We all have to work on building self-esteem in our lifetime and despite appearances, no one is immune to this. In my experience, self-esteem is in the top 3 reasons why people seek support from a counsellor. We all have moments of lower or higher self-esteem in response to life events. After facing difficulty or during change, your confidence is naturally affected. After the event is over, your self-esteem may recover or you may find it harder to bounce back from. This is partly down to how you interpret what’s happened to you. If you believe that it’s natural to feel difficult emotions during difficulty and that challenges affect everybody, you’re more likely to recover your self-esteem. Conversely if you interpret that it’s down to your fault, it’s harder to bounce back.
This can be painful at times as well as richly rewarding as you come to fully appreciate and value who you are. The butterfly offers a wonderful metaphor to explain this process and the things that can help or hinder this journey. Imagine that throughout your life you’re preparing to emerge as a butterfly in all your glory – each butterfly has different markings and colours and is uniquely beautiful in its own way.
You’re born with the seeds of this potential which is nurtured through life experiences which help you to develop into your butterfly. It’s not necessarily about you improving yourself, but rather learning to recognise and appreciate your unique gifts and what makes you special. You know you have emerged fully in your butterfly magnificence when you feel happy in yourself, content with your life, are able to stand in your power, express your deepest truth and are comfortable to show yourself authentically to others. This process happens uniquely for each of us in terms of timings, the experiences that will have the biggest influence and our interpretations of these.
Some people have a smoother journey than others to reach this peak of potential but no one is immune to life’s difficulties and challenges. For some, it may feel safer to stay longer in the cocoon or to step out with masks that protect you from the vulnerability of revealing your true self. This is something everybody does at various times in life but can be more prevalent in people who’ve experienced deep knocks to their self-esteem. The mask intends to protect from further hurt and vulnerability – showing people what we think they want to see, living up to expectations, hiding things we are ashamed of or afraid of revealing, preventing people from coming too close etc. Or you may rely on the cocoon to stay safe – you might avoid interactions with others, avoid taking risks, keep yourself small or numb yourself from your emotions.
This process is probably subconscious and as a result, is often not evaluated for its effectiveness. You may not see that you can be stuck in a cycle where your mask or cocoon creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, you may fear rejection or conflict and as a result, try hard to say the right thing or come across in a certain way. As you’re expecting rejection or ridicule, you’re likely to feel embarrassed after opening up to others or presenting to an audience. You feel vulnerable out of your comfort zone and go back to the cocoon wishing you hadn’t done or said that. This reinforces the need to keep your mask and cocoon. And yet, it may not occur to you that it’s the words you use and the trying so hard that are difficult for others to relate and connect to. It’s the not showing your true self that creates the pain. It’s not you that’s potentially rejected, but your mask or cocoon.
We can keep on reinforcing these patterns until one day, as Anais Nin says “‘And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Making this process conscious can help you take steps forward- it’s hard to change what you are unaware of. Learning to be comfortable in showing yourself with all of your colours just as you are. It doesn’t guarantee that everybody will be attracted to your butterfly or that your butterfly can do everything -that’s not possible. But it does mean that you can be attractive to those who are meant to see you (they can’t if you hide) and find the things that you are meant to do (you can’t properly if you don’t have your wings fully open). You realise that being you is enough.