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Beauty and the Beast as a Psychological Lesson

In this post Josh Gressel looks at the psychological lessons embedded in the "Beauty and the Beast" fairy tale: we need to love the part of ourselves we find repulsive and "beast like."

Last week I wrote about the need to get comfortable with our issues, because they're here to stay. That put me in mind of one of my favorite fairy tales:  "Beauty and the Beast."

Most all of us are familiar with this tale, which is told in several variations.  For this posting, let's go with a very abridged summary: There is a beautiful young woman who volunteers to be imprisoned with a terrible beast in order to save her father. The beast looks horrible, and Beauty shuns him, fears him, and longs to escape from him. Each night the Beast asks her to marry him; each night she refuses.

We the readers know that the Beast is something Beauty must learn to love without any coaxing or inside information. Beauty must learn to see the beauty in the Beast.

At first there are only glimmers of something different, something in the eyes or the behavior in the Beast that clue her into a dawning realization that this Beast is not so terrible. We're rooting for her to see what we already know: she must learn to love this Beast.

I'll skip to the punch line for reasons of brevity: eventually she does fall in love with the Beast, and she kisses him. The moment she does, he is transformed into a handsome prince. In my favorite version of the story, she is so in love with the Beast that as soon as he's transformed she cries in dismay: "Where's my Beast?  I want my Beast back."

Now think of some part of you or your life that you don't like, can't accept, wish were otherwise, think of in only negative terms. Some aspect of yourself or your circumstances that has you feeling trapped, that you hate, that you want to go away or to escape from. According to this tale -- and I believe the reason it holds such sway over us for so many centuries is because it is describing something true for all of us -- you must learn to love this very thing you currently hate. Not in order to get a handsome prince in the end -- that kind of artifice wouldn't work for Beauty and it won't work for you -- but because behind every mask of ugliness there lies something of value, something you must learn to treasure and to love. Until you do, you are trapped in this prison cell of not accepting yourself or your life as it is. It is only through this kind of self acceptance, genuine and complete, that we come to appreciate our issues and challenges as the gifts they are.  That is when we can unite with this previously unacceptable feature of our lives and live happily ever after. This is when that which we despise is transformed into something beautiful.

At this point some of you are nodding your heads in agreement and some of you are thinking "Yes, but." I want to suggest that we can all do both. We can nod our head in agreement when we recall times when we have experienced this transformation of a Beast into a prince in our lives. And those areas where we are still shackled, where we are thinking "Yes, but" -- well, maybe this is the exception to this rule?

I don't believe so. While in the last post I bemoaned the heroic consciousness that makes us strive so, here is where I think the true value of heroic consciousness lies: to challenge ourselves to find the beauty in the beasts in our lives.

Next week: on the nature of victimization.

Do you have a question about struggles with your partner or within yourself? Is there a particular topic on relationships or individual psychological issues you would like addressed in this blog? Ask Josh in the comments below or email him at josh@joshgressel.com.

Josh Gressel, Ph.D., is a couples and individual therapist based in Pleasant Hill, CA. Visit his website at joshgressel.com. He is accepting new referrals.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Emily Henry January 23, 2013 at 06:54 PM
Interesting post, Josh. I agree that we all have parts of ourselves we consider "beastly" and tend to shut out or turn away from. My question is HOW do you learn to "treasure and love" those parts?
Josh Gressel, Ph.D. January 23, 2013 at 08:55 PM
Hi Emily: I don't think there is any one answer to your question. But at the most basic level, I think we have to assume that there is something right with us, not wrong with us, that makes us have this beastly part. If you think of the internal state of the beast as he is trying to woo Beauty you might get a sense of what those disowned aspects of your own psyche are feeling: hopeless, helpless, ugly, deformed and desperate to be loved and accepted. The problem usually is that these negative feelings tend to make those parts act out, like children who are at their worst when hungry or tired. So you have to be a loving parent to those disowned parts of yourself. The real key is that it can't be manipulative: I'll love this part of me so that it will be transformed into something beautiful. You have to love it exactly as it is. It is a great practice of accepting the now.

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