What is your chrysalis made of?

Image is “Este Pensamiento Interminable” by Dear M, released on Flickr under the Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs License

The chrysalis is a vital and necessary part of each stage of the process that transforms a caterpillar to a butterfly. It is the safe container that holds the ending of the caterpillar as it melts into undifferentiated goo which is then gradually becomes the butterfly that is ready to emerge from this container as a new creature.

Without the safe container of the chrysalis, the process cannot happen.

In the same way, each of us needs our own chrysalis as we move through seasons of transformation. Of course, ours look very different from the ones a caterpillar creates, but they serve the same function of providing a safe container that can hold us as our self-identities melt into unrecognizability and re-form into a new understanding of self.

Most people who find themselves in seasons of transformation instinctively reach for this kind of space, but few do so with the kind of intention and planning that ensure the best possible support for the journey.

The characteristics that we most often need from a chrysalis as we move through seasons of transformation include:

  • a source of stability that remains constant when we feel as if we are falling apart from the inside out,
  • a nonjudgmental, accepting presence that can mirror back to us what we are unable to see for ourselves (especially as those imaginal cells first start appearing),
  • a source of encouragement and reassurance that this is a normal process,
  • non-coercive support that allows us to imagine, dream, and experiment with new self-identities.

The most common place for us to turn to look for this kind of support is to our relationships with those nearest and dearest to us. The challenge is that those closest to us are the ones who are most affected by our transformation and are therefore least likely to be able to remain neutral regarding where that transformation might lead us.

As much as these people love us, the fact that our lives are so intertwined with theirs often leads them to either resist our changes since those changes create upheaval in their lives too or they try (often unconsciously) to shape and steer our changes to meet their own needs and agendas.

Either way, this limits their ability to be the best chrysalis-like support for our journey. While we can still draw on all the love within those close relationships as part of our support during this time, most people find that someone with greater relational distance is better able to function as a chrysalis because they have no stake in the specifics of who they might become.

In some cases, it is possible to find someone within your existing friendship network who has enough distance from your daily life to play this role in a neutral way, but many find that the best support often comes from professionals who truly have no attachment to the outcome.

The first kind of professional most of us think of are therapists and counselors. This kind of support is very important in situations when the transformation process stirs up deep wounds or trauma from the past that needs to be dealt with in order to move forward. These professionals are trained in helping us deal with these past issues in productive ways.

The challenge to watch out for is that some professionals in this category may be so accustomed to a model of dealing with the past as a means of returning to “normal” that they might inadvertently treat the stages of transformation as a pathology to be overcome instead of a healthy (although challenging) movement to a new self-identity. If you choose therapy or counseling as your chrysalis, make sure the person you are working with is attuned to the transformational journey and comfortable supporting you through its stages.

A second common source of professional help is that of formal clergy in our religious or spiritual tradition. These might be pastors, rabbis, imams, priests, or similar formal religious roles. This can be a powerful source of help in placing your transformation journey within the context of your religious understanding and many religious leaders are trained in skills of listening and support.

The challenge here can be those times when your journey includes questioning your religious or spiritual background or understanding. In a situation where your religious/spiritual framework is part of what is shifting, some clergy may have too much at stake in maintaining the status quo to be able to fully support your questioning and exploring.

A less common type of professional support is that of spiritual director. A spiritual director may or may not also be a clergy person, but a spiritual director is specifically trained to help someone see how the Divine is working within that person’s journey. This ability to watch with you to see how the Divine is present and moving in your transformation can provide comfort and stability within the process.

As with clergy, however, it is important to ensure that any spiritual director you may choose is open to your religious or spiritual understandings shifting as part of your overall movement into a new self-identity.

Another less common form of professional support is that of a personal coach who specializes in transformation. Coaches start from the premise that you hold the answers within yourself and are trained in listening and mirroring skills and use their intuitive questions to guide you deeper into your own self-knowing.

There are coaches with a wide variety of specialties, however, so be sure to find one that specializes in this kind of transformational journey. Some will call themselves transformation coaches, but they may also use other names like transition coach.

No matter who you may choose to accompany you on your journey through the transformation process, take time to carefully interview the person to ensure that they are able to support you without imposing their own agenda and that they have a deep understanding (preferably from personal experience) of the stages of transformation.

These seasons of transformation in our lives are intense, messy, and ultimately healing and sacred parts of our journeys. Be sure you create the best possible chrysalis for yourself that will provide the best support and nurture to allow you to maximize the benefits of these seasons.

What is your chrysalis made of? Are there other forms of support that you have found helpful on your journey? If so, please share them in the comments.

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