Last week I wrote of what the story of Demeter and Persephone can teach us about how to cope with change and loss. We do not need to go back into the depths of history to find stories that speak to us however. Part of being human is the love of stories, every culture has them, and every culture uses them to teach the young.
The stories we learn as children come from many different sources, traditional fairy tales, comics, films, TV, video games. They all tell us how the adult world operates, give us a glimpse into its complex rules and rituals. You only have to watch small children play to see how important understanding adults is to them. Children are not just copying when they play mummies and daddies, they are exploring their understanding of the strange world of adults which they know they will one day join.
The traditional stories we tell our children do more than entertain, they teach them which values we consider important, how to deal with adversity, and that the world rewards certain things. Of course part of being an adult is discovering that things don’t always work out they way our fairy tales told us they would, How we cope with this is often an indication of how we cope with all problems we face.
One way we can learn about how we will deal with this disconnect, the gap between a world where virtue is rewarded and villainy punished, and how our lives actually play out, is by looking at what our favourite stories were as a child.
Do it now, pause for a moment, which story first comes to mind when asked to remember a childhood tale, be it traditional fairy tale, comic book, film or children’s book?
Perhaps the transformation story of Cinderella spoke to you. A child misunderstood, neglected, even abused by her family, who upon transformation has her special qualities recognised? It is a lovely story, however it demands that rescue come from those external to us, the handsome prince, the fairy godmother. This narrative can often mean we spend our lives believing it will be others who provide happiness, especially a partner. Snow White teaches a similar lesson of expecting a significant other to rescue us.
There are many stories and of course each culture has their own, even if, as Jung argues, there are universal themes. One of the spaces therapy provides is an opportunity to consider when we are motivated by these stories, when they still have a hold over us.