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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Figures of Speech: The Mind, Body Connection

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Oct 16th 2008

 One of the fun things to do (Yes, we at Mental Help Net do Advocate for Fun) is to think about the role of metaphors in everyday psychology, particularly with regard to the mind and body connection. A metaphor is a "figure of speech" in which a word or phrase is used to stand for an object or action that makes no sense if you are thinking literally. For example, the old saying that "People who live in glass houses should not throw stones" is a metaphor. The saying has nothing to do with breaking glass if you live in a house made of glass. Instead, it has to do with hypocrisy. If you cheat on your income tax, do not criticize others who do the same thing. Rush Limbaugh was throwing stones in a glass house when he condemned others who abuse drugs while he, himself, was abusing pain killers. I guess that left him with "egg on his face."

Metaphors express a lot of what we feel and experience through our five senses.  There is an old and metaphorical saying about "Not wanting to be left out in the cold." No, this has nothing to do with failing to wear a warm coat during the winter. It has to do with loneliness. In other words, loneliness or being excluded can feel very cold.

Well, the University of Toronto Department of Psychology recently conducted an experiment designed to test this metaphor of loneliness or being excluded and feeling "cold." Two different experiments were used with students at the university. After the experimental procedures were done on the subjects, they were tested to see if, indeed, they felt cold. Sure enough, those who were made to feel left out chose hot drinks over cold drinks after the experimental conditions were completed. The students who were made to feel included did not select hot drinks. In addition, the "left out students" reported feeling considerably colder as compared to the "included students." The temperatures were identical in both rooms.

Think about the series of wonderful books, Chicken Soup for the Soul. People who have read one or more of these books in the report finding them "heart warming." Interesting, isn't it? In fact, one reader reported settling into a warm bath tub while reading the first of these books.

Consider the many other metaphors in this category of "warm and cold." Examples:

1. After the meeting I was given a "chilly reception by my boss."
2. I thought he was my friend but when I said hello, he "gave me the cold shoulder."
3. I was "boiling mad" after that encounter in the street.
4. When my wife gave me the bill for her shopping, "smoke was coming out of my ears."  Can  smoke really come out of your ears?
5. In high school, "she was really hot for me."
6. What a "warm reception" we got at the party."
7. During the soft ball game, my friend told me to "chill out" when I struck out.
7. This new manager in the department seems to be "a cold hearted person."
8. Man, I was "stone cold sober" when I ran that red light.

There are many examples that fit into other sensory categories: "During the interview, I had butterflies in my stomach." "That mid term exam made me sick to my stomach."

What do you think about metaphors? You see, I am "putting out feelers" to try and learn whether or not you liked this posting.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

In Search of Rose Colored Glasses - Deb Lev - Oct 20th 2008

Frankly, your posting left a bad taste in my mouth. It reminded me too much of what I have lost. I have a broken heart and a black pit in my stomach. I've lost all of my marbles. My knees are weak with the heavy burdens I carry. And yet, I have to admit, there are moments in my life which still take my breath away.

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