Many people with social phobia are not aware that they keep people at a distance, that they prevent others from getting close emotionally, and push people away, put up barriers, when they do start to get emotionally involved. The constant fear of emotional involvement drains emotional energy and stops healthy relationships forming.
This metaphor is designed to question the comfort of social isolation, to re-examine their need to keep their distance from others, to become aware of their social isolation, of what they are doing to keep others at arms length. This therapeutic metaphor uses hypnotic suggestion techniques to visualize their social defenses and to show the person how they can keep those defenses but still expand their emotional comfort zone.
An owl was walking along a deserted beach one day, just enjoying the sunshine and watching the waves roll in, when suddenly the water was full seals frolicking around and diving in and out of the waves.
The seals began to swim ashore and throw themselves on the sand. They lay there basking in the sun and rolling around without a care in the world. And more and more seals began to come ashore and to the owl's surprise a bear came swimming in, hauled itself out of the surf, and shook its fur dry before flopping down on the sand. The bear saw the owl watching and said 'What?'
"Oh", said the owl. "I didn't mean to be rude. But I never expected to find a bear in a seal colony".
"It's a long story", said the bear, "but I was brought up among these seals and I have learned to survive among them. Actually I am quite proud of myself. No other bear can swim as well as I do".
The owl thought for a while and said "I can see that you have learned skills that are unique and useful to you. But is that what you want?".
"I can swim outstandingly well, you know", said the bear.
"Yes", said the owl, "But is that what you want?'.
"What else could I need?" thought the bear, as the owl walked on.
Time passed, and the question just wouldn't go away. The bear still did not understand the question, but couldn’t let it go. So one day, the bear just couldn't stand it any more and set out in the direction that the owl went.
The bear trudged on for miles and came across another beach. This one was crowded with humans, all sunbathing and reading and digging holes in the sand and all the other things that families do at the beach. And in the middle of that crowded beach was a man in an overcoat with a fence around him.
The bear just had to speak to him, so he went up to him and said "How come you are fully dressed and everyone else is nearly naked?"
"Oh" said the man, "that's the way I like it. It means I am never exposed".
"And the fence?" asked the bear, politely.
"Actually, a lot of people ask about that. I hardly notice it. The secret is, I carry it with me everywhere. No one can put up that fence faster than me".
"Ah" said the bear, finally understanding the question, "But is that what you want?".
"Well", said the man, "I need the fence, don't I? So that is what I want, I suppose."
"But", said the bear, "is it actually the fence you want? Or is it something else?"
"I don't know. I have always had the fence. I am really good at putting it up, but I suppose that when I think about it, it isn't the fence itself."
And then it was like a light bulb going on in the bear's head. The bear realised what the owl was getting at. It was all so simple once you see it.
"So", said the bear, "Just imagine that you could bring that fence in a little closer. Could you do that?'
"Could you move it in closer still."
"Yes", said the man a bit uncomfortably, "But it is too close now. I don't need it that close."
"So how close do you need it?"
"I don't know, I have never thought about it?"
"Well, then" said the bear, "Can you imagine making that fence a little further away?"
"Yes, I can."
"And how does it feel?" asked the bear, politely.
"Actually, it feels OK".
"And suppose you moved that fence much further away, how does that feel?"
"It feels more comfortable, like I have room to breath now."
"And suppose you moved that fence all the way out so it included the whole beach, how does that feel?"
Well, the man was looking quite confused now.
"I feel OK with everyone in the fence, but I still have the fence out there. I know it's there somewhere, but it doesn't seem to matter so much now."
"That's right", said the bear, brushing sand off his bottom. "Been nice meeting you."
And the last thing the bear saw as he set off home, was the man taking his coat off, and beginning to look around the beach as if he had never seen it before.