The Living Dead

Danny posted  a metaphor on the FB page, I thought it might be interesting to play a little with it.


The metaphor: ”I’m stood upright, in a red velvet lined coffin (no lid), which itself is stood upright in a graveyard. Only my head and shoulders are above ground level. My left wrist is bound with a leather strip tied at the other end to a wooden peg in the ground. The graveyard is on a hillock. There are lots of gravestones behind me in each direction, and beyond the graveyard, countryside. My upright grave has no gravestone. Directly ahead, and down the hillock is a gravel churchyard and a church. To the left is a towpath, a canal (with a few barges) and countryside. To the right is a stone wall, with an open gateway adjacent to my grave, then a country lane with a couple of walkers and then countryside.”


Overall, this is a very common metaphor, although it can take many forms. This is the archetypal “living death” metaphor. i.e. “I don’t have a life,” “my life is over”, “I’m as good as dead”, “My life isn’t worth living.”

This is quite common following a major loss event or series of events. It is also not uncommon with traumatic events when the casualty reports, “My life ended that day”, “I’ve had no life since then,” “I’ve lost everything, I’m lifeless” and so on.

If we look at the taxonomy of the metaphor there are a number of categories.

Container Metaphor: The red lined coffin (red is the only colour mentioned in this metaphor, so has symbolic significance). So, we know that this isn’t a new problem, but rather has existed since childhood. We also know that this is about the client’s family of origin.

If we add this to the element of bodily position, we can say that the client stands up for himself when it comes to his family, but he still doesn’t have much of a life.

Elevations: The coffin and graveyard is elevated on a hillock. This suggests that there is an elevated status [of the family] but not necessarily so for the client within the family.

If we add this to the missing gravestone, we can suggest that he doesn’t have the family name to identify his position.

Attachments: The leather strip bound to the left wrist (which in turn is a container metaphor) and attached to a peg in the ground.

We know that this client is very attached to this place. He’s going to be very reliable because we always know where he stands. This isn’t a man who changes his position readily. This attachment has existed since childhood (as revealed by the container element) and he’s always had a hand in it himself. Being a place for the dead, it could be suggested that this attachment is not at all healthy.

I would be left wondering if this client is haunted by ghosts from his past.

We know that the client looks down on the church, but there is also something about the church he looks forward to.

Now, if the client were to go with what is left for him: assuming he couldn’t get over it (the canal), then this would be something in which he’d need to immerse in order to cross himself.

There’s a degree of inevitability about this, and this is something he’d have to go through in order to cleanse himself of all that he’d have right behind him. He may have to barge past a few things that may get in his way, but if he lets them go with the flow, things will soon be clear to him.

It would almost be like being born again, a different kind of baptism, but the church would have no hand in this. They would regard this as taking the “left hand path” commonly associated with the antichrist.

Meanwhile there is an opening that is right for him. The wall is a barrier (The Obstructions = primary negative injunctive), but if he looks at what is right for him, then he can find an easy way through into the country that is right for him.

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One Response to The Living Dead

  1. Danny says:

    I’m posting this because I believe it’s interesting to compare the client’s reflections with the therapist’s analysis, as may well happen during a live session. It should also be said that the client’s insights about what’s revealed in the session are likely to unfold a little over time, and also that while the therapist’s experience gives a reliable base for interpretation, it’s unlikely to be 100% accurate. The therapist may not know specifically what this all relates to in the client’s inner world. But the prompts and probes will inevitably lead the client to understand his or her own inner world better.

    This metaphor indeed relates to loss. Although it’s anticipated loss. I think the death aspect is about potentially ‘walking away with nothing to show for this thing I’ve devoted a significant part of my life to’. I think this is what the lack of gravestone relates to. No epitaph.

    Also, I’ve experienced physiological stress symptoms, (feeling trapped, claustrophobic) the like of which, I haven’t experienced ‘in living memory’. There is a physical toll – like being buried alive.

    Container Metaphor / childhood / family of origin.

    My initial response was that this is not about family. It’s a different more contemporary situation. However, after brief reflection, I recognise that the stuckness, and the stubbornness, and the standing my ground (even if it’s a grave situation) are indeed historical patterns. Also, the current situation has other layers of association with my early life. I was definitely the family member with the visible problems. But I was acutely aware that you need to have a flock in order to have a black sheep. My current situation relates to being an advocate for society’s black sheep. Revealing the context, the crazy-making catch 22s that a lot of these people are placed in by the system that purports to help them. (Gives them up for dead)

    This also all relates to the leather binding. I’m bound by what’s left. I’m bound to be in this position. I’m also restrained by it. And I do have a hand in it!

    My relationships in my own family are all lovely these days – but I guess there is that sneaking suspicion that they might see me still as I was, rather than as I am. (standing my ground in grave situations – plus ca change)

    Elevations: The best I can do here, is that the people involved in my contemporary situation do have a higher ethical status than the broader context. (The countryside around) But of course, the people are dead. And staying amongst them is slowly killing me.

    Directions: the church, I think relates to ‘what I’ve held sacred’ and ‘what I see ahead’, but now it does seem to be beneath me. Can I progress towards it? Not as things stand.

    Canal: nothing to add, agree with all of that. The cleansing, the born again stuff. Brilliant.

    Finally, I’m interested in the symbolism of the red velvet lined coffin. My best guess is that it’s symbolic of blood? Wouldn’t Dracula have one of these? And this makes me think of a ‘pivot’. Rather than, ‘this situation is killing me’ perhaps it’s ‘I’m a vampire’, ‘I’m sucking the life force out of everybody else!’ In fact, in my situation, I *have* to be frequently critical of other people’s actions, who otherwise might be quite content with how they’re doing things.

    Enlightening stuff. Thanks

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