What Butterflies Can Teach us About Trauma Healing
I was mesmerised by a little butterfly in my garden a few weeks ago.
I have been enchanted with butterflies for the last year or so. Such fascinating creatures and, like all nature, the most exquisite teachers.
It struck me that their metamorphosis holds some really tender lessons. As if their ability to transform and their abundant living in their short life span as a butterfly wasn’t enough (average length is 14 days but some as short as 24 hours) there is actually some more magic in their story.
I read about a man who once found a butterfly cocoon in his garden that patiently watched until it emerged. On the day a small opening appeared in the cocoon, he grew concerned as the butterfly struggled to force its body through that little hole.
Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no further. It just seemed to be stuck. Then the man, in his kindness, decided to help the butterfly, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The butterfly then emerged easily. But it had a swollen body and small, shrivelled wings.
The man continued to watch the butterfly because he expected that, at any moment, the wings would enlarge and expand to be able to support the body, which would contract in time. Neither happened. In fact, the little butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body with shrivelled wings. It never was able to fly.
What the man in his kindness and haste did not understand was that the restricting cocoon would eventually encourage a greater intelligence and sacred impulse.
The butterfly must first pump the fluids from its abdomen through the veins into its wings for the butterfly to then push to get through the tiny opening. Freedom and flight would only come after following the full impulse to push.
It was an impulse that nature fully intended. The butterfly must use this period to pump fluids from its abdomen through the veins in its wings, which causes it to expand to their full size.
Reading this story reminded me very much of what we do in trauma healing.
The stuck-ness the butterfly experienced is often wheat we hear freeze response described as. And under our freeze response is often a great deal of fight or flight energy that must be metabolised. These are natural, sacred, impulses.
We can’t over ride them or have a cathartic quick fix experience. We must follow the natural impulses that at the time the event were suppressed. We follow the design of the nervous system and of the inner intelligence of our Soma (Mind, Body and Spirit).
It also got me thinking about how anger is so often shunned or shamed in our society and how this too is often something that needs to be expressed. It has its place for transformation. It is often the fuel for the physiological response of fight. And is something often suppressed and in the waters under a freeze response.
And just like the butterfly, if we never get a chance to express this we cut off from a part of our vitality.
Anger and fight response so often comes up as part of this natural process of Somatic Healing of trauma — and so with it comes vitality, action and creativity.
All of these valid.
All of these welcome.
All of them have a place in the natural order of things.
I can speak of this as both a therapist and as a human who has over time discovered even deeper levels of my own sacred anger and my own fight.
It feels good and fresh and alive.
I hope in some way this butterfly medicine acts as balm and resonates and at the same time recognising for me there is some sadness for the butterfly mentioned.
With great tenderness,
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