Coping by metaphors: The versatile function of metaphors in blogs about living with advanced cancer

Anna W Gustafsson, Charlotte Hommerberg, Anna Sandgren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Living with a life-limiting cancer illness can entail a turmoil of feelings such as constant fear of loss, suffering and dying. Because patients live longer with life-limiting illness, there is a need for enhanced understanding of how people make sense of and cope with the complicated aspects that this life situation brings on. In this article, we explore how bloggers with advanced cancer use metaphors as ways of making sense of their experiences. Our study is theoretically grounded in Conceptual Metaphor Theory, where metaphors are seen as a powerful phenomenon that both reflects and affects our thinking. The data consist of a corpus of blogs written in Swedish by individuals with advanced cancer, and the findings from our linguistic metaphor analysis are consistently interpreted against the backdrop of literature on coping. Our study thus highlights the intersection of linguistic metaphor analysis and psychological theories of coping by illustrating the many and complex functions metaphors can have as part of sense-making processes. Our hermeneutic approach enables us to show some differences among the three most pervasive metaphor domains in our material, battle, journey and imprisonment: the journey and imprisonment domains are more flexible than the battle domain in terms of the different kinds of coping strategies that are actualized by the bloggers’ use of metaphors. One particular finding from our analysis is the way in which the bloggers make use of metaphors to compartmentalize experiences and emotions. Our contention is that careful attention to the metaphors used by patients can improve communication in health care and enhance understanding of the complex role language use plays in coping processes more generally. By highlighting the relation between metaphor use and coping, our analysis also provides a way to discuss coping strategies based on the patient’s own use of language.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267-277
Number of pages11
JournalMedical Humanities
Volume46
Issue number3
Early online date2019 Aug 13
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics

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