Ugly Duckling Syndrome

We’ve been talking with a lot of highly spiritual people lately who are having crippling self-esteem issues.  They fear they’re not good enough, are too different, or just feel out of place here on this Earth.  For many, it’s gotten to the point where their anxiety is making them feel stuck in life or stopping them from walking their spiritual path.  When we look at them, we don’t see all of the bad things that they see about themselves.  We see them for the beautiful, capable, Light-filled beings they truly are.  So what’s their problem?  Why don’t they see what we see?  They have what we lovingly refer to as U.D.S.— “Ugly Duckling Syndrome”.

Remember the metaphoric story of personal transformation, first published in 1843 by Hans Christian Andersen?  An egg hatches in a mother duck’s nest, but one of the hatchlings doesn’t look like the rest.  He’s constantly teased and ostracized as being “ugly” and for being unable to do “duck things”.  Much misfortune befalls him before he grows up and finally sees his reflection in a frozen pond.  What he sees is not an ugly duck at all, but the beautiful swan he has become.  The trouble really started for our swan hero simply because he was raised by ducks who could not or would not recognize his inner beauty before it had a chance to show.  This in turn caused him to doubt himself and endure great hardship before eventually and triumphantly joining a flock of majestic swans.  His only “flaw” was being different from those who cruelly judged him.

This scenario is just what we see with many of the tender, loving, old souls who have come here to this Earth to turn it into a planet of spiritual “swans”.  Our Ugly Duckling friends feel out of place in their families and sometimes on the planet in general because somehow their swan egg found its way into a duck nest.  They have been rejected, abused, and/or beaten down emotionally and psychologically by the mean-spirited, narrow-minded “ducks” of this world.  Being in the minority and out of step with the quackers around them led these little cygnets to feel badly about themselves and they have fallen into fowl despair.  They have been doubting their innate beauty, worth, and spiritual abilities because their duck-families and barnyard neighbors just couldn’t or wouldn’t see them.  It would have made them feel too much like ducks.

How can you recognize the “ducks” of this world?  They’re the spiritually immature, materially focused, short-sighted folks who want everyone else to be just like them.  Ducks will try to convince you that they are humanitarians, but would sell their grandmother for a quick duck-buck.  They quack that they’re concerned about the environment, but would pollute their home pond for personal gain.  When threatened, ducks will flock together to defend their corrupt institutions, limiting rules, and within-the-box ways of thinking.  They’ll bury their heads under their wings to avoid seeing alternatives to their beliefs and customs and squawk loudly if you challenge them.  Ducks have no imagination and cringe at creativity.  They’re too busy to stop and smell the cattails and don’t want you to, either.

So why does it happen that spiritual swans turn up in nests of ducks?  It all starts on the Spirit Side before we come down here for another lifetime.  If we come into feathered families that greatly challenge us, we have the potential to spiritually learn more, faster.  (Like getting the same college degree in two years instead of four at the same cost.)  It sounded like a great fast-track program, one that we may have deemed a necessity taking into account the rapidly approaching shift coming for Humanity.  We pictured our part in the coming “Swan-topia” and our souls smiled.

When we got here on the ground we discovered a different reality.  We found ourselves in the middle of Quacker-Nation, and wondering if we chose wisely.  (For some of us, it has turned out more like joining the army to get a degree and finding ourselves in a foxhole being shot at.)  We may have also volunteered to join the ranks of our duck-families in order to help those birds of a soul-feather, either because of Karma or selflessness, but that help was not welcomed or accepted.

After we give the troubled spiritual “swans” we hear from these days our Ugly Duckling Syndrome “diagnosis”, (Note for ducks:  We know we are not doctors and therefore prohibited by law from “diagnosing” anything.  Lighten up!) we give them the following advice:  It’s not you!  We live in a “duck” world.  You can’t expect ducks to be swans or to see your swan-ness.  (We love to watch their faces change as this new awareness sinks in.)  We ask them if they are up to the challenge of leading the flock instead of tagging along with the rest of the brood.  They usually get it.

Many highly spiritual souls have been born into families of “ducks” that saw them as ugly, stupid, inferior, or weird “ducklings” when they didn’t look or act like them— like a duck.  Just like the Ugly Duckling from the fairy tale, they have taken their duck-families’ words and deeds seriously and personally because like young waterfowl they were imprinted by, and bonded with the ones who were supposed to love and care for them.  I know from where I speak.  I ended up with ducks, too.  We chose them to learn to see and trust our true spiritual selves in the face of all odds so that we could help transform our world through the lessons we learn.  If it all works out, living with ducks forces us to figure it all out pretty fast.  When it doesn’t, it can result in mounting self-esteem issues, fear, and failure.

The trouble for us Ugly Ducklings begins when we try to be like our duck families, friends, or neighbors.  We zip up our little yellow duck-suits and pretend we like what they like, feel what they feel, and care about what they pay attention to.  We also feign that we’re not psychic, don’t feel their emotional energy, and can’t read their minds.  We try out for sports we can’t play, major in courses we couldn’t care less about, or hold soul-killing jobs just to earn a ducky-paycheck, trying to please ducks and fit in with them.  Then we feel sad, angry, or like a square egg in a round hole when it all doesn’t work out.  Amazingly, when we’ve looked in the mirror we’ve seen the same inner ugliness and ineptitude reported to us by the ducks around us.  The issue was skewed comparing.  What did we expect from using ducks as mirrors?  Swan Lake?

I used to joke that I was raised by wolves, but they were just ducks.  My duck-family pressured me to conform and made it unmistakably known when I was out of step.  My artistic abilities and empathic sensitivities were systematically derided, discouraged, and punished.  My younger brother is an un-awakened Ugly Duckling as well and has always struggled to walk like a duck.  He sees auras and trance channels but doesn’t see any duck-use for them.  My senior sibling, The Scientist, took the path of least resistance and is duck through and through.  He fell into line with my parents, his teachers, and clergy because it was safe and out of fear of reprisal.  He still pokes fun at me for my spiritual proclivity and non-duck lifestyle.  Sometimes ducks can be jealous that they are not swans themselves.

Over time, the emotional and spiritual pressure of trying to be like a duck in order to achieve duckcess became more and more overwhelming for me and I became unproducktive, depressed and physically ill.  Fortunately, and just like the Ugly Duckling of the fable, when I was at my lowest point in life, I started to get glimpses of other swans.  They were the other spiritual souls that I met as I embarked on a path to heal myself and I began to take another look at who I was.  It didn’t take too long to suspect that I, too, was a swan, albeit one raised by ducks.  As my discernment grew, I started to see ducks for what they are; fearful, repressed, and often angry souls, blindly following the tail of the duck ahead of them as they waddle through life.  Firmly stuck in their egos, they try to convince others to be like them too, for it makes them feel better about their duckiness.

I bless my wife, Kate, in that her family recognized her artistic and spiritual nature and while not always understanding it, mostly encouraged and honored her.  Sadly, they too, were raised and influenced by ducks and had some trouble seeing their own swan nature.  With good intentions, Kate was reminded by them and other ducks of the importance of finding a way to get the perks of duckdom by giving up her dream of being an artist for something safer, like teaching school.  As beautiful and talented as she is, she still doubted herself because she wasn’t good enough— at being a duck.  When I met her, Kate reflected my swan-nature back to me and I got a glimpse of the inner beauty I had only hoped was within me.  I’m still working to allow it to fully emerge.

Ugly Ducklings of the world, there’s nothing wrong with us!  It’s all a case of mistaken identity.  We have come to define ourselves by duck-standards instead of our own higher, spiritual ones because there was no one around to help us remember our soul nature— just ducks.  You’re not here to buy into their world but to build a better one.  We can’t let their incessant quacking wear us down.  (I find imagining them sounding like Donald Duck helps.)  No one’s clipped your wings, young swan.  You just can’t fly like a duck!

In truth, all of us are “swans” at the level of our souls.  Some of us have just spent many lifetimes living like ducks and the habit is hard to break.  Now the Evolution of Creation is encouraging us all to look into impartial, non-duck mirrors and see our true selves.  Spirit has a plan for this planet.  It’s destined to become “Swan World”.  I think the ducks know this and want to stop it because they like being ducks.  It’s easier to be a duck than spiritual.  Ducks also get more stuff because they’re willing to fight over it and hoard it.  (Material things are very seducktive.)  It’s a lot harder living the life of a spiritual swan, but it’s worth it.

So what’s an Ugly Duckling to do?  First of all, memorize this important truth:  If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, waddles like a duck, and quacks like a duck, IT’S A DUCK!  Learn to recognize ducks for what they are and yourself for the spiritual Being that is beginning to emerge.  It’s a simple process of deducktion.  Make note of the duck nature of the mundane world around you and acknowledge it without internalizing its negativity.  Know when you’re stepping in “duck-stuff” and steer clear of it.

Second, look for other Ugly Ducklings and acknowledge them.  (We all need to swim together to turn the tide.)  Seek out and hang with swans whenever you can.  You’ll feel better.  Lastly, learn to wing it—have faith in yourself and allow yourself to soar no matter what the ducks say or how they look at you.  Teach the ducks another way to BE by letting your swan-light show wherever you go.

One caution: beware of ducks that fancy themselves swans.  You’ll see them in the form of people who are trying to appear spiritual when they are still totally stuck in their duck-egos.  They see holistic healing and spiritual development as money making, ego boosting, “growth industries” and will tell you what you “should” do. (Be like them, of course.)  They’ll want you to join their flock and pay them for the privilege.  Trust your inner-swan and you’ll know which bird is which.

 If you get a chance, come by the Mesa Creative Swan Center and join with other swans to make art, be psychic, talk about spiritual topics openly, give a healing, hug, laugh, sing, dance, beat drums, and other decidedly non-ducky stuff.  On your way in, glance at the little lake on the road up the hill to The Mesa and you might see the two real-live swans who live there.  They are warrior-birds, and the local ducks know not to mess with them.  Otherwise, they’d kick their tails and send them quacking.

About Brad Silberberg

Brad Silberberg, director of The Mesa Creative Arts Center in Burgettstown, PA (Pittsburgh area) is an artist, holistic healer, spiritual leader, and change agent.
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