The Ugly Duckling
Humans are biologically driven to love and bond. What are the outward signs that we are securely connected through love? A wedding ring? A Christmas card showing a picture of us with our family? Sex? Is it something less tangible, more internal: the deep knowing that we are worthy, that we are lovable? How do we come by this knowledge that we are OK and worthy? It isn’t a matter of social class, gender or education. It doesn’t depend on how bright we are, or how beautiful are. The knowing that one is worthwhile can elude even the popular and the successful.
My work as a therapist is to help folks claim for themselves a felt sense of being worthy of love. I’m not just talking about a cognitive understanding that we are worthy but a knowing at the deepest center of ourselves, a knowing in every cell of our body.
The Ugly Duckling was published by Hans Christian Andersen in 1845. It is a story about an outcast orphan who finds a way to endure under the harshest of conditions until he finds his true home where he finally knows that he is worthy. Below is a summary of the tale.
A duck mother gives birth to a big, ungainly, peculiar-looking offspring. She presented him to the others in the farmyard, who pronounced him a mistake. The farmyard animals did all they could to bully and harass the ugly duckling. They bit him, hissed at him, and flew at him. The duckling was as forlorn and wished he could shrivel up and disappear. In the beginning his mother tried to protect him, but in the end even she grew tired of the burden and finally exclaimed in surrender “I wish you would go away.” And so he did. After a long exile where he continued to be overwhelmed by too harsh conditions, he eventually found himself frozen in the ice. He was sure he would die. Others came by and made fun of his plight. Finally a farmer came by and freed the duck. He took the duck home; at the home of the farmer the duck found more trouble. Trying to escape the harsh games of the farmer’s children, he finally found himself outside, in the snow, dazed and wounded. He struggled on until he came to another house, another pond, another house, another pond. The entire winter was spent in this cycle alternating between life and death.
Finally, Spring came…
His wings, now big and strong, lifted him high in the air. He saw three beautiful swans and his heart soared. As soon as he saw them, the swans began to swim toward him. He bowed his head in preparation for the abuse.
But, wait! In the reflection in the water he saw a glorious white swan. The ugly duckling did not recognize himself at first. For the first time, his own kind came near him and touched him gently and lovingly. And he finally knew what it was to feel safe, to be home.
As humans, we can’t survive by ourselves; we are social creatures that need mutually interactive, reciprocal relationships.
If we are a psychic orphan and feel that we don’t belong, like the ugly duckling, we need to “hold on” and endure until a time where it is safe for us to be seen for who we really are. It is important for our true selves to be recognized and validated by another. The Ugly Duckling contains a psychological truth that we need another to see our essential worth before we can claim it for ourselves. And once we can claim it for ourselves, it is ours forever.