Metaphor vs Literal ~ Which is best in online conversation

Depending on your brain, how do you interpret the world? Are you literal? Metaphorical? Something else? Do you imagine with sight, sound, numbers, smell? Do you use critical thinking, or are you a visual learner?

Photo by Felix Mittermeier on

Our brain is a processor, but no two brains are alike. So how do we navigate the art of online communication? It’s not black or white. There are a million shades of gray.

I use too many metaphors in my writing. I know this and often remain in my head when I’m editing. It’s a thing I work on. It’s how my brain processes thought. If you are a writer (fiction or non-fiction), you also ask a lot of questions.

However, in academic work, writing is (was) always in third person. It was always literal. It was always a bold, upfront question. If I was doing it right, it was an open ended question that lead to elaboration, and not a yes/no answer.

That takes some practice, if you’re not used to asking questions.

In real life, if you’ve lived with gaslighting, you train your brain not to ask any questions at all if you can help it.

You walk on eggshells around the verbally manipulative person.

You try not to rock the boat, even if rocking the boat is an intrinsic part of your personality.

Domestic violence survivors (and victims) know that feeling. The one where you are in constant fight, flight, fawn or freeze.

My original academic training was in mass media where all through my undergrad., asking questions was part of the curriculum. It went toward psychology later in adulthood. All of it was about asking good questions, then listening and observing the response.

Today, in social media, if you ask a question, it has to be literal. It also has to have a positive spin that borders on cheerleader. If not, the cacophony of participants (OG poster, commenters, others who are threads of the commenters) will happily jump on the one with the question.

Talk about the dark side of happiness! People are LOVING this mean streak to the point of toxic.

The meanness of those comment sections is soul sucking. It’s shocking. Still, I am for whatever reason, shocked by how awful humans can be.

I get that there are people who will say shocking things on purpose just to gain attention. And then there are the shadows of participants who just can’t wait to try to troll on the lives of that same original asker of the question.

Then, there are those who will try (sometimes succeeding) to gaslight you into questioning your right to ask the question in the first place.

When that person is a helping professional? They aren’t only immoral or unconsciously-aware-people in the helping industry, they are also manipulative and dangerous. Yes. Dangerous.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because I was wondering all night, how people who are neurodivergent interact with the online world today.

I have a habit of overthinking which stems from anxiety which stems from … stuff that rewired the brain to include it.

Some brains are wired so they have to stay consciously aware of a great deal.

Something came up that sparked my wondering how neurodivergent individuals navigate social media. Especially those who communicate through literal interpretation of things.

Not all people can read metaphor. As a writer heavy on the symbology of something, I am told that by my literal thinking folks that they don’t always know what I’m writing about. Or saying, ’cause I speak in metaphor as well. I also paint, but can’t cross into that level of art that is a metaphorical representation of a thing, the way masters do.

I find that so interesting. Do you ever think about your brain and how it interprets the world?

Some people realize that they are reading metaphors. They just don’t cognitively register those metaphors the same way. The truth of the neurology of the brain is that ~

  • We don’t all communicate the same way.
  • We don’t all receive a message in the same way.
  • Brains vary in how we give and receive communication.

The messages we receive depend a lot on our environment. For example, some people twitch when they come across foul language where others are totally comfortable with cursing and wondering what “the big deal” is. They will never read that author’s work again, if there is too much of what makes them uncomfortable.

Other people crave that discomfort.

I’m 100% fine with cursing in writing but not always 100% fine in hearing cursing. Even though I curse.

Trying to be authentic while also constantly judged just to navigate being in the world takes tremendous energy.

For me, metaphors are the images that help my visual brain to make sense of the world. I have conversations with people who are comfortable enough to stop me and ask, “is that a metaphor”, because they don’t connect those dots.

They have a literal brain.

It’s why I will often times say, “this is a metaphor”. I don’t do it to be snarky. Sometimes it’s obvious. Other times, it’s lost entirely.

When interacting online, we want to be heard. We are human after all. We want connection. Are we then forcing others to simply go along with us, in this online communication, in order to be liked and accepted?

Can’t we just …. delete the contact if they are toxic or negative?

We can. If there is no meaningful reason to hold onto them.

IF someone is repeating a pattern of hurting us, we can first, distance.

  • Then, we can observe how they interact with others.
  • But if they are clearly unconnected from the connections, diminishing the human side of the interaction, walk away.

Not everyone wants or has interest in being a blind devoted follower of anyone else online. I know I don’t.

If I am a fan, I am a fan sincerely.

If I’m a critic, I’ll say that too.

The world is not so literal in their interpretation of how the world works.

People however, can and are predictable most of the time. That’s why novelty is so appealing.

Some people will see something (like the title, ‘happiness noir’) that sparks delight at hoping the author will be dark in thought, or mean spirited in verse. As a matter of fact, there are content creators out there who intentionally create darkness, chaos or novel negatives at the expense of others.

They don’t see the “big deal” in hurting one person or group of people in trade for their entertainment.

But they are hurting people. People who didn’t deserve the public shaming or blaming.

Are we using artificial means of communication to dehumanize each other?

It sure seems that way.

The dark side of the happiness industry includes a fair amount of gaslighting and shutting down the questions, thoughts and conversations that include the real human struggle with both mental and physical illness. There are too many people who will hurt or harm those who openly speak up about the importance of seeing both the dark and light clearly.

I’ve noticed recently that the simple mention of the terms “trauma survivor” and “domestic violence survivor” invokes more abuse and abusers flocking to the social media pages. The victims/survivors themselves are forced into again, saying nothing and living without a safe space to speak their minds.

It makes me wonder if positive psychology can help trauma survivors at all.

It’s as if the dark art of toxic positivity can’t wait to hurt yet another human being who is trying to help heal those who have been suffering.

I’m not sure about you but I promised myself a solid year of only allowing in pure kindness, joy, interesting, life-affirming good things. But I will not give up on any survivor who reaches out to me for help.

I am actively reframing how I use social media. Short of disconnecting from it at all,

Letting go of participating is safer than asking a literal question on the wrong person’s page ~ feels a lot like domestic abuse and verbal gaslighting all over again.

No thanks.

I sold that flying monkey in trade for my freedom from the circus.

No going back. Ever.

It’s not worth it.

Social media is a pitfall of ick-factor toxic verbal abuse. Be careful who you allow in to your energy circle.

I quite literally, cut out any and all people, places and things that I felt harmed or hurt by. I put up fierce boundaries last year. No more toxic behaviors or insults to the soul. I just deleted one as a matter of fact. Their toxic modality of gaslighting as a helping professional will harm someone. It is not my business and I’m not the ethics police. Took me a while to get to that level of letting go. It’s quite liberating to give our empathic brains permission to say ‘no’ to things not meant for us.

Now I have to go find a way to create content with a safe space for others interested in the healing journey that includes not encountering those trolls.

Because feck ’em all. Nobody needs that in their lives.


@happinessnoir @inkhoneypub

Be You. The World Will Adjust ~ said Oscar Wilde. In today’s climate of tea spilling meanness for sport? I wonder if he would say the same thing?

Seriously though … I often think about what any of the men who created the world would say about the way we live today in this digital existence. Would they change their worldview. I think they would.

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