What a miraculous sight. Have you ever seen pictures or a video of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly; truly a confirmation of the Creator constantly at work. The caterpillar itself starts from an egg and transforms into the larvae or caterpillar. This transformation is amazing as it continues developing into the most beautiful butterfly. Several sites on the internet show this happening through time-lapse photography. Another testimony to the spectacular wonders all around us.
People also have transformations. As a child, we speak, think and act like a child. As a teenager we speak, think and act like a teenager (whatever that means). As an adult, how do we speak, think and act? Is there a natural transformation, metamorphosis over time for people in how they think, feel and act? This is a very philosophical question; however, it has great ramifications on our day-to-day functioning. Likewise, it serves as a starting point for how we relate to and treat others.
In fact, how we view ourselves has a direct influence on how we act. Our sense of self, our self judgment, also referred to as our self-esteem, has major effects on our functioning capacity. Our fragile self-esteem, which many of us tend to have, causes the many ebbs and tides of feelings and ability to control our emotions and actions. In a book entitled Psychological Trauma and the Adult Survivor: theory, therapy, and transformation by Lisa McCann and Laurie Anne Pearlman, they discuss how trauma victims often view their inner sense of themselves and their world as disrupted. As in most therapies, they describe how the transformation of the sense of self is through a new reality that is both adaptive and safe. This is but one understanding of the importance of therapy as a means of counsel and personal growth.
So many of our clients have been hesitant to seek help. It seems like human nature to want to deny the need for help as long as possible. “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”. It’s as if to say that if I can convince myself that it’s not broken, then it won’t be broken. To seek help, one has to first come to terms and accept that there is a problem. Such acceptance can be anxiety inducing and painful. As much energy as denial takes, admitting a problem could take more. How many times do those in psychological pain scream out, “Leave me alone”? Sometimes this is truly a sign of their depression, but other times it’s more a sense of being overwhelmed with one’s situation and pain.
I often ask my clients, “What’s the difference in spending and investing? What do you think before reading further? To seek help, to recognize the need for therapy and counselling, it is important to understand the significance in these two concepts.
Think of this question in terms of money. To spend means that we take the money, give it to someone else for the purpose of acquiring something on a temporary basis. Why temporary? Because everything we acquire is temporary. If we buy food, we eat it and it’s gone. If we buy clothing, we wear it until we are tired of it or it wears out and it’s gone. If we buy a large item like a car, or even a home, it depreciates in value and functionality and that part is gone. When we spend, we know that at the end of the day, it’s gone. However, to invest means that we give money for the purpose of, and in the hope, of walking away with more than we started. That’s the intent. Therapy is rooted in the same idea. If the client comes to spend time with me, they walk away spending their money and have nothing to show for it. When they leave the therapy room, everything is forgotten. They spent their time and now “on with life”. However, the client who will invest time in therapy will leave with more than they came with. This client thinks over what was realized in therapy, uses new insights and skills from the therapy session and comes back to the next session ready to acquire more than before. The client who benefits most from therapy is the one who can invest in the time they spend with the therapist.
Back to the caterpillar and butterfly… The metamorphosis from the egg to the butterfly came up in a therapy session with a 13 year old boy last week. You ask how that could be! Well, this boy has now been coming to see me for about eight months. Emile is an interesting boy. He lives with his single (divorced) dad. He has suffered much emotional distress and loss in his life. However, at 13 he would rather not be in therapy but playing with his friends; or should I say fighting with his “friends”. Emile has many social and learning problems. He has great difficulty focusing on issues at hand, whether it is schoolwork or socializing or listening to his father. The dynamics between father and son is very interesting. In fact, their relationship has certainly changed over the past eight months. Emile has had an amazing transformation during these eight months. One of Emile’s interesting traits is his resistance to change. Actually, he is resistant to looking closely at himself; he is reluctant to examine his hurt sadness and the conflicts in his life.
It has been an interesting journey as Emile’s resistance to the therapy sessions has certainly reduced while at the same time, he holds on to his fight not to deal with emotional issues. He can totally shut down when delicate issues, like his mother, comes up. In fact, Emile’s father sits in on each session to “help” keep Emile on track. His father is very dedicated to Emile while, at times, he gets very frustrated with his son. The frustrations extend from wanting to prove his love to getting Emile to listen to him to getting Emile to accept responsibility for his actions at home, school and in the community.
So, to the butterfly. Regarding his resistance, I was telling Emile that I thought he tries to stay in his cocoon. This developed into a theory like this: A butterfly starts out as a meaningless, non-living egg and then develops into a caterpillar. As cute as a caterpillar is (mostly to children), it doesn’t do much in a positive way. It slowly crawls on the ground, bothers people (especially gardeners) and is slimy. Then, in an amazing way, it produces its own cocoon where something miraculously happens when a beautiful monarch butterfly develops; the whole cycle is between 30 – 40 days. From this crawly caterpillar comes this beautifully developed, free flying butterfly.
In our last session, I told Emile that I have seen him turn into a beautiful butterfly. He wasn’t too sure what to think of this. Was that an insult or compliment? I explained how it was a compliment. When I first met Emile, he was a bully, a troublemaker at school and in the community. He was constantly challenging his father’s authority and was an exceptionally sad boy. In a mere 8 months, though he still finds it difficult to talk about emotionally charged topics, he has become a different student, son, and friend to those around him. I explained to Emile that he started out as someone who challenged people, “crawled around” looking for power and control over others without dealing with his own issues. In fact, his resistance to change was his “cocoon” that he built around himself. However, within his own cocoon, his insistence of “leave me alone”, “I’m not going to talk about that”, “I don’t want to be here” has transformed into a butterfly; a beautiful boy who has changed into a more cooperative son, a leader in the classroom and a better friend (though he still has difficulties talking about many sensitive things).
I have asked Emile to look, on a daily basis, for “butterfly moments”. Those are times in the day that he can praise himself for the positive changes in his life. In fact, I developed a picture of a butterfly and have asked him to fill in the segments of the butterfly with his personal “butterfly moments”.
Self affirmation is something most of us have not learned to do. Self praise is a skill many of us have not taught our children. Why? Because no one taught us how or even emphasised the importance of this. Why must we always rely on others to praise us, to develop our positive self-esteem? Let’s teach our children to recognize, even flaunt (in a good way), their positive traits. We adults also need to learn to do this and then mentor these vital skills to our children.
We become who we feel we are. Let’s ensure that we feel good about ourselves and then we will see ourselves as good and act accordingly.
Mr. Schild is the Executive Director of Regesh Family and Child Services in Toronto, Ontario Canada. He is also a family therapist and certified specialist in Anger Management and conducts many therapeutic workshops in various topics. Regesh runs many programs helping families and youth dealing with personal and family issues in their lives. To arrange a speaking engagement, contact Mr. Schild. He can be reached at 416-495-8832 extension 222 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit www.regesh.com.