Evolving Mindsets Using Metaphors


Estimated watch time: 34 mins 

Available credits: none

Objectives and Summary:

Metaphors play a large role in people’s understanding of the world, relationships and communication in general. Join Neil and Melissa Wright of Temme Meil as they discuss how metaphors affect mindsets and how to use metaphors to evolve mindsets today. Their approach is to use psycholinguistics to help people refine their metaphorical communication.

After watching their presentation, the viewer will be able to:
  • Define metaphor evolution
  • Learn how to evolve metaphors using psycholinguistics
  • Refine metaphors using modern myths and mindsets

Presentation Materials:

About the Presenters:

Melissa Wright, MS has a master’s degree in linguistics. As a linguist, she has worked as a content analyst, writing coach, conversation analyst, communication consultant, and authorship attribution analyst. She has a certificate in Applied Mythology and writes about using metaphors, mythology, and dreams to help us communicate better in her book – Mythos: A map to myths, metaphors, and dreams.

Neil Wright, LPC has a master’s in Clinical Psychology and has worked for over 10 years with individuals of all ages, professions, cultures, and socioeconomic backgrounds in rural, suburban, and urban areas. He has provided individual, couples, and family counseling, as well as developed tailored trainings and consultation services on a wide range of psychological topics.


Welcome to the Community Education Series hosted by The Recovery Village and Advanced Recovery Systems. Alright, well, thanks for having us. We are Temme Meil. I’m Neil (and I’m Melissa) and we are a psycholinguistic communication consulting company together. I’m the clinician of the group here — I’ll be leading the way, mostly — and then Melissa is going to add in the linguistics as a supplement. Our presentation topic is “evolving mindsets using metaphors.”

So, my background a little bit: I have a master’s degree in clinical psychology. I’ve been in the field a little over 10 years. We’ve worked with every profession, culture, background in rural, suburban and urban areas in the United States. I’ve done individual counseling, couples counseling, family counseling and group work, as well as done trainings and consultation on a variety of topics. Currently, I’m writing a book about myths of mind, which works in leadership progression in our society, and finding ways that we can help consult each other better using mythology and psychology alongside our communications. I also run Temme Meil with my wife, Melissa.

And I am Melissa. I have a master’s degree in linguistics, as Neil mentioned. I have experience working as a content analyst, a conversational analyst, a communication analyst, authorship attribution analysis, and I’ve been a writing coach as well. More recently, I obtained a certificate in applied mythology, and I’ve also written a book called Mythos: A Map to Myths, Metaphors, and Dreams that talks about how to use myth and metaphor in order to bridge gaps in conversation and find ways to actually connect to other mindsets and other people. So, yeah — and I’m the co-owner of Temme Meil, and we work together on psycholinguistic communication consulting.

To start off, you might be asking yourself, “Why linguistics and psychology?” Well, this is how we see it at least. It’s a personal equation that we all have. Our behaviors, our beliefs, our cultures, our emotions, our language use in our mindsets. And within that, the specifics of language use is the way we can evolve language, both body language and literal verbal language. It’s an equation that either remains stagnant or evolves with our interactions. Obviously, as clinicians, we need to be mindful of making sure we’re having any evolving rather than revolving interactions with our clients. One of the most interactive ways of communicating is through metaphor — that’s why we’re focusing on that today.

Thought this was a useful little quote for the times we’re living in: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; they have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.” Also, fun little tidbit — this was actually written right before the bubonic plague and, as you can tell with the collective consciousness that we have right now, very appropriate. Perhaps this is what we were dealing with over the last 20 years, and now we’ve broken through the third wall even more so with our society, reality TV, all that good stuff.

So a little outline of what’s to follow. We’re going to describe metaphors; we’re going to make sure we understand what it is first and what we mean by it. Then we’re going to discuss metaphor, evolution, how they’re embedded in our language and our word choice and our phrase choices, and then how they affect how we see, experience and then engage our environment.

We’re going to talk about how to evolve metaphors within conversation — our phrase is “metaphorical maneuvers” —and then we’re going to discuss specific psycholinguistic processing and how to know yourself better within your metaphor usage. We’re then going to talk about how to refine metaphors — how to use those to match modern problems as opposed to allowing some older, stagnant metaphors to allow us to either devolve or regress back into old ways. Then, finally, we’ll discuss metaphors and modern myth.

I thought this was a nice little runway on the power of mindsets over time. As you can see, the first quote is 1942, second one being 1964 and last one being 1988. Now, about 40 years later, I think all of these are coming together right now, and that’s why we’re seeing so much chaos and fragmentation. The first one — Carl Young, as usual — is, “The practice of this art lies in the heart. If your heart is false, the physician within you will be false.” I see this a lot with newer clients, where they’re coming in with clinicians in their past that were using metaphors that didn’t match their situation. There was a bumping; there was an incongruence. So one thing I know I have to always be mindful of is my heart matching my metaphor, using my communication with the client.

Am I making sure to have a reparative and evolving evolution or evolving relationship with this client? Or am I revolving some of those old patterns with them? Then, this is perfect for kind of all of us: “Even if the whole world were to fall to pieces, the unity of the psyche would never be shattered, and the wider and more numerous the fissures on the surface, the more the unity is strengthened into depths.” Obviously, this is what we’re seeing right now with people stepping up, leaders stepping up across the nation and internationally coming together and making sure we’re doing the right stuff. The opposite is also true, but I think over time as we evolve together, we can become more unified even through these chaotic and horrible times.

Lastly — this is probably the best one of the three to me — is Bill Moyers saying, “So when we say ‘save the earth,’ we’re talking about saving ourselves.” Joseph Campbell replied, “Yes. All this hope for something happening in society has to wait for something in the human psyche, a whole new way of experiencing a society.” Which is what we’re experiencing right now. And the crucial question here is, “With what society, what social group, do you identify yourself? The people of the planet or your particular in-group?” This is the question. Essentially, that was in the mind of our founders of the nation. Keeping in mind the interests of the 13 States without considering the special interests within each one. And then he asks, it’s kind of the home run question, “Why can’t something like that take place in the world right now?” To me, it is. I’m sure some of you agree, and this is the time when we have to harness the power of myth and the power of metaphor.

So, what is a metaphor? Some of us haven’t defined it since grade school, so it’s useful to go at the easiest part first and then evolve a little bit further. It’s language use that uses imagery applied to an object, person or action to which it can’t literally be applicable — kind of a deviation from literal speech that takes one’s mind from a literal state of mind to the figurative. It gives us a better understanding of someone else’s mind’s eye because it gives us greater detail to describe that. It’s artistic speech often portraying variability within that person’s reality or that group of people’s reality. More specifically, we have to see how it plays out in both religion, art and society. I think there’s different levels of metaphor that either assign responsibility or deflect it, build autonomy or oppress it, create evolution or stifle it.

A few examples, just real quick: One example to assign responsibility would be to say, “Get back on the horse; get back in the game.” One that kind of deflects it would be, “She fell off the wagon; he fell off the wagon.” As you could see — that subtle shift in mind — linguistics changes how I’m assigning the responsibility or deflecting it. Same thing goes for autonomy. If I say, “He’s breezing right through the assignments,” that means he’s taken care of it himself; he doesn’t need help from someone else. But if I say, “His words were daggers — he couldn’t help but throw,” obviously that is saying right there it’s oppression of autonomy. It’s saying he doesn’t have control of himself. In order to create opportunities, we have to look for the doors that are in front of us as opposed to saying the person needs to hit rock bottom first. I think we should be using metaphors that evolve us. “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Perfect quote for today.

So, what exactly goes into a metaphor? This is where the linguistics of it all definitely plays into all of this. What a metaphor does is it sort of takes us outside our normal way of thinking. It’s kind of that box that we place ourselves in, and it shows people the figures and the images within our ways of thinking, our mindsets, our core beliefs, and it allows them to kind of have something more tangible to hang on to while they’re understanding where we’re coming from in those respects. Metaphors absolutely enhance people’s understanding of situations and mindsets from people as individuals or people as groups of people. They affect the way we see and experience the world around us, and they also affect the orientations of the way we process things in our mind.

For example, if you think about left, right, up and down versus the cardinal directions north, south, east and west, there have been linguistic anthropological studies that have determined that people whose languages use left down, up and right and rely on those directions more than the cardinal directions will orient things like time, for example. For a language like English, time is oriented left to right, young to old that way, but those languages that rely more on the Cardinal directions will orient time from east to west — young being east and west being old because sunrise to sunset in that way. So, language and language use and the language we rely on to describe things absolutely affects the way we perceive the world around us in our environment.

There are also such things as explicit and implicit metaphors. You can use explicit metaphors very consciously when you’re talking to someone, such as when you say, “Yep, this was a zoo today,” or “Ann is a walking encyclopedia,” right? Those are kind of more conscious things and you can extract the metaphor from the meaning, but there’s also implicit metaphors. If you say something like, “I walked in late and my co-workers pounced on me,” that’s more visual and it’s a little bit more implicit because you’re painting a picture, but you’re painting a picture where the verb is happening to you as a person. It’s harder to extract the meaning because it’s just there and you know exactly what it meant. They didn’t literally pounce on you, but you know exactly what the speaker is talking about. If you say, “He flew through his homework,” obviously the person didn’t fly through the homework — that’s a metaphor in and of itself, but flew means going very quickly. But it’s a little harder to extract it only because what they’re doing is they’re painting a specific picture with a verb, right? So what these do and what these tell us is that metaphors are inherent and they’re also something we use kind of artistically. There are metaphors that we have an easier time extracting from the meaning of things, and then there are metaphors our language implicitly relies on consistently.

Fun little quote there at the end: “I had to climb a mountain. There were all kinds of obstacles in the way. I had now to jump over a ditch, now to get over a hedge, and finally to stand still because I had lost my breath. This was the dream of a stutter.” Obviously, we’re telling everybody to read Joseph Campbell.

Let’s talk about a little bit of metaphor maneuvering; so, how to actually apply this in real time with our clients. Metaphor maneuver is an adaptation of your space or communication based on the receiver. So you gotta be in the moment — obviously, you can’t just go disassociate off. You have to be mindful of how they’re receiving your communication of metaphor and vice versa. Pay attention to people’s emotions, moods and mind because everything you say and do affects the metaphor. This includes nonverbals — if you’re incongruent in your nonverbals in your affect, it shows up. People know it intuitively; they might not know it consciously, but it’s happening. We recommend remaining calm, resetting especially when someone is sad, upset, or as I like to call it, manically metaphoric.

A lot of times, you’ll see people when they’re in the middle of mania or they’re having a fast-tracking episode — they’ll go quicker, they’ll move faster with detail. Obviously, it’s our job to use our mapping with them to slow the situation down — slow the encounter down and insert a new metaphor map for them to use. It doesn’t enable the mania but slows it down. Eye contact variation has a significant effect, especially in groups. When you move from one person or another, I recommend, especially as you’re doing metaphor with groups similar to what a priest or pastor would do, don’t just line up one person at a time. Don’t just use only the kind of disassociated speech. Notice when you need to come down to a similar literal level and reconnect with them. Don’t be too lofty; don’t be too metaphorical. Find the balance between the two so as to not lose yourself in literal descriptions or too metaphorical a description.

These maneuvers can also include delaying or exiting the conversation in general based on needs. So right now, we’ve obviously been moving pretty quick with this. I’m noticing that I need to focus some of the energy levels, slow it down, and make sure that we’re matching and mapping together on the metaphor map or the literal map as I’m doing now. Directing the direction of the literal and metaphorical is how we maintain a sense of control. As we all know, depression often comes up when we don’t feel that sense of control, and so a lot of the time, I’ve noticed clients reactivate when we go metaphorical because they’re in control of the driver’s seat of the painting of pictures. And, obviously, you want to make sure you’re on a similar course. You’re not using incongruent or non-matching metaphors because a lot of the time, that throws off the timing of a session or the timing of a conversation, and it disrupts solidification of the points. What we want to do is do this together and make sure we’re moving and migrating our maneuvers as one.

One other thing that can be kept in mind is metaphors can absolutely display to you the emotions that the person you’re talking with is experiencing. Going back to the example on the previous slide, “When I arrived late to work, my co-workers pounced on me.” That implies that they felt kind of like prey — like they were being kind of physically attacked. Obviously, that’s probably not what actually happened, but it gives you a peek into how they felt: like prey, how they felt attacked, how they felt smaller. So matching that will be essential to building rapport in that sense.

Obviously, it’s important to take a look at what actually is happening in conversation when you’re partaking in any conversation with anybody. Linguists have studied this, and they have found throughout the research that server rules occur within any conversation in order for any kind of meaning to be conveyed, especially metaphors. So HP Grice is sort of a famous linguist, and what he did was he came up with certain rules that people always and unconsciously adhere to when they’re talking and partaking in conversation. A few of these rules are what he calls “maxims.” These are saying enough, but not too much. You say enough to get your meaning through, but not so much that you overwhelm your listener. You don’t lie. You say what you know to be true. You say only what’s relevant to the topic at hand, and the way you say and use your language — the way you say things — is not obscure or ambiguous. You make sure you’re getting your message across clearly. So, what this does is this means that these are always adhered to in order for meaning to be effectively conveyed in any conversation.

But what Grice did was he also allowed for what he called “flouting,” or disobeying of these rules. So, these rules can be violated, but only according to the unwritten rules of conversation. Metaphors, for example, flout the “no lying”, because if I say, “Talking to you is talking to a brick wall,” that’s obviously not true — but no one would ever accuse me of lying. Why? Because our language and our brains allow for certain violations of these rules in order for us to convey more clearly through imagery what we’re trying to tell people. Sarcasm is another example. If it’s raining and stormy, and I look at you and I say, “Wow. It’s a really great day outside,” that’s obviously not true. But, again, you wouldn’t accuse me of lying because my tone would be able to convey to you my actual message. So it’s always appropriate to think of your audience because obviously culture, emotional states and core beliefs play into how these types of messages, like sarcasm and types of metaphors, will be received. But it’s always well worth knowing the unwritten rules that are found to be in conversation and how and when those rules can be violated.

Brilliant. So I want to tap into just that little bit of the electricity and emotions part of what Melissa was just talking about. I have a lot of respect for Dr. Watkins. He did a TED talk called “How to hack your biology and be in a zone every day,” and he talks about how energy and motion is emotion. That’s it. If we think about it that way only, we can see how people’s nervous systems feed off each other and how their metaphors feed off each other. If your metaphor triggers an emotion in me, electricity, that influences how I respond. This is why we see a lot of these violations lately of politeness — of cooperation — because it’s not matching. People are having a lot of trouble unifying because there’s so much divisiveness embedded in people’s metaphors. Within all of this, it’s important to also talk about mind mapping and mind masking. Dr. Schnarch studies this — I would like to give him respect for his research on it, specifically because he studies antisocial and prosocial behavior, how that plays into mind mapping and mind masking. We mask when we feel threatened or unsure. We map our mind and other people’s minds when it’s safe. So we provide our literal mind map when we feel safe and open, and we hide that thing when we don’t. We have to be mindful of this when we’re interacting with our clients, especially anxious or depressed clients.

Some research analysis we did recently was on manager metaphors, and we found some really cool stuff. So we wanted to bring it into this and help you guys understand what we mean by a manager metaphor, both as a self-manager and as we’re managing our mental health together. So appropriate. We did this analysis where managers mentioned their metaphors, and then we analyzed them to see what was going into the system, what was playing out in their minds and in their interactions with their employees. A lot of them show things like support, so metaphors like they were the scaffolding — they were the foundation of the organization. There were also mentions of managers as people who are leaders who hold, some of them even said, all the responsibility. As you can see, there’s a difference in the two. This is a map of the manager being top up or being bottomed down. There’s a significant difference obviously in how it’s either a support system or a hierarchy. This plays out in different cultures very differently, and every system has a different culture. So what each wants to do is meet that person within their culture and help them evolve in different ways, help them evolve through the culture; not trying to impose a new system, but showing them new ways of evolving within it.

Managers needed authority and leadership to direct their team, but they also needed to be approachable and empathic to support their team’s efforts and evolutions. Obviously, they had to also be co-managers — they had to manage with other managers. Therefore, they had a different role as in they were co-workers, so what we kind of teased out of this was people’s managerial leader role is stagnant but their identity had to be fluid. They had to be able to show up both as a manager and a co-worker, and meet people where they were at, both in the scaffolding metaphor as well as taking responsibility. This gave them a dual-role conflict at times, which we then had to flesh out further. And I think with the changes in workplaces now, we have to do this even more. Helping our clients do this will be important as they go to remote or as they’re on the front lines of this crisis that we’re in right now.

Support systems go both ways always and are foundational. We found this the most, obviously in this analysis too, and the longer-sentence way of putting it is many manager metaphors indicated managers support their team. It also indicated that all managers relied on support from their manager. So, a larger kind of metasystem of managers, indicating all metaphors are based on systems thinking. However, within some of the metaphors we found, the system of mine was naive at times to the extent that that secondary support needed to be healthy too. It’s complicated. If I’m having trouble with my boss, I’m going to be compromised at times because I’m emotionally unrested based off of what I had with my boss — now, I’m giving it to my employee.

The importance is having a wide enough metaphor that catches everybody and shows how we have a collective system that’s exchanging and interchanging energy. So what we did was we introduced the idea — we think you guys have some revolving-door support. We think you guys need to see it as a system that’s everywhere throughout your whole workplace, and we saw this through some shifts in their mindsets. As opposed to having just closed-door meetings; as opposed to just having closed-off metaphors. They started to find themselves evolving the model so they could evolve their minds together. Not merging — because everybody has autonomy — but they were evolving their minds as one, which created both metaphorical, literal and conversational evolutions. This foundation gave them what they needed to move as opposed to stay stuck in their old ways and their evolving ways.

The same thing happens with us clinicians and our clients. Our relationship has to be cohesive within itself; we have to work with clients. I think everybody has their own clinical approach and opinion, but we have to be mindful of not using a one-size-fits-all, and we do have to meet people where they’re at. So of course that plays into our metaphorical thinking and talk. If there’s a cultural difference between me and my client, I have to accommodate their culture. I have to make sure I’m being reciprocal with that, because anything I do on any level that’s not matching throws everything off and we have negative results. I think this is why we have clinical problems at times when certain people aren’t being multicultural in their interactions within the session. So, our assignment for this basically is ask yourself, “How does this play out in my conversations?” Specifically, personal reflection. “How do I tend to direct meta portions of my conversations?” As in meta talk about what’s going on in the session, meta analysis of diagnosis or their environment or what have you — and it’s specifically, “How am I using metaphors?”

Lastly, with the kind of self-metaphor as a manager technique, think about it as congruence. Many indicated being ideal — as in the metaphor — as being decisive, confident, and no one explicitly identified themselves as such. So what we found was there was an incongruence there with how they saw themselves, hence why we brought up the identity piece. This indicates to us that we could evolve that incongruence, but it had to happen at that level first in order to get the spectrum to move toward greater congruence. I think Carl Rogers captured this best when he said, “In order to achieve self-progress, we have to be in a state of congruence.”

Our world had far too much built-up incongruence for the last X number of years, and I think that’s why now we’re seeing so much overflow and so much congruence occurring. People indicated within this that they felt most confident when they were prepared, had time to prepare and were sure of the knowledge of the situation at hand. So, the same thing with our clients — we have to reset in sessions, create congruent maps and metaphors and ask ourselves, “Does the metaphor match?”

We think it’s time at Temme Meil to refine our metaphors. “The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved, but only outgrown,” Carl Young.

So this is from — I’m a proud husband — this is from Melissa’s book. I think she captures really well what a myth is, a modern myth, and what a metaphor is. We believe you should use the myths within people’s mindsets. So, what is a myth? Well, there are two types of myths: little fibs and large metaphors for illustrating what is within humans, our mind and our body. The first type of myth, the little fib, immediately brings to mind things like tongue sticking to frozen holes or bigfoot or UFOs. Everyday beliefs proven to be false is a little myth. There are also false beliefs within our personal selves about ourselves and our personal experiences and environment around us.

Then there’s the larger myths, and it’s always a good time to refine these too. The second type of myth, the large myth, refers to the stories told by large groups of people that reflect intuitions about the purpose and creation of humans. They are the stories, intuitions and foundations within each person that are transferable and illustrate the larger group. The little fib can be unhealthy or healthy for the person, depending on whom it is true, and it encapsulates that individual belief system. The large metaphor, on the other hand, is neither healthy or unhealthy either — it merely is so that we can understand how we are and how to be. It represents our larger unconscious belief system. So as you can see, when we evolve both levels, we evolve together and we can evolve our collective mindsets and refine together.

Joseph Campbell obviously motivated a lot of this, and I think he captures it well in his quote, “This thing up here, this consciousness, thinks it’s running the shop. It’s a secondary organ. It’s a secondary organ of a total human being, and it must not put itself in control. It must submit and serve the humanity of the body.” Meaning to me, the health. “We think we’re running the show and that we’re in control, but as we’ve all learned most recently, we are at the mercy of our metaphors in our collective myths.”

As my husband just quoted me, I shall also quote him. Because what we see happening is that we have these larger mythological subsystems that affect our metaphors, and then our metaphors affect our mindsets, which affect our interactions. So there’s every level of this right now working within us and around us. So, as Neil said in his upcoming book, Myths of Mind, “If we don’t refine, think of where we will be years from now. If we do refine, think of where we can be now and years from now.” So essentially, if we don’t prioritize evolution with our metaphors, they will absolutely continue to revolve in our mindsets and our interactions with people. Which makes sense because the more we refine, the more we can evolve, and that’ll happen on the individual level, the community level, the global level.

So, think — give 2020 as a platform for this. And we’re excited to also obviously offer a free initial consult with our services. Feel free to follow us; also, visit our website, check out our analysis, consulting and training services, as well as our upcoming books. We do have a spot on there where you can sign up for updates. Melissa’s book should be out soon, and mine hopefully by summer. Absolutely. Thanks for having us, and feel free to also take a look at the references here. We tried to get everything on there for you, and we highly recommend reading more Joseph Campbell and Carl Rogers because they don’t miss the mark with what we’re dealing with now.

As Neil mentioned, if you guys do happen to have any questions, email us at the email address you see here on the bottom of this side — [email protected]— and we will absolutely be happy to help you out with anything you may be wondering further about. I hope you guys are all doing well, and we hope everything continues to evolve forward. Stay safe, stay healthy and take care of yourselves. Take care, everyone. Thank you for watching this video. We hope you enjoyed the presentation.

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