Schwartz-Salant, N. (1989). The borderline personality: Vision and healing. Wilmette, IL: Chiron.
Searles, H. (1962). The differentiation between concrete and metaphorical thinking in the recovering schizophrenic patient. Journal of the American Psychological Association, 10, 22-49.
Wilkinson, M. (2006). Coming into mind. New York, NY: Routledge.
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Erik J. Welsh, PhD
– Author of The Addiction Complex