There is a reason that Cinderella is one of the world’s most favourite fairy tale. At its core Cinderella is a story about an orphan trying to cope with the grief and disorientation that follows such a devastating loss. And if this is not enough, in one fell sweep she ends up with a horrible stepmother and step sister who make her life a living nightmare. Although in real life the good girl never wins in this fairy tale she ends up with the prince. This is the seduction of this story, but there is so much more depth and complexity too it.
There is a lot of richness in this story on an experiential level and it is a paradise for archetypal patterns. The story brings out feelings of revenge, pity, jealousy, suffering, grieving, loneliness, the desire of a better life, the desire for justice and more.
And a series of archetypes make their appearance: the Orphan, the Stepmother, the Prince, the Princess, the King, the Queen, the Victim, the Saboteur, the Servant, the Heroine, the Father, the Mother, the Fairy Godmother, the Martyr, the Magician, the Child, the Trickster,…
It is a story of loss of inner safety and self-acceptance as represented in the loss of Cinderella’s true parents and the abrupt ending of the sheltered childhood. Even though Cinderella has no memory of her Mother, in her imagination she has a vivid presence. And later Cinderella is compared to her mother and is wearing her dress and the shoes; a symbol of hope.
The true Mother and the Step Mother are the symbols of acceptance and the fall into fears of self-rejection. In life it is our choice to pick one over the other. In the story it is not a choice and often initially in real life there doesn’t appear to be a choice too and self-acceptance needs to be arduously claimed. In the story this emotional twist is resolved with the appearance of the Fairy Godmother; the higher self that pushes us to become self-empowered and self-accepting.
Cinderella has no time for herself, she is the Servant of the family. The only time she has is the time spent on self-talk. She is trying to keep a hopeful spirit but her awful Step Sisters ruin everything for her. Symbolically the Sisters are her inner voice, her ruthless self-critique that undermines her progress each step of the way. Cinderella can never win and keeps coping with her inner ongoing struggle.
We all suffer setbacks and struggle and have to fight our way back into a life with purpose. The story appeals to our hidden desire for suffering in the hope that enough suffering will entitle us to a better life, but that is a fairy tale. The pearl of wisdom of this story is about the grieving process and the healing through acknowledging and deeply experiencing the loss.
Another aspect of learning in this story is the fact that Cinderella stays true to her dreams. In her own world she keeps her imagination and dreams alive. She knows that ultimately this will create her reality. And she is aware that she needs to keep her dreams close to her chest, since her sisters would rip them apart. She knows about the power of positive self-talk and destructive force of others …
In times of crisis we can feel very alone as Cinderella does, but it is important to realise that helpers can show up out of the blue and they can come in many variations. It could be the neighbour next door, a total stranger, a friend from a lifetime ago.
And lastly the beautiful dress plays a big role. The dress is a symbol and it closes the loop of bringing her back to her noble origin.
And yes, she gets the Prince too. That is why is it called a fairy tale.
Cinderella’s story is the journey of maturing into a responsible, confident adult and overcoming her nagging self-doubts played out by her mean step sisters (her inner voices).