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Cinderella, Survivor’s Guilt, and Psychological Freedom?

by | Nov 12, 2019 | Latest

For all it’s convenience and triteness, the Cinderella fairy tale packs a powerful, psychological punch.

And it comes down to ‘Survivor’s Guilt’.

I kid you not; I struggle with ‘survivor’s guilt’ a lot. Obviously not as seriously as those who have endured life-shattering, traumatic experiences. But the principle is the same.

And when you’re a small business, you could be hamstringing yourself out of success (not to mention your wellbeing) if you’re functioning from such a place.

What am I talking about?

Well, Cinderella is a time-tested tale that’s been retold in countless cultures, in countless ways for centuries. Not because it’s a girl’s wish fulfillment fantasy. But for much more important reasons.

You see, it comes down to narcissism, co-dependency, and survivor’s guilt.

From an early age, Cinderella lost her family, and therefore lost the only community she knew that taught her she was valued, and valuable.

She grows up with a terrible, narcissist family. And if we know anything about the narcissists in our lives, they see everyone else as a object, to be used, or fed off of as a source of emotional supply. They’re like vampires. And they frequently gravitate to positions of authority and power, because it feeds their ego.

On the other side of the equation is us. The narcissists in our lives who generally affect us are people like our parents, or authority figures like teachers or guardians. And as much as we may hate or resent them, we become codependent (defined as ‘excessive emotional or psychological reliance on another.’)

Dr. Karyl McBride has dedicated her career to counseling people about how to handle these relationships, with her blog, ‘Will I Ever Be Good Enough.’

It can feel impossibly hard to get away from these terrible figures. Which brings me to my last point, ‘survivor’s guilt’.

At the end of the story, Cinderella is faced with a life-changing choice. To accept the prince’s offer to utterly transform her existence for the better. Or to stay with the devil she knows, and refuse.

For those of us listening to such stories, it seems so obvious what the choice should be.

But in the moment? After a lifetime of conditioning to put yourself last?

How many of us are given choices that we’d love to accept, but we feel guilty about enjoying a good thing that others don’t have?

I admit to really struggling with this. And it’s with simple things, like doing something I enjoy.

I constantly berate myself that so many others don’t have these options, and have to grind and suffer. What gives me the right to be happy in this moment, to enjoy this experience?

From some magical source deep within, Cinderella got past all her psychological conditioning and accepted a chance to change her life for the better. There’s the power of that story for us.

How many of us have thought about making a change, however small or big, and shied away from it for the psychological or sentimental comfort of our status quo?

I’m not talking about some sort of Red Bull hoohah. I mean even doing something that is meaningful to you, purely because it’s a good thing.

This is something I’m learning; not to let survivor’s guilt hold me back from doing things I enjoy.

Perhaps we could think of it in this light; if it were our best friend being offered an amazing chance, how would we react? Would we encourage them to go for it? Why can’t we give ourselves the same kindness?

This has made me realize that the point of life is to work hard to make the ideal real, not the real the ideal. That’s the magic of the human condition; if we can dream it, we can make it. Not abandon the dream the moment we hit turbulence, or decide realpolitik is more practical.

Can you imagine avoiding the smooth lanes of a highway just because it’s normal for everyone to bump across a potholed backroad? Does it makes sense to never do something better or greater just because others don’t have the chance?

Perhaps we could recognize a beautiful and powerful fact.

How much more good could you do in the world if you did accept that life-changing goodness? Or that small moment of wonder? How much of a better person could you become? What kinds of better choices would you make after living in those new conditions?

That’s why we read Cinderella to our kids, and think about her swift, happy choice. It’s not about the prince and princess.

It’s all about the inner freedom to accept goodness when we see it.

And here’s the takeaway. People like us (you and me) tell these kinds of stories.

So what do you think? Leave a comment.

PS: Who’s one person you know would like to read this post? Can you share it with them? Thanks!

Dominic de Souza is a novelist-turned-marketer. He believes that passionate small businesses should stop with ads and funnels, and get back to the human roots of business: clarity, excellent service, and building a community. Everything you’re already good at.  Meet Dominic →

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