Why we need metaphor, to understand

Reproduced from an article by Dr George Simon
Perhaps the deepest and most enduring yearning of humankind is to understand the meaning and purpose of it all. The Greek roots of the word ‘philosophy’ define it as literally the “love of wisdom.” Over the years, philosophies of one type or another have emerged to address the most fundamental questions. It seems that one of the thinking animal’s greatest loves is the quest for understanding.

Philosophy distinguishes itself from other pathways toward knowing and understanding the ultimate realities of life. Unlike mysticism, which seeks to bring a person into conscious awareness of ultimate truth, or the various arts, which use intuitively-derived symbols and creative expression to bring a person closer to an appreciation of the most sublime realities, philosophy generally takes a rational approach to gaining knowledge about the most fundamental aspects of existence.

It would be nice if philosophy were a single discipline or field of study. But in fact there are not only numerous branches of philosophy, but also different major schools of philosophical thought within those branches, each of which has enjoyed varying degrees of prominence and acceptance during different eras and within different geographical and cultural boundaries.

Psychology (literally the study of the psyche or “mind”) had its origins in philosophy. And despite more modern trends to define psychology as more of a science of behavior as opposed to a more philosophical study of the mind, psychology cannot and probably will not forsake its roots.

In the end, all of our quests for ultimate understanding necessarily relegate us to metaphor. A metaphor is a comparative description of something without using the terms “like” or “as,” whereas in simile, those terms are used to make the point that what we’re attempting to describe resembles something but might not in fact actually be the something we describe. After eons of enlightenment and scientific advances, the ultimate truths still defy our complete understanding. So, we are left with major schools of thought, which embody the most persuasive and resilient metaphors.

Being a psychologist by training and by discipline, my thirst for knowledge, especially with regard to the human condition, has never really been quenched. And over the years I’ve been exposed to many different explanatory metaphors. Every new metaphor that comes along seems to help me understand some things a bit more but inevitably seems lacking, leaves unanswered questions, and keeps me hungry for more. Whether I’m in fact getting any wiser in the process is a matter of some debate. Still, I love the very pursuit of understanding. I guess that’s why they call it ‘philosophy.’



Anger is short-lived madness, and only one letter short of danger.

Emotionally charged people do stupid things – that’s a simple fact of life. We’ve all done it, haven’t we – said or done something really daft because we were scared, passionate or angry. That’s OK in itself, as anger is an ancient survival mechanism that nature has given us to use in appropriate ways. As we mature, most of us are lucky enough to have learnt the appropriate and proportional reactions to events which would previously have made us angry, but if our guidance systems are damaged in some way our expressions of anger can develop into violent outbursts, which often leave us feeling confused, powerless and out of control. If that way of dealing with stress continues then we are in danger of being ‘stuck’ in an addictive and harmful cycle of anger.

Oddly, our disproportionate reaction to anger is addictive in the same way that any strong expression of emotion can be addictive, but the consequences of an addiction to anger can result in unhappiness, more stress and even death. That addiction can be very strong indeed, as it provides real satisfaction for the perpetrator, and a short-term fix, much like a dose of heroin to a junkie.

When anger kicks in there are several important physiological changes which are worth looking into more deeply. Increased adrenalin, an increase in oxygen supply, a surge in testosterone in males, as well as our bodies being flushed full of cortisol resulting in massive lowering of our immune defences. There are other factors to consider which can lower our anger threshold such as tiredness, ill health, hunger cravings, hormonal changes and dementia. All of these factors can increase stress and increase our readiness to be triggered into an unreasonable outburst of anger.

There are many myths about anger, perhaps the most damaging of which is that it’s best to ‘let it out’ and express it. Well meaning therapists used to encourage angry and frustrated people to punch pillows and express their anger in a very physical way, but we now know that this simply provides a very temporary relief from symptoms of anger whilst really fuelling the next outburst.

All anger is manageable, and anger management programmes aim to find healthier ways of discharging aroused anger, but anger management is an incomplete answer to the problem. We can only suffer from anger rages if our innate guidance system is damaged and we are misusing the tools we have been given to meet our emotional needs, so to be successful in treating the cause any anger management programme must include practical help in designing and planning a life that works and which offers healthy balanced ways of meeting the emotional needs of each individual.

Remember, anger seems to come from nowhere, almost as an automatic response so it is unlikely we can be released from anger using logic and rational thought, but what we can do is to give our bodies and minds a fighting chance by learning and reprogramming ourselves to act in more appropriate ways. Nature provides us with a wonderful tool to discharge unexpressed anger through our dreams, where we dream in metaphors to unload that anger, painlessly in the night. Of the many tools we have to help us avoid explosive and dangerous outbursts of anger perhaps the best is to find a way of relaxing which suits us. From breathing in a certain way to progressive relaxation there are many methods of lowering the body’s baseline arousal. Finding ways to practice mindfulness, either through meditation or simply being absorbed in an activity, can greatly help relaxation. Email me for details of breathing methods or relaxotherapy CDs.

We often hear people talking about anger which they’ve carried with them for many years, but we now know that anger does not build up over many years. In fact, what they are doing is constantly recharging the anger by rehearsing the events in their mind, and replaying their frustrated imaginary response to the initial event which caused the anger. Anybody can improve their performance at anything by constantly repeating and rehearsing it, and the same applies to anger.

We also now fully understand why that anger is so often aimed at those we love and to whom we are closest, and steps must be taken to stop that cycle of repetition before it is passed on to our children and it becomes their ‘normal.’ The anatomy of anger and the way it takes hold is now much more fully understood, and the interventions that can help reduce and manage anger so it is used in a healthy way are easily available. So we treat the cause, not the symptom. Don’t get mad, get help.

Based at The Grove Clinic in Guernsey and London, John Halker is a Psychotherapist and Clinical Hypnotherapist using the Human Givens approach to his work. He also applies those principles to his work in life coaching and relationship counselling, and in helping organisations create a healthier and more productive working culture. You can find out more about John and his work at www.grove-clinic.com. In Guernsey call 01481 729911 or in London call 020 7193 2842.

Nicotine withdrawal in ICU patients

From Medicalnewstoday.com
Nicotine withdrawal can cause dangerous agitation in intensive care patients. Researchers writing in BioMed Central’s open access journal Critical Care found that, compared to non-smokers, agitated smokers were more likely to accidentally remove tubes and catheters, require supplemental sedative, analgesic or anti-psychotic medications, or need physical restraints.
Damien du Cheyron, from Caen University Hospital, France, worked with a team of researchers to study the effects of nicotine withdrawal in 44 smokers and 100 non-smokers in the hospital’s intensive care unit, finding that agitation was twice as common in smokers than controls. He said, “Agitation was significantly more common in smokers than in non-smokers. These results suggest the need to be aware of nicotine withdrawal syndrome in critically ill patients, and support the need for improved strategies to prevent agitation or treat it earlier”.

None of the smokers in the study were allowed nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) during the study period. According to du Cheyron, “NRT remains a controversial topic in intensive care and has been associated with mortality. Due to the serious consequences of withdrawal-induced agitation, including sedation and physical restraint, we suggest that the use of nicotine replacement therapy should be tested by a well-designed, randomized controlled clinical trial in the ICU setting”.

The effect of carbon dioxide on near-death experiences in out-of-hospital cardiac arrest survivors: a prospective observational study
Zalika Klemenc-Ketis, Janko Kersnik and Stefek Grmec
Critical Care (in press)

Graeme Baldwin
BioMed Central

Memories ‘stuck’ in the wrong place

A good article here about what happens to memories which are stored in the Amygdala, thus fuelling PTSD and phobic responses, but it is something about which we have known for a long time. It is the reason why the ‘rewind’ works so well in dealing with phobias and PTSD.

Flight Fright

Flight Fright – Fear or Phobia

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings….

I suspect it may have something to do with living on an island but the last time I wrote an article about flying phobia I received a significant number of emails and comments asking me for more information about my ‘fear of flying’ programme. Interestingly, more than half the people who come to me to have their flight phobia ‘cured’ do not in fact have a fear of flying at all. It is merely the set of circumstances in which they find themselves, strapped into a seat in a small aluminium tube, and with a crowd of people, which prevents them from giving vent to their (appropriately) Fight or Flight response. Let’s talk a little more about that and why it’s important, as it’s all looked after by your Amygdala, that part of your brain that is your ‘security officer’ and which is in charge of your ‘Fight or Flight’ response. It’s the same part of us that acts without logical thought so our ‘thinking brain’ is bypassed when something appears to be threatening us, because our brain has ‘pattern matched’ to a set of circumstances which, in primitive times, would have set us ready to stand our ground and fight, or to run like mad.

Most who have suffered a panic attack, for that’s what it actually is, (but often morphed into an agoraphobic response) report that it “just seemed to come from nowhere, for no reason” and that’s quite accurate when you really understand what’s happening. There are other major contributory factors, one of which is to do with the amount of oxygen we have been taking in. So, hyperventilation, where you have too much oxygen and not enough carbon dioxide, is often the forerunner to a panic attack. What is also clear is that unusually large amounts of stress, either internal or external, can be the final trigger that sets off the panic attack. Vitally, it is our reaction to stress which finally puts the last piece of the jigsaw in place, and which offers the perfect scenario in which our Fight or Flight response becomes activated and we need to fight or run, but strapped into an aeroplane with the doors closed leaves us feeling trapped. The first time that happens it’s terrifying, but every flight thereafter can simply be pouring fuel onto the fire and compounding the fear. So, we have an overwhelming fear of not being able to escape from somewhere from which we do not need to escape. I have no fear at all when I’m sitting in an aeroplane, but the person beside me could feel terrified with his or her ‘panic’ response turned up to maximum. There are now very effective interventions, which will help you to fly happy in the vast majority of cases. So find a human givens therapist who is trained in the rewind technique, and then, enjoy your flight!

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