Self Concept as Metaphor

by Eston on August 1, 2011

Self Concept as Metaphor

The first metaphor was a flash in the pan of the initial cosmic universe that turned out to be of enormous importance.  Two randomly generated particles collided in that cooled-down stew, that afterbirth residuum of undirected chaos we call big bang, and, upon commingling, shouted out “A ha!”

This marriage (this metaphor) was also the universe’s first instance of consciousness, and

Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin

the resulting particle conglomerate so liked the partnering (it felt so go-o-o-o-d!) that it continued its search for partners, for other compatibilities.  The result—over time, and as a consequence of that Darwinian metaphor called survival of the fittest—was matter, vegetable, and meat.  That first glimmer of consciousness evolved as well, reaching eventually that peak of self-awareness we call self concept.

Like all metaphors, self concept is based on survival drive—the entity that drove the first metaphor  to compare, to seek and find compatibilities.  It wants to survive—that is, feel go-o-o-o-o-d about itself—in the same way any life form wants to survive.

Unlike those fore-mentioned matter-vegetable-meat metaphors, however, self concept is a product of metaphor using metaphor.  In other words, the metaphor of self concept employs the pattern of matter-making metaphor but utilizes,  instead of matter, the non-particle constituents of idea.

(The question of whether synaptic communications are physical or virtual remains unresolved, but this writer believes metaphor occurs in the moment of recognition of relationship, outside [or above] the world of synapses and neurotransmitters.)

Ideas, of course, are metaphors—beginning with sounds later transliterated into numbers and letters, into words, sentences, and poems.  This blog is itself a metaphor based on the writer’s desire to survive in the reader’s mind and in posterity.  His search for the reader’s respect (and concurrence) is also a survival-based metaphor.

cryonicsIt was the metaphor of self concept that made us humans the only species aware of our mortality, and it is self concept that drives us to manufacture schemes to avoid it.  One such metaphor is cryonics; another is religion; and still another is reincarnation.

But it is in the realm of psychology that self concept plays its most significant role.  Even as we will fight, kill, and raid our neighbor’s garden in order to keep our physical selves alive, so will we go to any extreme to protect our self concept from those “slings and arrows” of circumstance that infect our metaphor of self.

One favorite device is rationalization.  “The only reason he attacks me so brutally is that he envies me my looks, my intelligence, my many friends, the size and location of my residence.”  As long as these metaphors have the ring of truth about them, we can reign secure (and blind) in our domain of self-love.  At the moment we begin to doubt our verities of self, however, we are in trouble.

It is at that point that we resort to stratagems like mind-blank.  “I refuse to consider the merits of his accusations; it hurts too much.  I will, instead, read a book, write a letter—anything to take my mind off his attacks on me.  Maybe I’ll even insult him back.”  The trouble with these strategies is that, in moments of inattention, the feelings of self-doubt will swim to the surface, stronger and more afflicting than before.


Napolean Bonaparte

We are all familiar with small-stature men and their “Napoleonic complexes.”  We may even know women who dress like their teen-age daughters, grandmothers who so dote on their grandchildren as to literally take possession of them, and men who beat their wives because they dare to threaten their view of themselves as powerful and in control.  All these metaphors derive from threatened self concepts.

The extreme example of self-concept protection gone awry is insanity.  In this instance, the desire for ego survival is so intense that the individual’s desperation drives him/her to distort reality.

schizophreniaSchizophrenia—though a genetic predilection may open the door for it—is an instance of this.  “John Wilkes Booth has taken possession of me,” one of my former clients insisted while rationalizing his stealing of his father’s car.  He even gloated in the feeling of evil this hallucination afforded him.

Another client said that the teacher in her classroom was deliberately rustling her papers, even bumping against her during final examinations, so as to break her concentration.  One client felt so trapped in his insanity that he taught his own dog to attack him, justifying it by saying that even dogs should be free.  Schizophrenia is, perhaps, the supreme consequence of self concept dissolution.

Imbued with the desire to survive, the metaphorical self concept is a powerful motivator of behavior, particularly when its possessor is oblivious to its workings.  My dual mission in life (self-assigned) is to make people aware of its subliminal effects, and to instruct them in ways to make the concept of self  strong and confident of survival.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Susan Gabriel August 9, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Hi Eston,
I am impressed with your self-assigned mission in life. I think it is quite an honorable endeavor and you have my respect.

I am curious what kinds of things you would suggest for people to do in order to make their “concept of self strong and confident of survival.” Would every person have a unique prescription of things they might do to meet this end? Or would there be a set of common things that all humans would universally need to do?

Thanks for this post. It is very thought-provoking.


eston roberts August 9, 2011 at 9:54 pm

To strengthen ones concept of self it is necessary, first of all, to be alert to (be conscious of) the kind of metaphor one is using. If the metaphor is predominantly reflexive–ie, based on primitive survival urge–then it should be eliminated by a conscious shifting to another metaphor, one more conducive to positive thinking.

Secondly, the chief determinant of a metaphor’s worth is whether or not it is conducive to positive thinking in the realm of self concept. In other words, does this thought (mindstate) contribute to feeling good about the metaphor that is self concept?

Self concept is, of course, a relative construct. It is fashioned by each individual based on her life experiences and her reactions to them. It is possible to construct ones concept of self reflexively–meaning that it will be based on physical survival metaphors. Self concepts of this sort tend to be non-relative, in the sense that they are developed in similar ways by everyone. In other words, these people are “clones.”

The key to a strong sense of self is the conscious use of conscious metaphors. This way we are in control of the construction of self concept, and just may approach the point of individual freedom–the point where we are in charge of how we feel about ourselves and where thoughtless people and actions cannot harm us.

Hope this helps,



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