How do metaphors show up for you?

Metaphors are a valuable tool that can help us uncover blocks we didn’t know existed. Read below as Steve Andreas shares an experience where metaphors were particularly useful. (Originally published on

What do You Experience When Someone Breaks an Agreement?
by Steve Andreas

Recently I was exasperated by someone who didn’t keep what I thought was an agreement between us. But “Exasperation” doesn’t fully express the intensity of the confusion and disorientation I felt when that happened, so I decided to explore it using Andy Austin’s Metaphors of Movement process. Connirae and I have been having a great time with this model, both as a way of helping others find solutions to difficulties, and also on occasion guiding each other.

I explained to Connirae, “It’s like they pulled the rug out from under me.” My image was that I was standing on a small rug, about 3 feet wide, and 6 feet long. Someone else was holding onto the end in front of me, and they jerked it literally out from under me. When that happened I tumbled backwards, flailing, into a tank of some kind of fluid that had been beneath the rug. The broken agreement was disappointing, but tumbling and flailing into the fluid was what created my confusion and disorientation.

Connirae said, “So you’re a person who stands on your agreements.” “Definitely!” I said. This was true both literally and figuratively. It’s always been important to me to keep my commitments.

At first I didn’t see a way out — except for the other person not to yank the rug!

At his last training, Andy Austin said, “We usually see clearly what other people can do to “solve” their metaphoric situation, but we often don’t see what we can do in our own.” This is the value of working with a partner, and it certainly held true for me in this situation. Connirae suggested that I explore taking a step to the left, or to the right, or back — just off the carpet — to see what that would be like. “You’ll be standing by your agreements instead of on them,” she said. Initially, I didn’t like the idea. It wasn’t being true to my commitments in the way I was familiar with, but I wanted to explore it.

What if I “stood behind” my agreements? What if I “stood by” my agreements? In my metaphor, there was just solid ground on all sides of the rug, so this had potential. As I tried out these different ways of “standing” within the metaphor, I decided that standing behind an agreement fit best for me. I could do this with integrity, and my position was definitely more stable. (I could also have explored what it would be like to “sit on an agreement” or be more ready to “leap aside” if the rug was pulled out, etc.)

When I tried out that new stance in the real-life context of the agreement that hadn’t been kept, it felt much better, because I remained standing when the rug was pulled out. Without the flailing and splashing, and the resulting disorientation and confusion, it was much easier to focus on what to do about the broken agreement itself.

As most of us do with our problems, I had been feeling like a victim, and focused on what someone else did, rather than on what I was doing. Within the metaphor, I could quickly realize what I was doing, and experiment with more useful alternatives. It is one thing to know, as a general principle, that I can only really change what I am doing, and that if I feel like a victim, I am probably missing what I can do in a situation. It is quite another to explore a metaphor, and find out what I can actually do differently.

One of the really lovely things about using Metaphors of Movement with a client is that I don’t have to know anything about the real-life event that the metaphor represents.

Full Disclosure: It’s not always as easy to find a metaphoric solution that works as in this example. But this time it was.

Have you ever experienced someone breaking an agreement with you? . . . If you ask the question, “What is that like?” what is your answer?. . .

And if you’d like to, you can go on to explore your metaphor in more detail as I did above. Does anything become clear to you that you might prefer to do differently?

Andrew Austin will teach a Metaphors of Movement Training in Boulder, Colorado, May 5-10, 2017. Learn more and register here.

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