By: Hellen Reis Mourão
The stepmothers contribute to the evolution in the heroine’s journey.
The relationship between `mother and daughter´ is really intense, both the dedication and affection, as much as struggles and conflicts. The fairy tales are filled with registers about these stories, not only in relation to conflicts and difficulties, also the solutions between dilemmas and generations.
It is quite common to see the most famous heroines such as Cinderella, Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel in several disputes and conflicts with the mother or stepmother. However, it is through these disagreements that the heroine becomes more developed and mature as a woman.
The stories which describe the relationship "mother and daughter" reveal to us the woman who develops your own personality and identity, while a feminine human being, from her relationship with her mother. And when the mother figure is absent (whether by death or absence of feelings), this woman develops an insecurity about herself, often it falling into the trap of her animus (male side) and maching to it. Being equal to animus, she harms her relations, in a self-sabotage behavior, because this masculine side tends to separate the woman from her own life and leading her to loneliness.
But, before starting the analysis of this sensitive relationship, it is necessary to observe the girl's dynamic, since her childhood.
The earliest period of childhood, most children (both girls and boys), live in an archaic identification relationship with their mother. If we observe the girls, one can notice that they speak with their dolls like their mothers speak with them, closing to imitate their mother's voice.
At that stage, the play of "motherhood" with the dolls is very common for the majority of girls. As they grow up, those who had a "positive" mother model often imitate it. According to the German analytical psychotherapist Marie-Louise Von Franz, this creates a peaceful atmosphere without conflict, however, at the same time it is bad for the girl's individuation process, so that she is unable to become different from her mother.
Therewith, there is an unknown in this issue. If there is no mother around the woman, she will probably be insecure in relation to her femininity, being also an easy prey for her animus. But with a very kind mother, she will become just an extension from her mother and her maternal ancestors.
So, how to resolve this impasse?
The Wicked Stepmother encourages the heroine to become more mature.
Generally, the heroine’s journey starts with the princess's birth and the subsequent mother's death, it is followed by the stepmother's arrival or the appearance of some evil witch. In famous stories such as Snow White and Cinderella, there is the classic theme of the stepmother; in Sleeping Beauty and Rapunzel a witch appears and pursues the heroine.
In psychological terms, the role of a stepmother and a witch is to emphasize the negative side of motherhood. After pursuing the heroine and almost lead her to death, this negative mother starts an action that develops the deepest female personality.
There is a kind of `maternal wickedness´ in nature. The fox bites its puppy when it reaches a certain age and needs to become independent and free. Mothers that still have a good maternal instinct keep the children that are too attached away from her, like a wild animal. However, it is noteworthy that this evil instinct is positive. Currently, our society, guided by the patriarchal principle, judges this female behavior as immoral and because of that there are many childish adults that are still tied to Mommy's apron strings.
Why do mothers usually die in fairy tales?
Nowadays mothers have an excessive sense of duty and obligation in relation to children.
They just think like a `good mother´ that most closely resembles a reaction of the woman's animus, with rules and judgments instead of an appropriate and instinctive reaction of her feminine.
In fairy tales there is the "good mother" figure who teaches lessons, love and human warmth to the heroine. In Cinderella, this "positive mother" offers advices to her, so she can become a better person, and when the mother dies it grows a tree on her grave that helps the girl. In Russian fairy tale, The Beautiful Vasilisa receives an inheritance after her mother's death, a doll that also helps the little girl. These fairy tales always show us that a spiritual inheritance from the ‘good mother’ always stays in the woman’s spirit.
The major lesson about these stories is that the mother does not need to worry about the dark side of her motherhood. All the love and care that is given to the daughter will serve as a guide in her journey, assisting her.
However, the good mother usually dies or disappears from the fairy tales. That means that the daughter, psychologically, should not be identified with the mother figure anymore, even if a core positive relationship exists between both. The "death" of this good mother is the beginning of the woman's individuation process.
The fairy tales show us the woman who should seek her unique way to live her life. She needs to learn how to set limits between what is hers and what is from her mother. The psychotherapist Von Franz mentions that, psychologically, the women more than men tend to identify themselves with the members of their own sex. For this reason, the fashion, for example, It´s focused massively on women, due to the necessity to be accepted, because of that, they, more than men, suffer to be different from their mothers and the standards set by society.
In clinical practice, this mother-daughter fusion is often the core reason of the women's neurotic conflicts.
The good mother´s death means a lot in fairy tales, not only for the child, but also for the woman.
This loss suggests symbolically that the mother must remove the projections she made on her daughter and accept her own creativity and feminine power.
After all, many women try to be what they could not be in their daughter's life, not experiencing fully their own creative potential.
Stepmother represents the rupture with the mother
In Fairy tales, the symbolism of the stepmother and the witch who separates the daughter from her original family, shows us that this break is necessary for the women's development, they must endure the projection from this terrible and negative mother, in order to not feel guilty and an evil mother in the future.
In real life, when the woman begins to separate psychologically from her mother and also from her origin family, she tends to become irritated and aggressive, she starts to see the mother figure as an evil witch. This aggressiveness is natural and understandable, because she is still unaware of her own personality.
When the mother takes on her negative role shown in fairy tales as the witch or stepmother figure , it not only helps the daughter in her development, but it also helps her to develop and expand her feminine awareness.
The psychotherapist Von Franz explains that when the innermost human personality begins its development, it creates an irritation in the environment that surrounds it. And this perception disturbs the unconscious and instinctive family order. For the psychiatrist Carl Jung, it is similar to a sheep herd that realizes that one of its members wants to live by itself.
For this reason, when the conflict "mother and daughter" is installed, it is a sensitive moment, but very beneficial, because both can stop projecting their "feminine self" on each other and assume their individuality.
Fairy tales teach the benefits for negative side of motherhood
The feminine fairy tales emphasize the heroine who must endure suffering and difficulties. She does not fight with dragons and wicked witches, she only suffers and deepens in her pain and conflict searching for self-knowledge. The woman lost this feminine force in her eagerness for seeking it outside. It is a big confident attitude in life, an incubation process.
The experiences about the negative side of motherhood in fairy tales show us the wickedness as a force for women's development. If a woman does not have these experiences with her mother, her feminine expression will be incomplete and she will develop a large insecurity when she becomes mother. In the moment that she needs to use her negativity with the children to help them grow up, she may use books and read recipes to look for what is wrong and politically incorrect. This woman will not know how to say no to the children or impose limits, and the worst part is that when she does it, she will use unnecessary and brutal force.
Therefore, briefly, the fairy tales teach us that the mother must show her negative aspects to help her child's development. When she only exposes her positive side, her offspring will have difficulty to mature.
The reading and understanding of fairy tales can redeem this true psychological feminine that was suffocated by inﬂuence, laws and norms of patriarchal behavior. Instead of blaming, the woman needs to accept herself and also her dual nature. Instead of rules and prohibitions from her mothers, it is necessary to bring to the women the best psychological education, in order to happen the acceptance of her feminine shadow as an ally, and not as her enemy.