Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

Disney Princesses August 30, 2011

In the 1970’s Westerners experienced a huge surge of awareness about gender stereotypes and we began a concerted effort to free ourselves from them. One issue receiving a lot of attention was how the depictions of female characters in traditional literature unconsciously influenced little girls’ beliefs about themselves and their place in the world. This led many women, myself included, to revisit our personal stories to see how we had limited ourselves.

Huge changes occurred in our cultural stories too. Television shows like Charlie’s Angels  featured women in roles that had been traditionally reserved for men.  Scholars like Marija Gimbutas (The Goddesses and Gods of Old Europe) and Merlin Stone (When God Was A Woman) wrote books that examined feminine aspects of spirituality. New volumes of fairy tales were re-written to give the female characters more power and control over their lives. Since then, our growing awareness has fostered greater gender balance in many sectors of society.

How then do we account for the phenomenon of the Disney Princesses? Some see them as positive role models for their daughters, but many see them as stereotypes which are bound to scar our daughters’ minds.  Why do they think this?  Because the rule for female leads in such tales as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid, and Beauty and the Beast is that they must be young, beautiful, sweetly shy, innocently seductive, charmingly vulnerable, and, for the most part, deferential to males. Moreover, although there are occasional deviations, the plots almost always follow the  masculine-hero-rescues-feminine-victim-and-conquers-villain formula for heroic behavior.

If we take these stories as literal models for gender behavior in the outer world  they are, indeed, limiting. But what if we see them as symbolic of the inner life of the soul which has a masculine and a feminine drive? What if we realize that each of us contains a sweet and vulnerable Cinderella/Snow White/Aurora/Belle Orphan who needs to be rescued from its child-like dreaminess so we can become conscious, mature, and responsible? What if we recognize the cruel Stepmothers, Stepsisters, and untamed Beasts within us who can influence us adversely if we do not become more aware of them?  What if we see that helpful Fairy Godmothers, noble Kings and Queens, and heroic savior Princes are also part of our potential and we can choose to empower them if we wish?

The characters and plots of our cultural stories are projections of our psyches that show us who we are and who we have the potential to become. If we view them as opportunities for self-reflection they can be portals to growth and self-discovery. The Disney Princesses represent a youthful stage of development of our feminine sides. As such, they will appeal to most children for a little while. A few might even stay in that stage throughout their lives — perhaps because the archetype is simply a powerful part of their true personality, or perhaps because they’re afraid to risk changing — but most will grow beyond it. And when they do, there are plenty of other role models out there to pick from.

At 6 and 9 my granddaughters have already outgrown the Disney Princesses. I wonder how long it will be before they discover Barbie and Ken…


Taming Dream Dragons July 20, 2010

When my emotional climate gets too hot for comfort or the gap between my inner and outer lives grows too wide, everything in me demands congruence. At times like this I consult my dreams like other people consult therapists. Is digging in my inner darkness hard work? Is it scary? Painful? Difficult to learn? It used to be but not any more. Now it’s fun; the self-validation and self-affirmation accompanying each insight are just so rewarding.

Last time I said my dreams from the year 2005 brought some of my shadow issues to center stage. Three were particularly troublesome. To get a better handle on them I gave them names: Orphan, Spiritual Bully, and Heroine (with an “e”) Addict.

As a child I tried not to mind my father’s long absences or bother my hardworking, emotionally exhausted mother. When I was 11 my father died. For years my dreams were dotted with needy little orphan girls whom my dream ego tried to ignore. Then in 2005 I saw how certain emotions I didn’t like — particularly loneliness, self-pity and sadness — signaled my Orphan’s presence in my waking life. As I got better at admitting to these feelings their influence waned and Orphan stopped bugging my dream ego. Since then, most of the little girls in my dreams have had mothers. Two weeks after my mother died, a forlorn teen-aged girl showed up. When my dream ego embraced her, she left, comforted. I guess Orphan is growing up.  Is Cinderella becoming a Queen?

Recognizing Spiritual Bully with his excessive perfectionism was an especially significant breakthrough. For a long time I admired this grand inquisitor’s high-minded scrupulousness. Now I see it as a sad supplication for mercy from a judgmental deity whose retribution he fears. How can I allay the dread that drives this pitiful puppet? What new, healing job would bring more warmth to such a callous fellow who believes it’s in my best interest to keep criticizing me and making me feel guilty? These questions shape my struggles to accept him as part of myself.

I was both thrilled and appalled at the discovery of my Heroine Addict. I now realize she is a product of personal trauma (the early death of my father) and cultural conditioning (hero myths and stories of saints). How could I have overlooked the unauthentic martyrdom of this Joan of Arc wannabe after so many years of dreamwork? What will bring surcease to her compulsive need to save the day with noble self-sacrifice in every situation? Each step I take toward replacing her anxiety-ridden, self-important goodness with relaxed authenticity excites me.

Integrating these shadow figures has been huge for me. Self-knowledge is balancing the extremes of my inner world, reducing my anxiety, and bringing the sense of moving a bit closer to the centered, non-reactive state of receptivity, spontaneity, and peace to which I aspire.

Carl Jung said, “. . . today most people cannot see the beam in their own eye but are all too well aware of the mote in their brother’s. Political propaganda exploits this primitivity and conquers the naive with their own defect. The only defence (sic) against this overwhelming danger is recognition of the shadow.”

Politicians take note: Killing dragons in the outer world will never free us from psychological, political, or global tyranny. The lasting solution is to make peace with our inner dragons.


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