|Émile Bertrand 1899|
(image in the public domain)
The first opera I ever saw was "Cinderella". I only went to the performance because one of our friends didn't want to go on her own. Before that, I always thought that opera was quite possibly one of the most boring things ever. The performance would change my mind forever.
Cinderella was never a story that I paid much attention to when I was little. My absolute favourite was "Sleeping Beauty". (subject for a whole other post...) However, of lately I have been musing on the story of Cinderella a lot. Particularly as it is portrayed in the 1950 Disney film. On how it's such a fitting allegory for what happens in the lives of Adult Children of Narcissists. In the film, the Stepmother agrees to let Cinderella go to the ball provided she finishes her chores and finds something suitable to wear. Cinderella believes her words and works really hard to accomplish these tasks. However when the time comes and she's ready to go, the Stepsisters -being used as flying monkeys by their mother- destroy her dress so that she can't attend. It is clear that the Stepmother never intended to let Cinderella go to the ball at the palace, but she never says an outright no; she just keeps moving the goal post. Covert aggression in all its glory... It reminds me so much of the times when I toiled to have a good relationship with Narcissistic types, and nothing I did brought me closer to the person or improved the relationship in any way. Nothing Cinderella did would have ever made any difference: there was a reason why the Stepmother was keeping her in that position. She wanted to eliminate competition so that Cinderella would not outshine her or her daughters and, while we are at it, an unpaid servant. So all the time that you're scratching your head wondering why nothing you do makes any difference, you're looking at the wrong reason for the problem. You think it's you, and that you're not trying hard enough, because if you did, everybody involved would be happy. But it's not you. Their act is a ruse. They're only saying whatever is needed to keep you in the place they want to keep you in. You think that they mean what they say because you do mean what you say. But believe me, they don't.
The analogy that I had in mind, though, is something else. In the film two mice make a dress for Cinderella out of the scraps being thrown away of what's not needed for the making of the dresses of the Stepsisters. Real life "Cinderellas" don't have mice that help them to make a dress. They have to make the dress themselves. We try to build a life for ourselves with whatever scraps of emotional resources we've been able to scramble together, only to have it all torn to shreds by our FOO the minute they realise that we've made it and are indeed "going to the ball". That's how I felt a couple of years ago: I had worked really hard to make my life happy only to have my sister come and invade it as if it was her royal right. By the time it all exploded, I felt like Cinderella: standing desolate with my dress in tatters, wondering what to do next. In the story, this would be the bit where the Fairy godmother appears and makes her a new, more beautiful dress. In real life, as you very well know, there is no Fairy godmother (not even a "real" mother, for that matter, to help you rebuild it), so you have to start again. So you have another go and "start again at your beginnings and never breathe a word about your loss" as in the famous poem* and build it up again. The life I have been able to create for myself in these last two years is so much better than what I had before, or of anything that I could have possibly imagined. An unexpected surprise that, unlike the Fairy godmother's gifts to Cinderella, will not be over at the stroke of midnight.
*"If" by Rudyard Kipling