Metaphors and the Language of the Subconscious Mind

By Herve Boisde


Your subconscious mind takes up over 80% of all of your mental activity. The subconscious is the seat of emotions, your imagination, your unconscious body processes, all of your memorized impressions and unconscious memories since the day you were born. It's also your internalized beliefs, habits, preferences, instincts and drives. In short, there's a lot going on under the surface. When we’re overtaken by strong emotions or in the grip of an unwanted habit, it’s our subconscious mind that’s pulling the strings.

But the subconscious isn't logical and analytical like the conscious mind. It doesn't distinguish between fantasy and reality. And it uses the language of symbols, pictures and metaphors to communicate ideas to your conscious mind. That's what dreams are. But you can also use metaphorical language to introduce ideas to your subconscious mind, since, like a computer program, the subconscious mind doesn't come up with beliefs or ideas on it's own. It just stores them.

A female client that is having problems with relationships might hint at the following metaphor.

Client: "I don't know why I have trouble with men. I guess my thorns are just too sharp."

Therapist: "Roses do have sharp thorns. Do you see yourself as a closed bud, or have you started to bloom now?"

Client: "I guess that I've been seeing myself closed up and that's why I needed the thorns, to protect me."

Therapist: "And that's been fine in the past, but now we need to nurture this bud to allow her to start blossoming, don't you think?"

Imagine you want to talk about an emotional experience. You might say something like,  ‘I’ve got a dark cloud hanging over me.’  and other people will instinctively understand because their subconscious mind knows that a cloud can be used as a symbol for feeling upset or unhappy. Since the subconscious mind doesn't distinguish between reality and fantasy, a hypnotherapist might guide the client into hypnosis and have them picture themselves with a dark cloud over their head, representing their problems and negative emotions. Then the client could be guided to visualize the cloud dissipating and turning into a rainbow, maybe some beautiful golden light surrounding the client or other healing imagery. The negative metaphor becomes transformed into a positive one, and this allows the client to have a shift in perspective, effectively tweaking the program in the subconscious mind that was tripping up the client.

Guided visualization like this can have benefits outside of hypnosis as well. Taking a few deep breaths and closing your eyes can allow the mind to relax enough to be receptive to imagery for goals and positive results. Just picturing yourself healed or successful can help the subconscious think that those things are real and achievable, and allow it to start working towards that reality.

It's also important to be mindful of critical self-thoughts and language. Saying things like "I'm dumb as a brick" or "This is a pain in my neck!" can be interpreted as commands to your subconscious mind with unintended consequences.