Tag Archives: fairy tales

Fairy Tales

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Author Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith from The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald, Photographer Jessie Willcox Smith, Source http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/34339 (PD)

“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. Continue reading

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Filed under Child Abuse, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse

Ugliness, Part 2

As abuse victims, it is not uncommon for us to despise ourselves.  Whether physically, emotionally, or sexually abused and/or neglected as children or battered as adults, we are likely to have concluded on a visceral level that we are unfit, undeserving of love and affection.

Ugly and Bad

Young children equate ugliness with evil.  The two are for them one and the same, which is what makes ugliness so frightening to children.  The Wicked Stepmother needs daily confirmation of her good looks from a magic mirror.  Snow White has no such insecurities.  Snow White’s goodness informs her good looks, and vice versa.

Children who are physically or emotionally abused may draw the conclusion they are ugly — inside and out.  Believing themselves “responsible” for the abuse to which they are subjected, children may conclude that they are being punished deservedly, as both ugly and bad.

The Monsters Inc. and Shrek series of children’s films used humor to challenge this correlation.  Shrek considers Fiona genuinely beautiful, even in her true form as an ogre.  The classically handsome Prince Charming is actually a villain.

Self-Contempt

But for abuse victims challenging the correlation between beauty and goodness can be extremely difficult. By the time we reach adulthood, chances are that self-contempt has become part of our emotional make-up.

Contempt is a feeling of scorn. It can be a reaction not only to something concrete, but something wholly imagined. And contempt can deepen in intensity with time.

Countering Deficiencies

Abuse victims, generally, take one of three approaches, in their attempts to counter supposed deficiencies:

A.  Overachievement

Some of us become overachievers, driving ourselves relentlessly.  External awards are used as the measure of this group’s inherent value.

Unfortunately, worldly achievements are a poor substitute for such value.  The emptiness inside cannot be filled by material rewards, even those earned through great effort. The process of chasing tangible proof of intangible value is a futile task. Continue reading

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Filed under Child Abuse, Christianity, Emotional Abuse, Neglect, Physical Abuse, Religion, Sexual Abuse, Violence Against Women