Language is a metaphor

metaphorLanguage is a metaphor. Words are an inadequate but courageous attempt to describe the things we want to share with the world. My name, pronounced completely different in another language means all of me and none of me. It’s merely an arrow above my head that makes it easier to point out the ‘me’ in the ‘us’ or ‘them’.

The words I use to describe my feelings are the ones that my parents and other teachers have taught me to use. I have learned to apply them to different situations, with their approval or by using them as an example, to then accept them as true. For example, I have boxed up a feeling and labelled it ‘frustration’ or ‘anxiety’ and left it at that. When opening the box, a long time after the labeling happened, I might find that there is quite a lot in the box that I’ve labelled wrong. An example is that when I was about 6 years old, I used to tell my mum I felt ‘dizzy’ after dinner. My mother was very worried about this, but what I actually meant was ‘nauseous’, which is slightly less worrying. This went on for a few weeks and doctor’s visits, all because I simply could not think of the right word for the uncomfortable feeling I had, but thought ‘dizzy’ was close enough. woops…

If language is a metaphor, it tries to use a figure of speech to label something beyond words, so that we, or others might find it more recognizable. I think we have a desire to share what we feel or think, and we really need language for that at some point. Sometimes labeling thoughts or feelings makes it easier for others to understand and empathize.

In Biology we label plants for example by classifying it, so we can then recognise its properties and character. This gives us a better idea of how to treat the plant, but also tends to restrict us in seeing how it interacts with the rest of its particular and unique ecosystem. Talking about feelings is often experienced as restrictive and might feel like it minimizes whatever is in our heads. I think this is because it’s hard to also explain the entire context in which they occur (our life).

I think when feeling frustration, or anxious for example, I can label it as such and be done with it. When doing a deeper and very honest attempt to explore these feelings however, I might find that there are other labels that I could have used. Anger maybe, or disappointment. There might even be sadness because I have lost or missed out on something I really wanted. The same might go for anxiety. Behind that one big (and paralyzing) label, there might be insecurity, anger, sadness. They are emotions that might even have something to do with someone else, and  not having one’s needs met by these other people (intentional or unintentional). They are harder projects to deal with, and harder labels to carry around, so sometimes it’s easier to dump them all in my big personal box with a big personal label on it. (“don’t worry about me, I’m working on it”)

Feeling depression for a long time is another very personal problem. Recognising what is behind that word (which describes a syndrome) I might find sadness, or anger or a desire for something that should have been given to me (like care, or comfort). This makes it a problem that might possible mostly lie in the past, and which I have carried with me all this time. It might have been a survival strategy from back when I needed it, but is now sabotaging my life because I never tested its use within my reality now. And although it goes from being hidden in a box to merely being wrapped up in other metaphorical words, they might become packages that are more movable, less obscure and might even be opened because they are no longer that scary.

If I would label a feeling as depression, it can become an unresolved thick blanket-like label that is acceptable, recognisable, as well as un-identifiable. It means I can dump all the ugly feelings I go through in that one big box and put a neon arrow above it which I can point to when wondering or being asked about what the hell is wrong with me.

If I label that feeling as anger for being neglected when I really needed care, anger for being taught the wrong things when I was younger, sadness over never having the attention of a certain parent, and possibly even a child-like feeling that I am not supposed to be proud of myself and happy, then that becomes something to work with. They are again labels, but they represent the actual feeling better, they are again just a figure of speech, but they might be closer to what is actually going on. They make the feelings I have more recognizable and therefore hopefully easier to understand and approach.

And I might find other words yet again for those feelings after looking at them for a while. As in biology, classifying is infinite. At some point though, I might have to stop classifying when I have a pretty good idea of what is going on, and start working on them and how they affect me. A good start is to explore what makes me feel better, using the little packages I uncovered as a guide.

I guess I use metaphors a lot, I think it makes me understand myself and others better. It is all just a figure of speech for things that I, in all honesty, have no way of perfectly describing. My sadness, joy, anger, may feel nothing like yours either, but I hope you can relate.

I think, just to milk this metaphor for what it’s worth, the idea of carrying around a big labelled box full of feelings makes it hard to move, and hard to resolve. Taking away that label and seeing what is actually going on inside the box is hard as well, but at least I can work on it one bit at a time. Then possibly at the very end of it, when the big box is finally empty, I can flatten it and chuck it out*, leaving room to breathe.

 

Jude

 

*I meant ‘recycle’ but it didn’t fit the metaphor :-S …