Humpty’s Hard Shell

Humpty’s arrogance and self-confidence seem to come from his belief that his shell is durable enough to adequately protect him. And what about us? What makes our shell grow thicker and stronger? What makes us think we are adequately protected?

Life situations, where we might have felt vulnerable, might have felt hurt by someone’s penetrating criticism but where we were able to ignore or counter the attack, contribute to a thickening and strengthening of our shell. Our accomplishments help as well. Also our ability to cope and control.

Humpty convinces himself that the King will not allow harm to come to him. We, however, come to believe we don’t need a King to protect us. We have learned how to protect ourselves. We are invincible. And besides, we’ve been perched on our wall so long we’re certain we can keep ourselves from falling.

Remember, Humpty, like all eggs, if they have been fertilized, should develop into a new creature. In order to emerge from his shell, the chicken must be strong enough to force his way out. If he is not able to peck through his shell, he simply dies inside. No one comes to his aid. Another case of survival of the fittest.

And what about us? We cannot imagine wanting out of what we have worked so hard to establish. We can’t imagine destroying what we’ve worked so hard to harden. And if we did feel a yearning to peck our way out, we doubt our beaks would be strong enough to penetrate the impenetrable.

Something must happen to make us want to emerge and that same something must be the enabler as well as the catalyst. That something is found through the deep desire for something more.

Being OK

I think Humpty Dumpty’s arrogance in the Lewis Carroll classic, and our own, must come from a sense of insecurity. If we felt genuinely OK about ourselves, wouldn’t we be inclined to believe that others are basically OK as well?

Thomas Harris, in his 1967 I’m OK—You’re OK , delineates four situations of OK-ness or the lack of. I agree. Early in life (for me, it was the punishment for crying at age three and a half), something happens to propel us out of our feeling of safety and security and into one of not OK-ness. As we grow, our attitude may morph from ‘I’m Not OK, You’re OK,’ into ‘I’m Not OK and you aren’t either; or I’m OK but you’re Not’—all thinly camouflaging the continuation of our deeply-rooted feeling of Not OK-ness.

Harris also talks of the Parent-Adult-Child alive within each of us, each of which is constantly interacting with the others. My interpretation of his explanation is that our inner Parent, originally nurturing, becomes a judging Tyrant, a constant source of criticism of the Child. And the Child, the source of authentic feelings in the psyche, begins to feel like an Orphan, deprived of the nurture and love it needs to thrive. The Adult, the part that functions effectively in the environment, begins to feel l like a Victim of both inner and outer forces.

Is it any wonder then that all these inner Not-OK feelings would erupt in arrogance, anger, and projection?

In the 1970s I read an explanation of projection in human relationships, how we identify and judge in others the very faults that we have not addressed in ourselves. The idea interested me greatly, but it took nine years before I could finally see the reality of it in myself!

Our Inner Wisdom seeks to transform all our manifestations of not-Ok-ness into an OK-ness that erases negative attitudes and behaviors and makes us genuinely OK. What is needed is our engagement with an Inner voice until we come to trust that it can do what we most desire and haven’t been able to do for ourselves.

Alice’s Arrogant Humpty

Wanting her to be familiar with Lewis Carroll’s chapter on Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass, I had my visiting 10-year-old granddaughter read it with me. Afterward we discussed what we had read. She commented, “Well, I didn’t know Humpty Dumpty was like that! I thought he was a nice egg.”

Humpty’s arrogance is obvious. He is furious that Alice should know a rhyme about him. He emphasizes, as they discuss it, his importance to the King who, Humpty is certain, will not allow any harm to come to him. He discounts Alice’s name with the argument that a name must mean something—tell something about the shape or character of a person. And he is quite proud of his own. (Incidentally, the name Alice means ‘of noble birth; princess.’)

The conversation continues unsatisfactory as Humpty dismisses all of Alice’s mannerly attempts to befriend him. He expounds on his control over his environment, boasting that he makes words work hard for him and uses them to mean whatever he wants them to mean.

He tells of orders that he gives others, outraged when they are not immediately obeyed. He recites a poem he has made about the demands he made of some fish. We are left wondering what is going on at the end of his poem where he finds that the door leading out of his house is locked and he cannot open it.

I wonder if we’re not a little like Humpty—a little too proud of ourselves. A little too smug about our control over our environment. A little too boastful of our work ethic. A little too disdainful of others who haven’t quite accomplished what we have.

I wonder where this arrogance comes from. And I wonder if this arrogance might be locking us in our own homes—in our own shells