In our zealousness to “fix” anxiety we often get in our own way. I lived for years trying to avoid anxiety by removing myself from situations that I thought may provoke panic. I would also avoid anxiety by taking medications to try to stay ahead of it before anxiety hit. The fact is that acceptance means more of a struggle…but the struggle is what makes us stronger. I’ve included a story that we used in outpatient that really resonated with me:
A man spent hours watching a butterfly struggling to emerge from its cocoon. It managed to make a small hole, but its body was too large to get through it. After a long struggle, it appeared to be exhausted and remained absolutely still.
The man decided to help the butterfly and, with a pair of scissors, he cut open the cocoon, thus releasing the butterfly. However, the butterfly’s body was very small and wrinkled and its wings were all crumpled.
The man continued to watch, hoping that, at any moment, the butterfly would open its wings and fly away. Nothing happened; in fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its brief life dragging around its shrunken body and shriveled wings, incapable of flight.
What the man – out of kindness and his eagerness to help – had failed to understand was that the tight cocoon and the efforts that the butterfly had to make in order to squeeze out of that tiny hole were Nature’s way of training the butterfly and of strengthening its wings.
Sometimes, a little extra effort is precisely what prepares us for the next obstacle to be faced. Anyone who refuses to make that effort, or gets the wrong sort of help, is left unprepared to fight the next battle and never manages to fly off to their destiny.
The story describes an unintended consequence where the man tried to help but he created a weak butterfly that was unable to live it’s best life. The same goes with trying to avoid anxiety – because it is not accepted we don’t get stronger from the struggle of accepting it, which is harder than avoidance but well worth it.