Being in the perplexity business, I am often left wondering what is behind the words that come out of people’s mouths. From Freudian free association to CBT’s focus on cognitive distortion and catastrophizing, the first rule of understanding is that what is meant and what is true is usually far removed from what is apparent and uttered.

The image on this post is a map of ways of naming those grey segmented scaly crawly things

which I always thought were irrefutably and incontrovertibly called cheesy bugs. Seemingly not. We name things in accordance with the language we know, the upbringing we have, the place and time at which we have learned how to turn the world in to speech. But that is all it is – another perspective (in woodlice world simply travelling a few miles in any direction) brings different certainties.

Unfortunately understanding what lies beneath is not just a question of getting better at language. Sometimes we understand the other person just by clarifying what they are saying on its own terms – you say there is a pishamare infestation in your house, I see a few cheesy bugs and know what you are saying. At one level. But more interestingly we can drop to another level. When I tell you there are woodlice in my house what might I mean? Do I like woodlice? Hate them? Fear them? What do they mean to me? What do they mean here and now? What is the woodlice infestation a reflection of in my inner world? It’s not about the crunchy bats. Or not just about the crunchy bats.

The point is, I might be telling you about something else – without knowing I am revealing myself.

This shift from concretised thinking in to thinking and understanding in symbol is one of the defining features of depth psychotherapy, and of living a creative life infused with meaningfulness. Challenging what comes to us, allowing speech to be redolent with meaning, not just changing the words and the language but listening carefully to what is within – what is behind – what is said. This is how we can connect more fully, more deeply with one another.

I love the woodlice map as an indication of the richness of language and culture. Add to it what is behind the concept of ‘woodlouse’ for each individual and the true complexity of being human begins to emerge.

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