I don’t know about you, but I’m a bit of a volcano when it comes to feelings and emotions. Don’t get me wrong: I’m ashamed to have them. So, naturally, I suppress them and stuff them until enough pressure builds up and – bam – the volcano of big feelings erupts. I become a Mount St. Helens of sadness, anger and confusion all rolled up into one hotheaded redhead. My counselor thinks I should try a different approach.
Because of this, I’ve been Googling different ways to open up. I keep finding the same two phrases over and over: “opening up Pandora’s box” and “open a can of worms.” I don’t know a Pandora (other than the streaming music service), and I certainly am not interested in a can of worms. Are these two phrases interchangeable, or should I just keep stuffing my feelings like a Thanksgiving turkey? Let’s investigate.
In Greek mythology, Pandora was a woman who was given a jar that contained all the evil in the world (which sounds like a terrible housewarming gift). Due to her uncontrollable curiosity (and after being told not to do open the jar), Pandora opened the jar/box and all the bad stuff got out. From this story, we get the idiom “opening a Pandora’s box,” which means to do something that causes much bigger problems. The more specific meaning could be accurately summed up as “all the evil has escaped and now it can’t be put back in.” It’s kind of like trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube – it can’t be done.
The phrase “open a can of worms” comes from the United States around the 1950s. Fishermen used to buy worms in metal cans with plastic lids on them. The worms were in there, wriggling around and tangled around each other. When someone would open a can of worms, the worms would often spill out in a tangled mess. So, we have another phrase that means “an action that can’t be undone,” but “opening up a can of worms” tends to mean more specifically “getting yourself into a really complicated situation.”
In general, both phrases have to do with the lack of a “Control + Z” (or Command + Z, for Mac users) option; once you begin the chain of events, you can’t undo it or stop it. You have to deal with it. Once you get down to the nitty-gritty of these phrases, there are some nuanced meanings that are more accurate, depending on the context of your situation. All I know is that, when it comes to facing my emotions that haven’t been properly dealt with, it feels like I’ve opened a can of Pandora’s worms – it’s a slimy, scary and complicated mess.