careful with metaphors

Be Careful Of Your Metaphors

There’s a new popular hypnosis technique that uses surgery as a metaphor for losing weight. I think that’s a bad idea. Why?

Because We Believe

A metaphor is a story that often helps us understand something. It can help us understand things in a helpful way or a not-so-helpful way. Time after time, I’ve had clients whose metaphors were driving their emotions and behaviors. In Trapped In A Web Of Anxiety, for instance, I explored the metaphor of a person whose metaphor for her situation was a spinning web of anxiety.

That was her unconscious metaphor for her situation and that metaphor was creating stress and anxiety for her.

Relationships As War

Have you ever heard someone talk about their relationship using war metaphors? They may talk about conquests, having allies and gaining ground. How about someone who uses unstable mental states metaphors for relationships? “I’m crazy about her.” “I’m madly in love.” Or people who use unity metaphors… “She’s my better half.” “We’re like one person.”

As you can imagine, a person whose metaphor is war experiences relationships differently than one who has unity as a metaphor. Each metaphor we use to navigate the world affects our experiences, our emotions and how we behave.

Surgery For Weight Loss?


No. Surgery for weight loss is a last resort. It’s invasive, it’s not without dangers and it’s known to have side-effects. In some of these virtual gastric band hypnosis techniques, your given suggestions that it’s as if you’ve had surgery and had gastric band installed!

I would avoid surgery and gastric bands as a metaphors for weight loss hypnosis. Why? Because part of the mind is going to act as if it’s true. And that part of the mind may also know about side-effects and produce those too.

I Heard The Unconscious Mind Won’t Do Anything To Harm You

As a general rule, yes. But the unconscious mind can get funny, illogical ideas about what’s good for you. In fact, most of the problems I’ve seen people for fall into that category. So, we need to do the best we can to feed the unconscious mind metaphors that are going to help a person be happy, healthy and functional.

Having The Unconscious Mind Act As If Surgery Has Occurred?

I once read a stop-smoking hypnosis script that suggested that cigarettes were like rat poison. In my opinion, the man that wrote that script doesn’t understand what he’s doing.

I’ve seen hypnotherapists recommending their clients imagine they’ve undergone surgery. One way I think you can avoid the potential dangers these suggestions present is to ask yourself a simple question… “Would it be dangerous if the unconscious mind accepted this suggestion as reality?”

What if the unconscious mind, took the suggestion that cigarettes are rat poison and acted as if that were literally true? How would that affect the health of someone who’d smoked a pack of “rat poison” a day for 20 years? How about surgery? Especially if they’ve read the news about side-effects. I don’t think it’s a good idea. I think there are lots of healthier metaphors we could design.

Any ideas?


PS: Lot’s of cool ways to use metaphor in The Practical Guide to Metaphor and Advanced Metaphor: Parallel Realities, Nested Loops, Multiple Embedded Metaphors, Chaining Anchors, Representational System Shifts, Submodalities, Blurring Realities and more…

The Practical Guide to Metaphor and Advanced Metaphor

About The Author:

Keith Livingston is the main instructor for Hypnosis 101. Keith has been studying hypnosis since he was a boy and doing hypnosis & NLP training since 1997.

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  1. Agreed. The unconscious mind virtually takes what is given as reality and cannot discern differently, is that not the case? While the conscious mind can articulate even subtle disparity because of its emotional active compass?

    1. Mike.
      I think it is the case, mostly. However, the unconscious mind doesn’t necessarily automatically accept whatever you say to it during hypnosis. There are some protective mechanisms at work.

      On the other hand, most people’s problem behaviors are very, very similar to post-hypnotic suggestions. They’ve just been programmed by experience rather than a hypnotist. So, I’m confident people can accept suggestions as reality — even if those suggestions might be bad for them.

      Thanks for the comment.

  2. When I first began practicing medical hypnosis in Toronto years ago I had the same concern. I now tell all my clients when they enter into trance that they must accept one suggestion – the “prime suggestion” – and the refusal to accept it will mean the session will be over and all future work impossible.

    I play it up a little to increase the emotional resonancy before telling my clients that the prime suggestion is: “That your subconscious mind will ONLY accept an image, metaphor or suggestion, if it is in accordance with your highest good. And that if at any point in the future an image, metaphor or suggestion you now accept, no longer serves your highest good, then your subconscious will easily and effortlessly reject it at the appropriate moment.”

    1. Allan,
      That’s a wonderful suggestion to give. I’m sure it does good. However, it depends on the mind knowing what is “for the highest good” of a person. And we already know that the mind sometimes motivates us to do things that are not best for us. For instance, the unconscious/subconscious mind may have been motivating them to overeat or eat unhealthy things. That part of the mind is not particularly logical and may not have the same “higher good” picked out that you might pick out consciously. In fact, that’s probably why the client is on your office in the first place.

  3. I have told you this before Keith you are truly a Light upon this earth sharing your insights. There has not been a thing so far that I have disagreed with you. You are humble and honor your client. My training taught me to be Empty, Open, and Compassionate. No agenda
    To be a safe space for the client to shed light on their ‘issue’

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