The Crack: Disaster or Doorway
Updated: Jun 15
I have three figurines that sit in a row on my bookcase. Although they look as if they have always been together, they did not originally come to me as a set. In fact, two were given to me over a period of years as gifts by a close friend and the third by my daughter. One day, out of the blue, I saw them as connected, metaphorically representing a developmental progression of the self. The process goes like this:
This little Humpty is the first in the series. He represents the self in Stage 1, the self we are most identified with most of the time. By around age 7, we have adopted him as our favorite sense of self. In psychology we call this identity the ego or the programmed self. (I always call it the Egg-O.) This is the self -image that we unconsciously created when we were little in order to bring us the experience of safety and security, some sense of power and control, and to win us affection and esteem. Assuming that our authentic self, the one we were born to be must be unseemly or unacceptable in some way, it's as if we fashion a little papier-mache facade, paint a happy face on it and then step inside to hide our truer nature. Over time, we forget all about that original self and just toddle around as the imposter. This false identity usually works for us pretty well through the first half of life, although the timing on this can vary greatly. But for many of us, at about mid-life we begin to feel as if our favorite forms of coping aren’t, in truth, really bringing us safety or control or affection, after all. This is usually experienced as very disturbing.
Sometimes this is a gradual dawning, as if waking up from a deep sleep. This feels really uncomfortable. Other times, this waking-up is abrupt and extremely painful. Either something disastrous has happened on the outside– like losing a job, a romantic break-up, being brought down by addictions, contracting a life-threatening illness or the loss of someone we are close to – OR – Something inside of us begins to feel suffocated, boxed in, completely out of synch with ourselves. This shocking disruption comes in a myriad of forms, but what they all have in common is that we can’t hold ourselves in the wrapper anymore. We lose all of our cherished touchstones that in the past gave us a sense of a consistent, familiar place on the planet. And when this happens, that childhood plan for safety and control and happiness cracks wide open. We are left in a no-man’s-land, neither here nor there. A crack in our shell is what we had been guarding against our whole lives. It leaves us feeling shocked, confused and all alone, untethered. In the midst of all this confusion, the one thing we know for sure is that this terribly disturbing thing that has catapulted us out into the great unknown should never have happened – OR – Some wonderful thing that we always assumed would happen, should have happened by now has not.