Thursday, August 9, 2007

Therapeutic Metaphor: Sunflower Seeds


I've written a lot about "therapeutic distinctions" in previous posts, so now I'm going to turn my attention to an occasional series of posts regarding various therapeutic metaphors that I use from time to time in my session work with clients. I find metaphors to be excellent ways of highlighting concepts that people can find useful in their lives, often in subtle and unexpected ways.

The first one is about sunflower seeds.

Have you ever eaten sunflower seeds out of the shell? You pop a few into your mouth, split the shells with your teeth and extract the seeds with your tongue. The final step is to spit out the shells and eat the seeds. You sure don’t either spit out or swallow the whole thing. This can be a good metaphor for being selective about what you take into yourself.

Take two people who may love each other but are having a heated argument. Sometimes people get so frustrated that they get their feelings really hurt by the slightest thoughtless thing their partner says to them. That’s like swallowing the shells of the disagreement. Other times a person may be so upset that they are unable to accept any constructive comment their partner may offer. This is the equivalent of spitting out the seeds. The trick is to take what another person says in such a way as to extract some benefit from it, while discarding all the inevitable thoughtless and ill-spoken comments they may say. Since people who are upset can say a lot of mean-spirited things, it helps to remember the old saying that "hurt people hurt people".)

This is not an easy task when you're emotionally engaged, but with practice you'll intuitively learn how to separate what serves your growth, which should be gathered up to serve your growth, from what has no value and should therefore be discarded as quickly as possible.
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