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I’m enormously thankful that God made abstract concepts to work along similar rules as physical ones. I frequently say that I need metaphors like I need to breathe. It makes things so much easier when I can use a physical concept to help me grasp an non-physical one! While a metaphor or allegory doesn’t typically give you the full picture or completely explain a concept, it puts handles on it so you can grab it, pull it closer, and figure out the rest for yourself.

For example, sometimes explaining mental health problems by comparing them to physical health problems makes it easier for someone to understand that just because you can’t see the problem doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We don’t fault someone for having a broken leg or a few missing fingers, so why should we fault someone for having been injured mentally? (Or even emotionally. Mentality and emotionality are very interconnected and can often be the same thing.) We don’t fault someone for getting sick or having a disease, so why should we fault someone for being ill mentally? There are some things you really just can’t help, and just because it can’t be fixed with a bandage or stitches doesn’t mean it’s somehow shameful or too different for someone to be treated with kindness, love, and respect. Just like if you were physically ill or injured, mental injury and illness require you to take it easy on yourself, and you and others will need to understand that you’re going to function differently until things get better. Sometimes it doesn’t get better, but that’s still okay. Just like physical chronic illness, mental illness can be chronic, too, and you should still be treated with kindness, love, and respect.

For another example, emotional pain can be explained by comparing it to physical pain. When someone is in a lot of physical pain sometimes they thrash around, and the same goes for emotional pain: sometimes it hurts so much that a person will react in a way that hurts someone else, even if they don’t mean to hurt anyone. Other times, people don’t want to talk about or do things that make them uncomfortable or angry, often because they’ve been hurt by someone or something related to it. If you get bitten by an animal, you’re likely to avoid that kind of animal. If you get hurt by a person or situation, you’re likely to avoid those kinds of people and situations. We don’t like to be hurt or injured, so we avoid things that hurt and injure us.

For an example that includes mentality and emotionality, let’s say this: If I’m physically injured, I don’t bare my wound to the world and expose it to possible further injury or infection, I would only bare it to the doctor who is qualified to help me with it. If I’m emotionally or mentally injured, I don’t just bare my heart, mind, and soul to the world where I could get further hurt or aggravated, I would only bare it to the therapist who is qualified to help me. There are certain ways to treat certain injuries. Sometimes that requires opening them up a bit to be sure they’re cleaned out properly, sometimes it just means taking a good look at it and putting a little ointment on. Sometimes treatment just stings, sometimes it outright hurts. Whatever is necessary, we then protect and cover our wounds to help them heal. Sometimes we need to uncover them again to be sure they’re healing properly and to apply more treatment. Whatever the case, it still takes time for any kind of injury to heal.

Life’s abstract issues can be difficult to understand and navigate, but look for the comparable physical rules. A solid metaphor or allegory can work wonders in helping you or someone else understand what’s going on.

Physical to Abstract
Unseen Injuries
Healing Wounds
Where Should We Meet?