From Don: In his 1946 book “Confessions of a Story Writer” Paul Gallico wrote: It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader. Writing this blog post had something of that feel for me.
Something that those of you reading this post don’t know about me is that I was adopted at six weeks of age, and raised by a couple whose newborn daughter had died a few months before I was born. My adoptive parents were kind and generous in their own way, but, for whatever reason, I never bonded with my adoptive mother. The combination of the abandonment by my birth mother and the absence of a strong emotional bond with my adoptive mother resulted in me having what is termed insecure attachment in my relationships with others. In other words, I don’t trust that people will remain in relationship with me unless I behave in ways that I think they want me to behave. It is likely this deep vulnerability also contributed to the subsequent development of narcissistic personality traits.
One theory about the developmental origins of a narcissistic personality suggests that a mismatch occurs in parent-child relationships, whereby a very sensitive child experiences either excessive pampering or excessive criticism, or a mixture of both. I think that I must have experienced both. I know that I developed a strong belief that I was perfect, which, I discovered much later in life, was at great odds with the reality that I was living. The need to feel perfect meant that I had to reject anything that threatened that belief. I was left with no real sense of who I was.
Narcissism is characterized by an inflated sense of self-importance, a huge sense of entitlement, an overwhelming need for admiration, and a lack of empathy towards other people. This all stems from an underlying feeling of shame: of being flawed in ways that makes the narcissistic person feel fundamentally unacceptable to others. Narcissism can best be understood as an extreme over-reaction to largely unconscious emotional pain.
Subsequently as a child and young adult I had little or no appreciation of the natural world, let alone for people. I was so anxious and lost in my mind and it’s many stories, and so concerned with pleasing others and trying to appear perfect, that I was unable to focus on what was happening in the world around me.
Somehow over the years, with the help of therapists and the feedback from others that I received over the course of my life, I overcame the most severe of the narcissistic symptoms: the inflated self-importance, the sense of entitlement, the overwhelming need for admiration, and the lack of empathy. I still feel insecure in my attachment to others, but much less so than I used to, thanks largely to my long-term relationship with Alison. My ability to stay present to what is happening and to what I’m feeling in each moment has improved greatly over the past thirty years thanks to the teachings of Eckhart Tolle and Adyashanti and, more recently, Jeff Foster.
So having got all of that out of the way, I can now come to the good news: ever since Alison and I began travelling the world I’ve developed an increasing appreciation for nature. I particularly love the unusual and exotic animals, birds, trees and flowers of Australia, but I’ve also enjoyed the flora and fauna of other countries that we’ve visited. I especially love the colors of the exotic birds that inhabit tropical and subtropical countries, and the ungainly beauty of pelicans. But then there are all the wonderful animals we have encountered in other parts of the world: the vicuñas, flamingoes, and vizcachas of the Andes, and the dragons, sea lions, blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises of the Galapagos to name a few. I am so grateful that I am now able to enjoy the natural world: to feel a sense of joy and wonder. I feel as if I’ve been granted a second childhood, and for the first time I am seeing with a child’s eyes.
I close with a quote from Margery Williams wonderful book “The Velveteen Rabbit”:
“What is REAL?” “Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
I am very thankful for the people in my life who understand.
Photo of the day: All in a row. Pelicans in Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra, Australia.
All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2015.