Dancing in the Shadows by Laura Bryannan

Chapter 9


The stories, tales and shows we loved as children often contain clues about the needs we had at that time. We might not have been in touch with our needs on a conscious level, but they were there nonetheless. Immersing ourselves in particular realms of story and fantasy met some of these needs, and you can look at the kinds of stories you loved to see what those needs might have been.

Some women loved the Nancy Drew books. Nancy Drew had no mother, and a supportive father who didn't require her to be a proper lady to receive his love. Nancy got into all sorts of adventures, some of them dangerous, and she got herself out of them every time. Can you see the clues here? A little girl who loved Nancy Drew probably felt a lot stronger inside herself than her family allowed her to be. She wanted to be independent and adventurous, with supportive parents capable of seeing her abilities. No matter how victimized such a little girl might have been, Nancy Drew books might have kept her in touch with her Highest Self.

Some women loved stories about animals or horses. Animals can certainly represent our innocent and instinctual selves, and horses are powerful, beautiful and swift--we could jump on their backs, ride away, and no one would be able to stop us! Animal stories are often about how the animal encounters harrowing adventures or mistreatment, with the animal surviving to become free (or back in the arms of a loving caretaker) at the end. It's not hard to see how a traumatized child might cling to the messages in such stories, identifying with the struggles and adventures of the animal. Loving arms to rescue us from our pain might not have been there in real life, but reading about our favorite animal friend's happy ending was certainly better than nothing.

Analyzing our favorite childhood stories can help us understand what our hopes, dreams and secret needs were when we were young. Exploring our childhood through these stories is also a safe way to get back in touch with feelings long-buried. Since we're exploring beloved stories rather than the abuse itself, the mind will allow important emotions from this time in our lives to arise, perhaps for the first time. For many women, this is an eye-opening exercise: it can be quite a shock to see how your favorite story, long forgotten, fit quite exactly with the circumstances of your childhood now that you remember the abuse.

Stories from Childhood

Stories from Adult Life

The next step, for those interested in carrying this exercise further, would be to look at the favorite stories of your adult life.

Exploring the differences in story line, tone, and the personalities of the characters can give you clues as to what you're consciousness is still working on and what it has handled.

Fairy Tales About Abuse

Reading and researching myths and fairy tales provides a wealth of information about the pathways in and out of abusive situations. Creative thinkers can play with the symbolism in these stories and find new ways to approach their own story. Rather than give you any techniques about what to do with these fables, I'd simply like to provide an outline of how to get started. The following fairy tales are from the Grimm brothers. If you want to play with this, try to get a recent translation of the fairy tales you want to read. Grimms' Tales for Young & Old, translated by Ralph Manheim (Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1977) is a good place to start. Older versions were often Christianized and sanitized, and lack the juice of more accurate translations.

If you wish to explore different ways to interpret the symbolism in stories and fairy tales, I would recommend seeking out the following books: The Wounded Woman: Healing the Father-Daughter Relationship (Shambhala, 1983), On the Way to the Wedding: Transforming the Love Relationship (Shambhala, 1986), and Meeting the Madwoman: An Inner Challenge for Feminine Spirit (Shambhala, 1993), all by Linda Schierse Leonard, Ph.D.; and Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D., (Ballantine Books, 1992). Although each of these books explores different areas of life that may be of interest to survivors, all of them utilize the symbolism in modern and ancient stories to explore the life-affirming pathways and options that have been available to humanity since the beginning of time. All of these books can help you learn how to work with the symbolism in fairy tales (and in your own life), and are wonderful healing tools in and of themselves.

The myths of the Sumerian Goddess Inanna and the Greek Goddess Persephone are two of the most famous tales of interaction with the shadow side of life--something all survivors experienced. The stories of these two Goddesses can almost be seen as timelines or maps, marking the inevitable downward descent into grief, the most effective approach to healing, and the upward ascent into new life. They can provide guidance and support while you're on your path to healing, helping you see where you've been and what you have left to accomplish. Survivors are encouraged to research these myths and explore the lessons presented there.

To explore the myth of Inanna, a good place to start is the book Descent to the Goddess: A Way of Initiation for Women, by Sylvia Briton Perera (Inner City Books, 1981). A wonderful exploration of the Goddess Persephone can be found in The Goddess Within: A Guide to the Eternal Myths that Shape Women's Lives, by Jennifer Barker Woolger & Roger J. Woolger (Ballantine Books, 1987).

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Last Updated: 1 feb 99
Laura Bryannan