The IPNB of Fairy Tales: How We Learn About Ourselves from Stories – January 2014
Once upon a time there was a little girl who was excruciatingly lonely, but felt confused because there were people all around. Even though they were telling her things and taking her places, she felt hungry for connection and warmth, so she wondered if she were crazy. Then one day she learned to read, and she found out there were books about magic. The people in the fairy tale books made sense in a different way, and when she was with them, she wasn’t lonely any more. Their world had depth and color and flavor. Suddenly, it was a feast. When she closed the books she was alone again, and she was still confused, but she had a hope that there was something larger and warmer than the world her family saw. And she hoped that magic was real.
And once upon a time there was a little girl who loved the idea that more was happening in the world than we can see and hear. She loved people being able to affect one another even if they weren’t in the same room, wishes coming true, happy endings, fairy godmothers with gifts, people who could fly, talking animals, and boots that could stride for seven leagues. And she delighted in kindness being noticed and remembered and rewarded; she loved it when integrity mattered, when people followed their dreams and when class structure was turned upside-down, the prince marrying the goose girl.
The most compelling stories of my life have been fairy tales. I read and re-read them as the woven background of my childhood. They live in me and there is a part of me that has integrated those narratives as an internal truth, a litmus test for beauty and integrity, and a basis for understanding human nature. So as an adult, as I have found the same pleasure in the principles of IPNB, I have wondered whether the same wellspring fed both of my passions. That wondering was the root of this month’s teleseminar. (and my Baba Yaga article, just published in the GAINS quarterly – click here to access from my website.)
Oftentimes when we talk about what we have learned from this kind of story, we curse the unrealistic vision of perfect fairytale love, marriages made in heaven, and lived out in bliss. And when that is all we remember, we sell magic short. It turns out that fairy tales come closer to the right hemisphere truth of our real interconnectedness, and to telling us truths about the ways our brains and bodies work, than we may have realized. The early hopes we may have had that magic was real actually come true in the world of Interpersonal Neurobiology.
Strength. Kindness. Inner and outer beauty. The need for goodness. Rewards for staying true to ourselves. The importance of sensitivity. Waking from dissociation. The immutability of destiny, and the surprise of our destiny not being what you would expect. Sexuality’s change from disgust to love and pleasure as we grow up. All of these truths are brought to us by the pleasure of fairy tales. And the inner world of IPNB lives in them, too. The channels of the vagus nerve, the hemispheres, self-regulation, what happens when it is the amygdala that controls our tongue.