The Myths of Our Mind

Neil and Melissa Wright explain the power of using metaphors in therapy and demonstrate ways that you can use them effectively while working with clients.

The Myths of Our Mind


Objectives and Summary:

The myths of our minds affect us all. When we are more aware of our personal mythology, we can be more effective in evolving the myth of our minds. 

After watching their presentation, the viewer will be able to:

  1. Identify and explore the intersections of modern psychology and mythology
  2. Provide insight and techniques for how clinicians can help evolve their personal mythologies using psycholinguistics
  3. Self-reflect on their own personal mythologies and how they impact their clinical work and effectiveness

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.

Our topic that we’re going to talk about is “The Myths of Our Mind.” Basically, we’re going to use a lot of collective voice to go through this stuff. As you can hear from our backgrounds, our priorities are community-based counseling in general. Our writing focuses on how we can get communities to rally together, as opposed to dividing or being more divisive because of categorical differences.

A lot of the time, people will ask general questions like, “What’s the combination between psychology, linguistics and mythology? Why would you focus on that?” Well, as we know as clinicians, behaviors, beliefs, culture, emotion, patterns, language use, metaphors and mindsets all go together. It’s an equation, so to speak, that makes up our personal and our collective mythological equation of mind. Basically, it just means we remain stagnant. We kind of stay in our intergenerational patterns or we evolve based off interactions we have with people. One of the best ways that we’ve found — in our work, at least — is that if we can focus in on the myth and the metaphor, we can get to the collective larger whole using some literal language and some figurative expression. By figurative expression, we basically just mean metaphors. Maybe we’ll toss in a few beach metaphors for you Florida folks, and then we’ll use some desert metaphors because that’s where we’re at. Generally, I think what we can do is activate some imagery and keep moving our minds forward.

So, just to give you guys a brief outline of what we’ll talk about here today. First, we’re going to identify intersections of modern psychology and mythology. As Neil alluded to earlier, we’re going to talk about how and why those intersect, why they’re important and how those can be applied to your everyday conversations but also the conversations with clients. We’re going to provide techniques for how you can help those clients evolve their personal mythologies using cycle linguistics and applied myths. So, just that kind of trifecta we’ve already touched on, and then we’re going to help you guys kind of reflect on your own mythologies and how those impact your work and your own effectiveness and conversation. If you have any questions along the way, pop them in the chat box and we’ll try to get to them as soon as possible. One of us will keep our eye on it.

I don’t know if everybody’s read The Power of Myth or not, but they should because it is one of the best books, I think, that is the most telling and matches our current reality. Within The Power of Myth, the second quote here, Bill Moyers — one of the best journalists of our time — asked Joseph Campbell, “So, when we say, ‘Save the earth,’ we’re talking about saving ourselves?” 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 we’re having now. And the crucial question here, as I see it, is simply: With what society, what social group, do you identify yourself? Is it going to be with all the people of the planet, or is it going to be with your own particular in-group?

This particular question, essentially, is what is in the minds of the founders of our nation when the people of the 13 states started thinking about what we needed to do to be united in themselves as one nation, yet without losing consideration of the special interests of each of the several states. Why can’t something of that kind take place in the world right now? And he wrote this in 1988, so as you can see, it’s been quite the runway. And I think we’re finally seeing what he was predicting needed to happen in order for evolution to fully take place. Carl Jung, of course, wrote this in 1964 in his book Civilization and Transition: “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 in the depths (which we’re seeing now).”

A lot of times, we have to understand what it means to be metaphorical and what it means to be mythological without falling into that trap of thinking myth is something that is completely wrong or is false. Oftentimes, MythBusters comes to mind first because of the pop culture analogies that we have. What is a metaphorical myth? It’s language that uses imagery that is applied to an object, person or action to which it cannot be literally applicable. It’s just a deviation in speech that takes us from literal to figurative. So, we can describe our mind’s eyes better. Our clients do this all the time — obviously, we do it as clinicians all the time — in order to get artistic in our sessions and kind of portray that variability, helping people unlock and get to that better reality they’re searching for. I have found repeatedly, obviously, that metaphors are found most in religions, community-oriented dialogues like this, when conceptualizing the past and future.

So, one of the techniques that we’re going to recommend is assign, build, create and develop. Melissa will go into this a lot more with language later, but basically, what we’re just saying is assign a new metaphor that has a little bit more responsibility. Don’t deflect it — build off of that. Make sure there’s autonomy within, and notice when it’s kind of oppressing the individual or the community. Evolve out of that by creating new evolution opportunities. We can stifle ourselves with certain metaphors, which we’ll get into, but as we all know, we’re responsible for our speech. We’re responsible for our actions. So, we have to develop our metaphors. We have to get out of rigidity, out of stagnant mindsets, and get into the growth mindset. Joseph, once again, with the home run: “We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us now.”

Neil actually just wrote a book — Myths of Mind: Out Lines. It just came out a couple of weeks ago, and in it — and by the way, this is because we’re really proud of each other’s work. You’ll hear me talking more about his work a little bit, and he’ll be talking about mine a little bit, but in his book, he discusses how a myth is a theory of the mind. But often, it’s presented as a statement of fact rather than a theory. So, everybody has myths in their minds that dictates their actions, their thoughts, their beliefs. And they also affect the way we see situations, our environment, our own selves and the categories of the people around us. So, what that does is that dictates how we act in the world, kind of how we behave every day and in the overall course of our life. It affects how we’re presenting ourselves to others, and how others are presented to us, our perception of them.

Neil loves Mel Brooks. He had his home run of a quote here: “Hope for the best, expect the worst. Life is a play. We’re unrehearsed.” So, not only does that rhyme, but it’s a great metaphor. And a lot of people have kind of reflected this, you know, famous literary minds have reflected that kind of ideal of “all the world’s a stage,” right? Life is a play. We don’t have the script for it, but we are actors kind of acting the best we can, and the myths of our mind absolutely affects the way our selves play out in the world around us.

I truly believe — and I’ve seen this repeatedly — I know a lot of you believe the same kind of thing based off of cognitive behavioral work and mindfulness. It’s all about that ego and heart rates. Carl had another beautiful quote when he said, “The practice of this art lies in the heart: If your heart is false, the physician within you will be false.” I think we’re seeing this a lot now with all these conspiracy theories about drugs, about different things that will treat different ailments. And we have to get to, obviously, that regulated heart rate that is rational, but also stretching itself into evolution so that we can figure out what is best for the individual and the collective whole. The best way to do that is to take care of our heart rates and our egos.

So, Neil alluded to this a little bit earlier, but we’re going to take a bit more of a deep dive. So, what is in a metaphor? Essentially, what a metaphor does is it takes us outside our normal thinking box. So, what that does is — anybody we’re talking to — it shows them the outlines of our thinking processes. They also are able to enhance our understanding of situations and mindsets, right? Because they’re so creative and they’re non-literal but they paint a more vivid picture of what we’re talking about. So, anyone we’re talking to or anyone who’s talking to us while using metaphors will absolutely be able to paint a clearer, more colorful picture of what their mind is experiencing. Metaphors absolutely affect the way we see and experience the world around us, and they also affect the orientations of the way our mind processes things.

For example, there’ve been studies done on languages that use left and right, up and down versus languages that rely solely on the north, south, east and west directions. So, what they found is they took these people that spoke these types of languages to a room and they set them at a table. On the table, they had pictures of people — some were babies, some were young, some were adults and some were older. They’re in random order, and they told these people, “Please arrange these in order, whatever that means to you.”

People who’ve spoken languages like English that relied on left and right always oriented young to old, left to right. But the languages that relied on cardinal directions always oriented them east to west, sunrise to sunset. So, the language that they used very much affected the way they saw life and the way they saw the way that people age. It affected the way they oriented themselves in the room. By the way, the room didn’t have any windows, so the people who spoke the languages that relied solely on cardinal directions had this innate ability to understand where they’re oriented in the earth. So, it affects our brain — the language we use — which is a great argument for why metaphors are so powerful and why they’re so able to take us outside of our normal boxes.

So, metaphors can be purposeful and very explicit. When you say the office was a zoo today, obviously, that’s not literal; there were not animals behind bars or in a little kind of caged-in field at your office, unless you’re a zoologist. But what that is is it’s very explicit, it’s very purposeful. But then you have more implicit metaphors that we don’t always mean to use. So, if someone says, “I walked into the office late and they pounced on me,” that doesn’t mean — people probably didn’t physically pounce on this person. It means more so that maybe they’re using language that they kind of felt kind of attacked. Maybe four people came up at once needing something immediately. It says a lot about the person’s mindset and their perception of their environment at the time. We say things, and it’s really hard to remove metaphors for language a lot of the time. A lot of times, if you’re talking about your clients or even a friend or spouse or partner, you say, “Okay, I want you to open up to me.” Well, if we think about it, what is “open up?” We can’t physically open ourselves like a box. It’s a metaphor. So, our language is so saturated with metaphors that A., it’s very hard to remove them from our conversations, but B., they provide very specific pictures of what we’re saying and where our minds are at.

Speaking of pictures — Joseph again here. So, based off of what Melissa just said, think of metaphors as energy, transmission image, transmission. If you want to close your eyes and just listen: “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 a dream of a stutterer.” Like, we’ve all kind of seen these types of dreams in our clients. I’ve actually had some clients with stutters and very similar imagery because it’s physiological and it’s just demonstrating their mind’s eye. One of the best ways you can evolve that is through artistic speech and art therapy by taking that dream and evolving it into their success story of climbing that mountain or surpassing those obstacles.

Now, some of these pages will have quite a few words on it. We’ll buzz through it. Slow us down and ask questions if you have anything come to mind. So, what makes and why make metaphorical maneuvers? The definition of a metaphorical maneuver to us is an evolution in your expressions based on circumstance, understanding and the receiver’s mind. Metaphor rights — everybody has them, especially in free speech societies. Everything you say and do will be held up next to you in the mind of the receiver and always affects the metaphor. So, we’re seeing this a lot now, especially in a crisis; people rely on metaphors, oftentimes batting away those that don’t match theirs, which also leads to a high projection rate, I would call it. So, why not work on projection reduction? If you maneuver well enough, you’ll be able to reduce inappropriate projections. Sit yourself next to the person in a theater of life, so to speak, and work together down the stream of life, as opposed to against each other in some sort of arena where there’s a fight.

The emotion, mood and minds in the conversation involved dictate those differences. So, based off of what I’ve experienced, I might use a certain metaphor because of my culture, but someone else obviously has a different culture, so they’re going to bring in different emotions, moods and minds, and the difference is what we have to talk about. We have to make more overlaps so that we can maneuver together better, and this does include our non-verbals. So, as I’m talking right now, my hands are kind of flailing. I was raised very Catholic, very emotional, Italian. My non-verbals play into it, but I’ve noticed as many of you have too, I’m sure, clients will sometimes respond to too much of this because they’re tracking that as opposed to the story.

I have to find myself slowing it down and stopping that so that we can reset and make sure it’s not over-activating the mind, or as I call it, manically metaphoring away. Tangential speech is important to regulate. Eye contact variations also have a part in this. Families will come in with their metaphors, and I think it’s important to make sure as someone is metaphoring — if I don’t make eye contact with their mind’s eyes, so to speak, I’m going to miss things. If I’m tracking too much of what’s going on in the room around them, I’m not being attentive enough to their images. So, we have to make sure we’re on a similar level. We’re being literal or metaphorical, and we’re not being too lofty or too metaphorical, not too literal either in our mindsets and descriptions.

My questions to you so far, just reflecting on how we’ve talked — maybe we’ve been a little too lofty. Maybe we’ve been a little too metaphorical, so we can always slow down and check our batteries. We can make sure they’re fully charged or we need to maybe let them kind of regulate a little bit. One of the easiest ways to do that is to just slow down and delay. Make sure the topic stays on the energy level and the focus levels of the room — of the receivers. Directing the direction of the literal and metaphorical conversation is the most important thing to do. And obviously, the secondary step is making sure you’re allowing enough time for the image to solidify before you move on to the next slide.

So, what happens in these types of conversations? Linguists have studied conversation, obviously since there were linguists, and what they found along the way is that whether we are aware of that or not, every person is abiding by certain rules within every conversation. For example, there is an implied rule that you shouldn’t lie to the person you’re talking to. That you’re staying relevant, you’re not going off on too many tangents that confuse the message, that you’re not being too ambiguous with your language or your wording or your syntax. That you’re saying enough to be informative, but not so much that you overwhelm the listener. These are all rules that we, again, kind of unconsciously adhere to. What that says is that the metaphor can be heard and it can be followed when we sort of abide to these rules and if we are aware of them.

So, one of the best kind of descriptions, I think, of emotions that we’ve heard lately is by Dr. Alan Watkins. He describes emotions as simply energy and motion. It’s electricity — that’s it. As we’re exchanging things, we all know we’re firing, our brains are moving, and so our nervous systems feed off each other. This is why you see a lot of leaders these days saying, “Don’t be hyperbolic,” and then they’re hyperbolic, so they’re feeding off of us. We’re feeding off of them and it’s ruffling some feathers and, obviously, our emotions influence one another, both in ourself and with the other. To piggyback off of his work, I think Dr. Schnarchs’ work is really relevant right now, too. He focuses on mind mapping and mind masking. We mask our mind when we feel threatened or unsure, and we map others’ minds and they map ours according to safety. This is that feeling of synchronicity you feel with people that you get along with. And then those people you’re skeptical about, you tend to kind of shy away — unconsciously, most of the time, but sometimes purposefully.  We provide our own map and map more when we feel open and safe enough to evolve.

So, it’s our belief that support systems and evolution are pendulums that, basically, at all times, we’re all on this swing set of life, and the foundation of obviously soothing and making sure our heart rate is regulated. The thing we do the most, I think, as mothers and fathers with our children, is we make sure that we’re making sure that thing in us — that heart rate — is regulated. It’s foundational to our progress. We’re not going to move on if we don’t have some sort of regulation. We did some research recently and we focused on managerial metaphors. We saw the exact same thing. Everybody indicated that they relied on support from their direct managers, but then there was that system of secondary managers — that system of linking between all the higher-ups and those that were defined as lower than. It’s the pecking order, so to speak. I think we see this with clients. We see this with society; the less we tend to that whole system, the harder it is to truly break through and help somebody to evolve with us.

One of our recommendations from this research was don’t see it as a revolving door. See us as evolving the doors, using kind of that door that allows people in and out, in and out. It’s the movement that helps the motion unlock. In the clinician-patient relationship, it must work cohesively within itself. It’s obviously an organism, too. Of course, this includes our metaphorical thinking and expressing. I know I’ve lost clients before when I’ve gotten too metaphorical. So, come in the next week and ask for clarification — I’ve lost clients because I was too metaphorical. If we can reflect on that and see where those levels are off, when things are thrown off and the negative reciprocation or the masking that occurs, we can see the correlations, see the power structures, control structures in our relationships. And we can ask ourselves better questions. Like, how does this play out in this direct conversation right now? How do I tend to direct the meta portion of my talk? My meta talk, my meta analysis of this client’s circumstance, and as we call it, my mything. What’s going on in my myth system?

Just to kind of sprinkle in some Carl Jung — I think his work on congruence is key. We saw repeatedly that managers were idealizing a certain type of manager. They thought of them as decisive, confident, strong, but no one explicitly identified themselves as such. I think, anthropologically, it’s kind of frowned upon to be cocky or to believe in yourself too much, especially when you’re writing down answers. But this had to evolve first or nothing could; we needed to help the managers see themselves as that ideal so they can target that, as opposed to self-deprecating, which is incongruence. Carl Jung said, “In order to achieve self-progress, we must be in a state of congruence.” America’s not in a state of congruence right now, but we’re moving in that direction. We’re creating more flow that helps us get rid of those inappropriate dams that we’ve put on ourselves for centuries, and we’re unlocking toward the actual outward behavior that is ideal. We believe that refining our metaphors to match modern day is going to be best. “The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved, but only outgrown.”

So, metaphors and modern methods — something that I actually talk about in my book. It’s all about how we can see, use and evolve the myth within people’s minds when they’re ready and willing to. I’ll let Neil read my quote since it’s weird coming from me, I suppose. So, one of the coolest ways to conceptualize this that’s brilliant is there are two types of methods: little fibs and large metaphors for illustrating what is within humans. The first type of myth, a little fib, immediately brings to mind things like whether tongues stick to frozen poles, bigfoot and everyday beliefs proven to be false. They’re false beliefs about our personal selves and the personal experiences around us. The second type is the larger metaphor — the one that incorporates the collective whole. It refers to the stories told by large numbers of people, oftentimes, and things like religions that reflect intuitions about the purpose and creation of humans. They’re the stories, intuitions and foundations within each person that are transferable and illustrative of the people within a larger group. The little fib can be unhealthy or unhealthy for the person to whom it is true. And the larger metaphor is neither healthy or unhealthy; either is merely so that we can understand how we are and how to be. It represents that larger unconscious belief system, and we believe it’s always seasonable to be reasonable and redefine our psychology and our mythology.

A lot of times with metaphors, it’s all about the settings. So, when you will evolve the metaphor, you’re evolving the individual and collective mind settings of the people you’re talking to. For example, with your clients, let’s say one of them says they have a hard time opening up to people. Just to reflect the metaphor I used a little bit earlier, what occurs in your mind? What picture is presented when someone says “opening up?” In my mind, it’s something like a box, right? I picture something with a hinge opening up to release something. Now, if you were to reflect back that metaphor and say, “Yeah, you’re walled off,” that’s completely valid.

And it doesn’t invalidate their feelings, but it doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with their metaphor either because you’re redirecting it from something with hinges, like a box, to a wall — a stagnant thing without any movement capabilities. So, what you can do is you can provoke that metaphor, that opening metaphor, and think about, “Okay, what does the box need in order to open?” Maybe it’s latched and maybe that latch has a lock on it. So, you can say, “Do you feel like you’re locked up? Do you feel like that’s a thing?” and you can kind of ask those questions, reflect back those pieces of the person’s metaphor in order for them to understand, “Okay, I’m hearing you, and I’m trying to visualize what you’re telling me, and I want to understand better what your mind setting is and where you’re coming from, and what are the pictures in your mind and your personal mythologies? “

One thing we’d like to ask you all to do, if you wouldn’t mind: In the chat here, type in the types of metaphors you like to use. What are your go-to’s? So, we’re getting: ride wave, a box to put worries in, full as a tick, the best thing since sliced bread, hot as Hades, it’s like raising someone to believe the sky is green, but as an adult, they’re told it’s blue. The wave was things passing and not being forever — perfect. It’s incredible; look at what’s coming up in all of you, especially. I’m sure you’ve had these metaphors for years. Just ducky — I love that one. These metaphors do something for you as you say it too. It’s probably therapeutic for you in session to bring these up. When a door closes, another one opens, because what does that say to you? We’re going to keep moving. I think life is more of a lazy river than a whitewater rafting event, but sometimes, we have to go through the whitewater rafts like we are now as a team — we have to get back together.

Joseph said: “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.” Let us chip away at the mountain. We think we’re running the show and that we’re in control, but as we’ve learned, especially recently, we are at the mercy of our metaphors and our collective myths. Those leaders that are using metaphors that don’t include us all don’t always know that they’re discrediting certain communities or discarding certain communities. I truly believe we can teach them through our metaphor use — through our collectiveness — that all they have to do is make that subtle adjustment with us, and we can all unlock and unleash our collective power. I will say the “chip away at the mountain” metaphor that Natalie sent in — that reminded me when I was in grad school and I had just begun my thesis. So, you’re at that beginning point where you kind of don’t know yet where it’s going, and it feels like this really big thing.

I remember calling one of my best friends and I was freaking out a little bit and going, “I don’t know how I’m going to do this in this amount of time. I just feel like I’m running up this mountain, and I’ll never get to the peak at this point.” And then she reflected it back. She used a similar metaphor and said, “Melissa, you can’t move a mountain, but you can move a pebble and you can move a rock. Right now, you can’t write a thesis, but you can write a chapter.” What she did was she used my metaphor, kept the same imagery, transferred it to something helpful and then applied it to my situation, which was exactly the perfect thing to do in columns. You were so validated.

So, one of Neil’s brilliant quotes from his book is, “If we don’t refine, think of where we will be years from now, but if we do refine, think of where we can be now and years from now.” Essentially, what he’s saying is if we don’t prioritize evolution, especially with our metaphors, they will continue to revolve both our mindsets and our interactions, but we’ll continue to call it human nature and we’ll give it an excuse to just say that’s the way things are. Whereas if we try to evolve our metaphors and we evolve our language and therefore the mindsets of ourselves and the mindsets of others, we can say, “Look, we’re progressing.”

We are evolving together. We cannot eat the whole elephant at once. I love that. So, let’s keep evolving together. I think all this talk about inclusion and inclusivity and making sure we aren’t just meeting quotas but actually doing the walk that we’re trying to talk — I think it only starts with the way we frame things, and you therapists are experts at this. So, we’d like to encourage you all to keep going, keep pushing the envelope. Keep putting your voice out there because people listen to us more than we think they do, as we know. So, let’s keep doing this together. Let’s keep evolving.

We want to throw up just our stuff here before we take questions. Basically, we focus on myth, evolution and communication developments with Temme Meil. We do consultations, training, and we have these two books out. Now, feel free to go to our website, check out what we do. Reach out anytime, follow us on Twitter, email us for a free initial consult. If you’re a part of a group, we’d love to put on another talk for you. And then my book is on Gumroad; you can download that and read it on any device. Melissa’s book is on Amazon and Barnes and Noble — doing very well on Amazon recently, by the way. And feel free to let us know if you do read them; give us feedback. We want to start more community dialogues like this so we can get to where we need to be.

Perfect. As Neil mentioned earlier, feel free to email us if any other questions pop up in your mind afterward. We’re happy to have any kind of conversations, so yeah. Feel free to email us if you want to have a conversation, whatever, but yeah. Thanks for joining in. Thank you. Here’s the references, by the way. Highly recommend all of the above. Hope to talk with some of you soon. Thank you for joining us, and thank you Advanced Recovery Systems for all the work you’re doing.

Thank you for watching this video. We hope you enjoyed the presentation.

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The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.