Jelly legs.

Eric writes: “I realized that going to the gym and walking from the front door to the locker room while carrying a heavy gym bag felt like pushing my torso through a 10 ft deep wall of jello (or another resistant medium.) That’s why I hate going. It doesn’t bother me if I go in and follow the same path to visit the massage therapist.”

This metaphor is incomplete in that we do not know what is outside of the jello or how far the jello extends, but encoded in here is more than enough information to get us started.

First off if we start with some idioms that match the metaphor:

  • you have trouble moving forwards
  • you aren’t making much progress
  • you aren’t making the progress you’d like to make
  • something gets in your way
  • it’s hard going forwards
  • it would be easy to get stuck in
  • it’s all a bit wobbly/shaky
  • you are getting set to go
  • everything is set but not much is happening

Suffocation idioms might be an obvious choice here, but because the reference is “my torso” this suggests his head is clear from the jello. So we know he keeps a clear head even when he has difficulty moving himself forwards. It enables him to focus on other things, as his head is elsewhere.

His mind isn’t set on this, and even if it was, it wouldn’t help.

If we explore the taxonomy, we have several overlapping metaphoric structures. First up we have an obstruction metaphor, it’s a wall of jello (as opposed to a pit or pool of jello) so we have an obstruction, which as you will know generally relates to a rule. Well, to be specific, it’s a primary negative injunctive, and I urge people to study Gregory Bateson’s book, “Steps to an Ecology of Mind” to know more about this kind of thing. People tend to say things like, “But I’ve heard that Bateson is too difficult to read.” Stop making excuses and buy the book and study it. Don’t read it. STUDY IT!

Anyway, back to the jello. So we have a rule that gets in the way of the man and where he is trying to get to. His strategy to seal with this rule is not to do what is right, or to seek a different direction, but rather to try and get through this. If he is looking for some kind of breakthrough, then he will be disappointed, because jello rarely breaks in this way.

I don’t know if he is normally a pushy guy when it comes to getting what he wants, but it seems that his pushiness may be the very thing that exhausts him before he reaches his destination/goal. He meets too much resistance.

The rule he faces has some flexibility and it is something that he can get through, but it is there every time waiting for him. He hasn’t found a decent way to get around it yet, so he may want to consider what is left for him, and what is right for him as well as his background and where he has come from.

And here we have a secret. This is about moving away from his background and getting ahead, moving forwards in the world, to get to a better place.

And this takes us to another taxonomy; that of contamination. Contamination metaphors are classically, but not exclusively, about shame. It isn’t being in the contaminant that reveals the shame, that actually masks it, but it is when the person is out of the material of contamination. What I mean here is that the person in the shit pit doesn’t feel the shame, but it is when they climb out of it that they experience the shame.

Shame generally requires other people to assist with it’s creation. Later, of course, this can lead to a division in identity whereby the person sees themselves, and is shamed of what they see. Thus they have learned to be ashamed of themselves.

So, I’d be bold and suggest that this person will experience a degree of shame entering the gym once they have gotten through the jello.

What we have here is an issue of identity. Guilt is about what we do, shame is about who we are.

When he stays in the background (i.e. this side of the jello), there is no shame, but this shame is revealed once he gets through the jello and out the other side.

Novice MoMers might be tempted to think of the jello as a container. It isn’t, and thus any attempt at getting the client to “grow up” will only add to his difficulties.

And there I shall stop and invite further suggestions as to how we can handle this metaphor in the comments section below. Remember – I’d rather you have a go and get it wrong than not suggest anything at all. That is how we learn.

I’ll give you a clue. I mention Gregory Bateson for a good reason.

2 thoughts on “Jelly legs.

  1. Without the picture it is a bit hard to create a scene in the mind. But what I got from the description is that there is a wall of jello that reaches till the torso of our client. Is it an obstacle? there are ways to handle the obstacle. Since the wall is not high he can either jump it or go towards any side of the wall. Further if the details are available then left, right or back options can be explored. From the metaphor it seems that person is either going to gym on someone’s instructions or out of some other pressure. he wants to be in comfort zone. I did not understand how it is a contamination?

  2. He’s in a double bind? He wants to go to the gym, he wants to move forward. It is possible for him to do what he wants. He can push through the jelly to go to the gym but if he does that he will feel shame – the jelly will cling to him/contaminate so when he emerges it will be clear for others to see that he pushed through the obstruction/rule. The rule seems to dictate that he’s not allowed to improve himself/get stronger (a massage is okay but the gym is not). If he stays where he is, if he doesn’t move forward – he will feel guilty because the possibility to move forward is available to him. It is an option, but it comes at a very high cost. So ultimately his choice is between feeling guilt or shame. He feels trapped because he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.

    He can’t break the rule. He can push through it but he will feel shame about who he is. The other option is to disregard the rule by changing direction and exploring what’s left or what’s right. Or maybe what’s in the background.

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