When I was young, I didn’t need a castle. I was joyful and spontaneous, carefree in a secure world. But slowly, subtlely, I learned that the world can be a dangerous place, and that I might need protection. I learned that there were rules and that I had to know when to behave “appropriately”, a pretty big word for a five-year old. I learned that the bully next door could treat me with cruelty and that not even my parents could protect me. I learned that no matter what I did, how good I was, I could not get my father to say “I love you” to me. I learned to feel inadequate and ashamed of not being good enough.
These are the ways I accumulated my wounding, leading to the lesson that I could depend on no one but myself to keep me safe. This happens in different ways for each of us. Some of us suffer physical or emotional abuse. Others experience physical or emotional abandonment. Whatever the source, nearly everyone comes into adulthood with a wound. And our wounding brings with it a sense of vulnerability, meaning that we have to protect ourselves from the possibility of further hurt and pain.
And so we build castles to protect our vulnerability. The walls of each personal castle are made up of different materials. For one person, the walls might be made of anger. When that person’s vulnerability is threatened, he or she reacts with anger for protection from further pain. Another’s walls might be made of withdrawal, silence or rejection. Other possible materials include insults, sarcasm, jokes, evasiveness or just talking constantly.
I built my own castle when I was around 11 years old, and I stayed securely inside for over 50 years. My walls were anger (which I used to control people), withdrawal (where I felt safe) and knowing lots of stuff (I studied 70 or 80 hours a week in college). These walls replaced the protection that I did not get from my parents and allowed me to live my life without confronting my sense of inadequacy and shame.
Life is pretty good inside the castle. We feel safe. We can let people in and best of all, we can control them. If a person we have admitted transgresses, up go the walls and I can banish him or her to the outside. And just to be sure that we stay safe, we build a huge fire at the only gate to the castle. This fire represents our vulnerability and it serves to remind us that outside the castle is a place that is not safe.
So we have safety, but we purchase it at great cost. We have always to be on guard, always evaluating who we can let in and who must be kept outside. There is no room for us to be who we truly are; in my case, that joyful, carefree, fully alive little boy. And most importantly, there is no room for real connection with other people, real love and intimacy. Because connection, that one thing that all human beings crave, requires us to be vulnerable, to show our true selves to the world.
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