This little story is a metaphor and aims to be an illustration of a particular psycho-emotional make up: the need to achieve certain results through doing particular things which, when done with a good result generate a certain kind of feel-good-about-self – a feeling that is experienced deep down as a ‘right to exist’ or an overall feeling of being ‘acknowledged as a person’ and that I therefore call a Substitute Sense-of-Self.
Or, in the technical words of my Holistic Psychological method, this story is a metaphor for the experience of the need to use an everyday activity or action as a vehicle to repair/correct perceived early-childhood failures in character or behavior in order to satisfy, long past due date, the everlasting craving for the Hidden Goals (or virtual parental approval) that might have led at the time to a healthy Sense of Self but in the present merely generates a Feel-Good-about-Oneself that functions as a Substitute-Sense-of-Self.
The pattern described here results from a less-than-healthy childhood in which the person received from their primary caretaker a sense of not existing independently from the caretaker’s emotional ‘games.’
Every morning, after getting herself and her house ready for the day, Lisa Losos would jump in one of her many vehicles to go out and chase butterflies. She would have her pick among big trucks, vans, jeeps, SUV’s, and cars of all kinds and colors and it really depended on the circumstances of the day, the weather and where she was planning to head out to, what vehicle she would take.
The net she would use to catch the butterflies was highly personalized in terms of style and decorations (Ego-References). The butterflies she aimed at were all of the same family: the MOD-butterfly. They were actually quite plain but Lisa remembered clearly that those were the ones her mother used to like and it somehow seemed to give her a huge satisfaction if she was able to catch one, even though her mother was long gone. She actually never wondered if she liked them so much herself nor did she envision the option to catch the truly beautiful colorful ones.
Each day, with the net held in one hand out of the lowered window, she drove in whatever direction she sensed might be favorable for her enterprise. She would be full hope and happily motivated in the morning but in the back of her mind there was the awareness that she couldn’t afford to come home with an empty jar. She would feel terrible believing her day had been useless and that now she wasn’t even a real person!
She didn’t make money selling her butterflies, and she didn’t eat them. Instead, somehow, the amount of caught butterflies reflected for her that she as a person was successful and that she was a valuable contribution to the world.
So every time she caught a butterfly, she felt good about herself and at night when looking back at the day that was what she felt when contemplating her collection. In some vague way she felt she had lived up to an expectation. She didn’t know who had put that expectation into her, but she sure felt so much better when she was able to live up to it – it was almost as if she got permission to ‘be.’
No wonder she worked like mad to make it happen, to come home with a jar filled with moving wings. In a way she was addicted to this way of living cause because every butterfly caught represented a certain amount of feel-good-about-herself. Every little butterfly represented for her – even though she didn’t realize this consciously – a permission to be in existence.
But there was more to this situation than good feelings. Some of the feelings were very unpleasant. The moment she actually caught some butterflies she always got really anxious they would die overnight and then they wouldn’t count anymore toward feeling-good-about-herself and she would have to go hunting all over again. She’d lie awake worrying about that. Her mind figured that by staying awake as long as possible, the benefits of today’s butterflies could be prolonged!
Another reason for staying awake was the anticipation of tomorrow’s hunt. After all, it was a stressful task to have to come home with a full jar over and over! A job never finished! And there were moments in which she wondered how on earth to make that happen. Where would she find enough butterflies?
Then there were other worrying thoughts as well: “How could she hunt successfully when there was so much else to do, or when she was not feeling well enough to go out hunting?” Sometimes she simply threw up her hands in despair saying “Enough is enough! I won’t do it anymore!” But that thought was also far from reassuring. Anxiety would hit her in the night and the adrenaline rush of fear would prevent her from getting the sleep necessary to be fit and well-rested to go on the butterfly hunt again.
Then she’d find herself in a vicious cycle of fear and desperate butterfly hunting. Her compulsion to be successful thwarted generated rage, and sometimes even depression, which aggravated her insomnia. The struggle to get out of the claws of those feelings would swallow all her time which made her insomnia even worse. She wasn’t consciously aware of it but at some point her whole identity was tied up in the success of her butterfly-hunting; deep down she felt it was the only thing which gave her life a meaning.
Dear Reader, can you imagine how Lisa would feel if she ever woke up to a healthy sense of who she was and always had had an option to be and that all she had been doing with her life was – chasing butterflies?