Seeking a new metaphor for the phrase “shoot the hostage”
November 6, 2020 6:19 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for a new (and nonviolent!) metaphor to describe the circumstance when someone directly confronts a thing that had been previously avoided. Because the avoidance was preventing the person from performing a valued action, it is often helpful to find ways to face up to the unpleasant task or avoided thing.

In my work as a therapist, I often explore with clients the cost of continuing to avoid a distressing thing when the avoidance has begun to take up a considerable amount of space in their lives. For example, let’s say someone experiences intrusive thoughts that they will harm someone, and they perform rituals or otherwise distract themselves to drive those distressing thoughts from their mind. In exposure therapy treatments, it’s not unusual to work to increase tolerance of the distressing thoughts, because once our brain can’t threaten us with “bad thoughts” (as we are now willing to think the bad thoughts), the spell often loses its power. My mind always thinks of this as “shooting the hostage,” which although it feels like an effective metaphor to me, also seems unnecessarily violent, especially for the setting of outpatient therapy.

Does anyone have any other suggestions for a different metaphor I might try out?
posted by dreamphone to Writing & Language (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Spring cleaning?
posted by aniola at 6:22 PM on November 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Rip off the band-aid" does a lot of similar work.

Maybe "Pay the piper"? But that's also perhaps unsavory. It kind of has to be an unpleasant reckoning though right?
posted by SaltySalticid at 6:23 PM on November 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

"If it's your job to eat a frog, it's best to do it first thing in the morning. And if it's your job to eat two frogs, it's best to eat the biggest one first." (Mark Twain, apparently, but you know how pithy quotes and Mark Twain attributions are.)
posted by rpophessagr at 6:28 PM on November 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

Heh. I quickly came up with a dozen alternate metaphors I've heard, but they all involved "killing" or "drowning" or included "crutches" or "wheelchairs" - trading violence for ableism.

The first decent suggestion for what your talking about could be something like "getting out of the bath, as the water is cold now, anyway", or the similar "getting out of the hot-tub, before you get hurt". I don't think either of those are great, but maybe they'll inspire you to come up with something appropriate.
posted by Anoplura at 6:29 PM on November 6, 2020

To me, metaphorically "shooting the hostage" in that scenario would be something like cutting the potential victim out of my life. You're talking about something more akin to pulling a snake's fangs, I think, where the snake is the "bad thought" that might still look scary, but has become relatively powerless to hurt one.
posted by teremala at 6:32 PM on November 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Jump into the cold lake instead of inching in?
posted by clew at 6:34 PM on November 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Bearding the lion in his den

Facing one's fears

Stop trying to go around the wall and just knock down the wall

Facing [something] square on

The "Litany against fear" from Dune comes to mind: "I will face my fear. I will let it move over me and through me..."
posted by amtho at 6:40 PM on November 6, 2020

Perhaps not appropriate because of swearing, but my grandmother favored, “shit or get off the pot.”
posted by rip at 6:48 PM on November 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I feel like the ACT metaphors page ought to be able to help you here.
posted by shadygrove at 6:54 PM on November 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Biting the bullet?
posted by ipsative at 7:02 PM on November 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I've always liked the expression, "Grasp the nettle firmly", though I don't think it's common (at least not in the US).
posted by alex1965 at 7:06 PM on November 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

I am not sure this is exactly what you're looking for, but to me this quote presents a clear metaphor for confrontation as opposed to avoidance:

"The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!"
--- Randy Pausch
posted by forthright at 8:48 PM on November 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Face the music isn't exactly right, because that refers to consequences for one's actions, but it's not completely wrong, in that you're confronting something you'd rather avoid. (It's also the name of the Bill & Ted movie that came out this summer, but I'm not sure that's going to confuse anyone.)

Face your fears is more literal and seems apt.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:56 PM on November 6, 2020

take the bull by the horns
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:22 PM on November 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

• look the devil in the eye
• yippy ki yay muthafucka
posted by a humble nudibranch at 9:30 PM on November 6, 2020

Well my mantra for this kind of situation is "the only way out is through."
posted by warriorqueen at 9:37 PM on November 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

Bite the bullet is the one I would think of first. It is not about violence, it is about biting down on bullet during surgery to manage the pain. According to wikipedia hat may not be complete true but the accepted meaning is definitely to endure a painful moment to do what needs to be done.
posted by metahawk at 11:10 PM on November 6, 2020

I'd be confused by "shooting the hostage" - isn't that the worst outcome in a hostage situation? The thing that's an absolute last resort?

"Rip off the band-aid" works for me, or maybe "pull the loose tooth". Or you could go at it from the other direction: continuing to avoid the problem is feeding the elephant in the room, or giving the obnoxious stranger living in your head more and more passes on the rent (it's time to evict them). Or your brain is a city, and you've got this huge abandoned lot sitting right in the middle of it that you have to take detours around to avoid, and the longer you avoid it the more it falls apart and the more the area around it becomes abandoned too... Whereas you could go in and redevelop it and build nice parks and get back access to that whole section of the city.
posted by trig at 1:43 AM on November 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

"Face the strange."
posted by johngoren at 2:15 AM on November 7, 2020

I'd be confused by "shooting the hostage" - isn't that the worst outcome in a hostage situation? The thing that's an absolute last resort?

Yeah, so the phrase for me is associated with Speed, in which it's a somewhat crazy response to a desperate situation. It's (maybe?) an example of lateral thinking. It's not something that was previously avoided. It's leaning into an undesirable outcome that is nonetheless more desirable than the worst case scenario.
posted by synecdoche at 5:34 AM on November 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

I feel like a lot of the suggestions are missing the mark because they don't get at the key aspects of the hostage metaphor. When someone is holding a hostage it gives them power to make you do what they want because you want to protect the hostage. If the hostage dies, or you decide you no longer care about protecting the hostage, they lose their power.

The most similar nonviolent situation I can think of is blackmail. If you have a secret, someone can make you do what they want by threatening to reveal it. But if you don't care about the information getting out, they have no power. It sounds like you're encouraging your clients to stop trying to hide from themselves that they have these bad thoughts and to stop caring if the bad thoughts get out. So maybe a blackmail analogy works. In a blackmail situation, if you decide you don't need to be ashamed of your secret, or if you realize the people around you won't actually think badly of you if they learn your secret, then the blackmailer loses his power. Maybe those aspects fit into a blackmail analogy for your clients. Maybe you encourage them to be less ashamed of their thoughts or to stop thinking so badly of themselves for having them. If you need a short phrase to sum up a blackmail metaphor, it could be something like, "You can't blackmail yourself if there's nothing you need to hide from yourself."
posted by Redstart at 6:21 AM on November 7, 2020 [6 favorites]

Maybe something you like about "shooting the hostage" is how it acknowledges that what you're asking your client to do is very, very hard and the exact opposite of what they feel they should do. If that's the case, you could substitute "publicly confessing your worst secret." That's the last thing in the world most people want to do, but once you've done it you're safe from blackmail.
posted by Redstart at 9:30 AM on November 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

The historical precedent for the blackmail metaphor is "Publish and be damned!", although the exact words are likely to be misconstrued now. Also possibly apocryphal.
posted by clew at 10:53 AM on November 7, 2020 [2 favorites]

Love all of the thinking behind these. I assigned best answer to Redstart because telling the blackmailer’s secret does neutralize the “power over” position, and it also captures the badassedness that doing it might take. Thanks all!
posted by dreamphone at 2:12 PM on November 7, 2020

Cut bait? Lose something valuable to find the resolution?
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:01 AM on November 8, 2020

What comes to mind for me is "flush the wound". If there's an injury, it hurts to clean the wound before bandaging it, but that's the only way that it will heal cleanly.

To continue the analogy: if, for whatever reason, a wound has been bandaged over without being cleaned and has become infected, it's necessary to clean it out if there's any hope of it healing. The process of cleaning will be painful and messy, the injured person will probably feel exhausted and bad immediately after the cleaning, and yet the long-run prospects are so much better.
posted by Lexica at 4:15 PM on November 8, 2020

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