“Once upon a time…” When we were children those were magical words. They called up a world of fairy godmothers, princes slaying dragons, and wishes come true. A fairy tale promised excitement and adventure. Best of all, we were guaranteed a happy ending.
Andrew Lang compiled hundreds of fairy tales into The Fairy Books of Many Colors. I devoured these as a child, one color after another – The Red Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book, etc. – as fast as I could lay hands on them. I simply could not get my fill. Yet I could not have said at the time what the fascination was for me.
Psychologists have long argued over the meaning and usefulness of fairy tales. These universally loved stories can be interpreted in a variety of ways.
The explanation that comes closest to my own experience is that fairy tales allow children to confront and deal with their fears and concerns – whether of abandonment (Hansel and Gretel), death (Snow White, Sleeping Beauty), rejection (Cinderella), etc. – in symbolic terms, so that those fears and concerns are reduced to manageable size.
Children get the satisfaction of slaying their own dragons…from a safe distance.
Tragically, the dragons that child victims of abuse must face are all too real. The wicked witch has come to life; the monster, escaped from under the bed. There is no sword in the stone, no magic wand handy.
We tell children fairy tales with a happy ending to give them courage; to get them ready for the dragons we know they will face as adults. Dragons with names like bureaucracy, corruption, racism, and fascism.
The dragons abuse victims face as adults have other names – names like anxiety, depression, and PTSD. Those require courage, too.
It is not necessary that our recovery be perfect. Life is not a fairy tale. But the happy ending is in our hands.
“Courage is not the absence of despair; it is rather, the capacity to move ahead in spite of despair.”
– Psychologist Rollo May
Have a Happy New Year!
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