Metaphors allow for a different way of understanding and are a unique way to see or think about psychological processes. These psychological processes (thoughts, emotions, memories, and body sensations), from an ACT perspective, are tied to the limitation of language. Metaphors are just a first step into understanding and need to be followed by learning the specific skills required to do what metaphors help point to. The nature of metaphor, in the form of a story, proves to be easier to remember than clinical facts told to you by a therapist. I thought it would be helpful to look at a metaphor and you can see for yourself if it allows an opening to what is true psychologically.
There are many metaphors and I have my favorites. The Sky and the Weather metaphor is one that points to the position of stepping out of the “battle” with psychological processes and taking the perspective of the sky rather than the weather. This metaphor references the “observer self” which is that part of us from which we notice our thoughts and feelings, where we hear external sounds, the part that notices everything going on both internally and externally. There can be other words to describe this part- some people call it consciousness or noticing self.
THE SKY AND THE WEATHER
“Your observing self is like the sky. Thoughts and feelings are like the weather. The weather changes continually, but no matter how bad it gets, it can’t harm the sky in any way. The mightiest thunderstorm, the most turbulent hurricane, the most sever winter blizzard-these things can’t hurt or harm the sky. And no matter how bad the weather, the sky always has room for it. Plus, sooner or later the weather always changes. Sometimes we forget the sky is there, but it’s still there. And sometimes we can’t see the sky because it’s obscured by clouds. But if we rise high enough above those clouds-even the thickest, darkest thunderclouds-sooner or later we’ll reach clear sky, stretching in all directions, boundless and pure. More and more, you can learn to access this part of you: a safe space inside from which to observe and make room for difficult thoughts and feelings (Stoddard & Arari, 2014, p121).
How do metaphors help? As described above, metaphors are used in therapy to allow clients to see processes that might be otherwise difficult to describe. In practical terms, after considering the metaphor, I may notice “the storm” when I feel a difficult emotion or thought arising and will see the fruitless nature of trying to stop the storm from coming, rather I can watch the storm unfold and allow it to unfold as it is (not clinging to and not pushing away). The perspective of the observer self as the sky and psychological content as weather teaches us about a process. This process is one where the content of our mind and body can be observed like the weather from the perspective of the sky rather than being caught in the storm. Try it for yourself and see if metaphors are a good first step to understanding new ways of seeing and understanding the human psychology.
Stoddard, J., & Niloofar, A. (2014). The Big Book of ACT Metaphors. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.
Blog Post by Registered Psychologist, Alison Campbell