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First published in Anchor Point Vol. 16, No. 7, July 2002

Healing Embodied Metaphors:
Becoming the Person You Were Meant to Be

Donna Weber

Metaphors are one of the most powerful change techniques available. Embodied metaphors provide a direct link to the emotions and deep patterns of behavior. In Metaphors We Live by Lakoff and Johnson (1980) tell us that our conceptual system is metaphorical and in Women Fire, and Dangerous Things Lakoff (1987) tells us that thought is embodied and grows out of perception, movement, and physical experience. A number of recent researchers have identified the importance of the body in creating consciousness. Antonio Damasio (1999) has identified body level feedback systems as intricate aspects of emotions and even consciousness. In addition to neural structures, emotional states are defined by changes in the chemical profile of the body, changes in the viscera, and changes in the degree of contraction of the muscles of the body. Damasio believes that emotions are an important part of our homeostatic regulation and survival mechanism. Candace Pert (1991), another researcher, believes that our body is the unconscious mind and can best be addressed through right brain, expressive therapies such as dream work or art therapy. The reason we need to address emotional states in the body is because negative emotions are stored in the physical body long term and must be released before healing can occur. These stored negative emotions can create numerous emotional problems and can even set the stage for disease.

Negative emotions are accumulated over a life time are stored not only as memories but also in the physical body. These stored emotions can become an integral part of our personality and identity. Since these emotions do not represent an individual's true nature these emotions can often block an individual's success in a variety of areas in life. Focusing directly on the embodied emotions can create change across contexts. It is also a way of bypassing conscious road blocks and engaging the creativity of the unconscious mind. Working at this level ensures that the changes are ecological and are in line with the individual's deepest values. In fact this type of change work often has a spiritual component.

This article describes a more structured approach to working with embodied metaphors. The approach is based on Robert Dilts' (1990) method of combining problem states with resource states to create a desired state. When working with metaphors the process can be rewritten as follows:

problem metaphor + resource metaphor = desired outcome metaphor.

The basic idea in this process is that individuals have all the resources that they need and that these resources have been obscured by negative emotions. Once the negative emotions are released from the body the individual will be able to access these more resourceful states. In addition to the states we normally think of as emotions, such as anger or guilt, states such as confusion or "I don't know" can be address successfully through this embodied metaphor process. In a sense this is a process which helps people become who they were meant to be.

The process can be out-lined as follows:

1) identify the state to be addressed,
2) develop the associated embodied metaphor,
3) identify a time prior to the problem metaphor,
4) develop or create a resource metaphor,
5) invite the resource metaphor to interact with the problem metaphor,
6) check the results. In addition to knowledge of NLP this article assumes a basic understanding of clean language. In Metaphors in Mind Lawley and Tompkins (2000) provide a complete description of clean language.

1. Identify the Problem Emotional State

The initial problem state can be a single emotion or a pattern of problem behavior. These patterns of behavior can be aspects of identity or personality. (Future articles will describe how to identify and change identity and personality states.) The most important point is to use the client's own language when identifying the state to be addressed.

2. Develop the Problem Metaphor

The next step is to elicit the kinesthetic submodalities associated with the problem state. The first questions will be used to discover the location in (or around) the physical body and to determine a size and shape of the state. Questions that are useful here are: "And whereabouts is that anger?" and "And does anger have a shape or size?" Once the kinesthetic submodalities have been described ask the client " what?" For example if the kinesthetic submodalities are oval, bumpy, and brown ask: "And oval, bumpy and brown like what?" The response may be "a rock." Rock then becomes the metaphor and has a physical location related to the body.

3. Identify a Time Prior to the Problem Metaphor

The next step is to identify a time before the individual ever experienced the problem state. It is good to choose a time when the individual was feeling resourceful. Asking for the time immediately prior to the problem state may not be useful, since this may be another problem state. If the problem state is a severe trauma you risk associating the person into a traumatic memory. A good question here is: " And can you remember a time before you ever had Rock and you felt safe (or comfortable, etc.)?" Then ask "And how old might you be?" The age, for example Five, will become the name of the resourceful younger self.

4. Develop a Resource Metaphor

There are a number of ways to develop a resource metaphor. A few simple methods will be covered here. One is to use the younger self, such as Five, as the resource metaphor. Another is to develop the metaphor of the state that the younger self was feeling. Before Rock, Five may have been feeling Sunshine or Warm Fuzzy in chest. If the client experienced a particularly traumatic event, then the client may feel the need for help. Often this help is spiritual in nature. A good question might be: "And would Five like to have a helper ?" Examples of helpers are: Big Bear, Angels, or Buddha. Helpers represent some aspect of the individual or their belief system. Interestingly, helpers may not match the adult's spiritual beliefs.

5. Invite the Metaphors to Interact

Once the problem state and resource metaphors have been developed, then invite them to interact. It is important not to force interaction. Questions here might be: "And would Angels be interested in visiting Five?" and "And what would Big Bear like to do with Rock?" During this part of the process, often all that is necessary is to keep the process moving by asking: "And what happens next?" Continue the process until there is a resolution. A resolution occurs when the problem metaphor has been transformed or moved or when the younger resource state or helper reaches a logical stopping point. The problem metaphor may transform into something else, for example Rock becomes Yellow Light or Rock is moved back to Wall. A stopping point is often an age appropriate activity for the younger self (Five), such as having a snack and taking a nap.

The interaction phase may not be simple and straight foreword. Other states may need to be addressed or additional resource metaphors may be needed. This is dependent on the nature and severity of the problem state. A common problem is the discovery of an "I don't know" state which may need to be healed before the original state can be addressed.

6. Check the Results

An important part of checking results is to determine if there has been a change in the problem state metaphor. The adult self does not need to understand what this change means. Another part of checking the results is to determine if all the parts of the individual used in the process are left in the appropriate place and form. Younger selves may want or need to grow up and helpers may need to return to their source. This is usually accomplished with some simple questions: "And do any of the parts we addressed today need anything more?", "And does Five want to grow up?", and "And does this process feel complete to you?"

The Healing Embodied Metaphors process is useful with a number of different problem states. This can include problem emotions, unresourceful states, beliefs, and even enhancing resourceful states. Once an individual has becomes familiar with this process, then the individual can recognize, in the moment, that they are experiencing an emotion that is the result of old stored negative emotions. A number of people who have felt a special connection to their resource metaphor have been able to engage this metaphor when needed in other situations.

One of the most effective ways to use this process is to help individuals heal negative patterns of behavior. In this way the individual becomes more congruent and better able to respond to life's challenges. Once the negative stored energy is released Individuals may experience increased creativity and an increased ability to use their emotions as valuable resources.


Damasio, Antonio (1999). The Feeling of What Happens. New York: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Dilts, Robert, Hallbom, Tim, and Smith, Suzi (1990). Beliefs Pathways to Health. Portland, OR: Metamorphous Press.

Lawley, James and Tompkins, Penny (2000). Metaphors in Mind: Transformation through symbolic Modelling London: The Developing Company Press; and their web site

Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark (1980). Metaphors We Live By. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Lakoff, George (1987). Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Pert, Candace (1999). Molecules of Emotion. New York: Touchstone Books.

Copyright © Donna Weber, 2002

Donna Weber
Donna Weber is a licensed counselor and Master Practitioner of NLP. She works with individuals and businesses in private practice in the USA. Donna can be reached at (251) 990-3612 or webercounseling(at)  
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