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Culturally shared metaphors expand contemporary concepts of resilience and post-traumatic growth: contrasting an indigenous Brazilian community and a Swiss rural community
  1. Iara Meili,
  2. Eva Heim,
  3. Andreas Maercker
  1. Department of Psychopathology and Clinical Intervention, University of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
  1. Correspondence to Iara Meili, Department of Psychopathology and Clinical Intervention, University of Zurich, Zurich 8050, Switzerland; i.meili{at}


The metaphorical concepts resilience and post-traumatic growth (PTG) reflect the contemporary Western understanding of overcoming highly challenging life events. However, it is known that across different cultures, a broad range of metaphorical idioms for describing adaptive responses to severe adversity exists. This study aimed to explore and contrast two distinct cultural groups’ culturally shared metaphors for overcoming severe adversities. Fieldwork was conducted in two rural communities: an indigenous Brazilian community that has experienced severe collective adversity and a mountain village in Switzerland that has survived a natural disaster. We carried out separate qualitative metaphor analyses of semistructured interview data from each community. There were some similarities in the metaphorical narratives of the two cultural groups, for example, in metaphors of balance, changed perspective, collective cohesion and life as a journey. The main variations were found in metaphors of magical thinking, equilibrium and organic transformation used by the Brazilian group and metaphors of work, order and material transformation used by the Swiss group. Results from this study suggest that the Western-devised concepts of resilience and PTG can be further expanded, which is highlighted by the variety of culturally shared metaphors. Metaphorical idioms for overcoming severe adversity may be determined by the type of trauma as well as by the sociocultural and historical context. Our findings indicate potential approaches to the cultural adaptation of psychological interventions.

  • cross-cultural studies
  • metaphor
  • patient narratives
  • psychology

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  • Contributors IM and AM provided the theoretical basis for the paper. IM conceptualised the paper, wrote the first draft and provided the final draft. EH and AM commented on and revised the draft. All authors have seen and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding This study was funded by the foundation of the works of CG Jung, Psychology Fund at ETH Zurich and Baumann Family Foundation.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval Brazilian National Commission of Ethics in Research and the Ethical Commission Board of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Zurich.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.