Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
Snow White is haunted by her narcissistic stepmother until she comes of age and finds herself in a position (with a little help from a love struck prince) to liberate herself and live the life she wants.
I have always been fascinated by this fairy-tale and puzzled by some dilemmas:
- Why does Snow White’s father give his new wife the power to hurt his beloved daughter?
- Why does no one challenge the stepmother’s wickedness?
- How does a princess know how to care for seven dwarfs?
- Why is she hiding instead of fighting her cruel stepmother?
Many people (both male and female) put up with wicked mothers (and fathers) despite the fact that these people, who are meant to care for their children (or stepchildren), constantly put them down, criticised them or ignored them. Abuse comes in many disguises and it is particularly damaging when it is done “in the child’s best interest” because it leaves the child feeling guilty.
Last week I came across a book which was like a revelation to me. I was looking for some literature which could help me to understand the following dilemma better: despite being financially secure and having interesting careers, these women still felt empty inside and “never good enough” no matter what they are achieving (e.g career, children, relationships). Mostly people facing this dilemma are highly motivated to engage in therapy and lots of insight is gained rapidly until they hit on their relationship with their mothers.
Initially mothers are often described as the women’s best friends. And then it transpires that these friendship only work. in one direction: as long as the daughter focusses her attention on the mother things are going relatively smoothly, but the minute the daughter dares to put herself at the centre of attention mother can’t cope. These individuals feel that they owe their mothers and that it is their responsibility to make their mums happy. But somehow however hard they try their mother will belittle or plainly ignore these efforts, or act as if this kind of behaviour is what the daughter owes her.
Karyl McBride, explains this phenomenon in her book “Will I ever be good enough? Healing the daughters of narcissistic mothers.” (2009). She describes how daughters of narcissistic mothers either turn out to be high-achieving (and still not satisfied) or self-sabotaging (e.g. through their behaviour or unhealthy relationships). I wouldn’t agree that it is only daughters who are affected as I have seen many male clients with similar issues.
However this book provides a useful source for any therapist or client and it gives important insights and mind provoking ideas how to come to terms with your relationship with your mother and how to move on from it, also without the help of prince charming.
And back to the question why her father didn’t support Snow White? Well, he was so busy looking after the needs of the queen that he had no energy left to also look after the princess (and he would also have had to pay the price for putting the princess before the queen).