“It’s as if there are 1000 large green ants inside my legs.”
I was coaching a teenager who had a hard time sitting still with his legs.
Or – as he put it – it was impossible for him to sit still with his legs.
He had tried every possible way to get the legs to stop moving all the time. To no avail.
While he and I had worked our way through his first problem in record time, his legs where in constant motion. When we wrapped up that first problem, I asked him what happened down in the legs – inside the legs.
He told me that it was like there were 1,000 large green ants crawling around down there.
Communicating With the Subconscious Mind
The ants were of course a metaphor for how the boy’s mind could best describe the experience. It turns out that when you accept that metaphor, you are in effect having a conversation with the boy’s subconscious mind. And when you do that, things can change incredibly fast.
If you are willing to accept that whatever comes out of the mouth of other people as what is actually going on inside of them, you get a magnificent insight into what is causing their inappropriate behavior. My client’s words was an expression of what is experienced inside the parallel reality where our thoughts and feelings and mental images live.
Taking the metaphor at face value, great things happen.
Accepting the Metaphor
I asked the boy what he would like to have happen to the ants.
“I just want them out of the legs,” he said.
“In what way out of legs,” I asked.
“Like completely out, – as if they were let out through a small hatch in the front of the big toe,” he replied, pointing to the right big toe, which was sitting still despite the movement of the leg.
I also pointed to his right big toe and said, “If you imagine a small hatch in the front of the big toe, what is it like to let the ants out?”
The boy looked puzzled down on the big toe. The right leg stopped moving. Only the right. “It is strange.”
“In what way strange?” I asked. Also puzzled – but mostly because only one of the legs had calmed down.
“All the ants have gathered out on the floor now.”
“All? What about those in the left leg,” I asked.
“Oh well, they didn’t come out. We have to get them out as well.”
“In what way do you want to let them out?”
“Perhaps through a hatch in the left big toe.”
“Good idea. What is it like to let them all out that way?”
“Wild!” he said and laughed. Now with both feet firmly planted on the floor.
And maybe just a little bit crazy…
Why We Get Ants In Our Pants
Our beautiful, strange brains may be hard to understand sometimes, and in this case when the boy started elementary school he had had a hard time being “tied” to a chair. Part of him just wanted to go out and play. So part of his subconscious mind had tried in every possible way to get him up from the chair and out of the room. Another part of him wanted to be well behaved, so he sat still in his seat trying to ignore the part of him that wanted to get out and play.
And so the inner battle started between the part of him that wanted to get out and the part of him that wanted to stay. In this case, the part of him that wanted to get out became an inner experience of having ants in his legs. The experience may only have become ants after an adult used the expression to describe his behavior.
And when you have ants in your legs, you move around.
Work With What Comes From the Child
When you hear your child use a metaphor, what you have to do is just accept it at face value.
“Oh, your home work is killing you?” “In what way is homework killing you?”
“Did you say that your thoughts are spinning around?” “Which way are they spinning?”
I promise you that you’ll have interesting conversations with your child, and that you’ll learn things about the way he thinks that you never knew about.
Of course your child may not accept that you are headed into metaphor land with him. Then just let it go for now. And catch another metaphor some other time.
Transforming ADHD Through Metaphors
The ADHD diagnosis is based on unwanted behavior, and most often people try to have the child change the behavior first. However for every unwanted behavior there’s one or more underlying inner experiences that makes the child act inappropriately.
These are the experiences that we need to get to and change, in order to transform ADHD into an asset. We do this easily by getting to the metaphors that drive the behavior.
It is so much easier to change the metaphors (thoughts and emotions), when we want to change the behavior. Then behavior that has not budged previously can be changed from the inside out instead.
Now over to you
What are some metaphors that your child is using about what is going on inside of him or her?
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Have a great day!
PS: If you are a parent and want more tools that work with your child, then get access to the free Transformational ToolBox – a series of tools that will help you get started Transforming ADHD with your child.