Eating Disorder Recovery: Using the language of myth and dream in psychotherapy
- Category: Dreams
Code: Man or woman, prince or princess, boy or girl is transformed into a frog. Clue: Crown on head signifies magical metamorphosis. Action Required: Find a human to accomplish three impossible tasks to free the frog encased prisoner. Question: Are you the prisoner or the human who can free the prisoner? Or are you both?
Fairy tales are old. Most were not written by a specific author. They were created over hundreds of years from bits of story, myth, dream, culture, told and retold by storytellers, altered by the storyteller’s individualism and the response of the villagers in the telling. War, famine, plague, natural catastrophes, political unrest, religious threats and change in the current society seeped into the tales.
Fairy tales hold the consciousness of a human community in images. They are “safe” stories because they begin, “Once Upon a Time.” In other words, they begin with the teller saying, “This story happened a long time ago in a land that is far away. It happened so long ago and so far away in a different time and place that it cannot affect you. You are free to listen, believe and take in what you will with an open mind and open heart or treat it casually as minor entertainment.
Dreams are similar. Waking from sleep you can say, “It was only a dream,” or “Thank God it was only a dream,” or “How weird was that?” or not remember it at all. You can also respect it, write I down, keep a dream journal, bring your dream to your psychotherapist and perhaps learn more abut what is happening in your psyche that may affect your daily life and your future.
Libraries around the world have a backlog of thousands of fairy tales from all cultures and times that contain images and story lines, relationships and human emotional forces that live within human beings of any time or society. They are “safe” because they are disguised. In my private library I have two shelves of fairy tales. Each book may hold hundreds of short tales.
Here’s how they help us. In doing your own psychological work you may have a dream or a daytime fantasy or be haunted by a particular symbol while you are awake or asleep. You haven’t a clue what it means, but it doesn’t go away. You notice it in your everyday routines. It may become more insistent and appear more vividly and consistently in your dreams. It may even be part of a nightmare.
Paying attention to this dream and finding its parallel in a fairy tale can light up your awareness, give you insight and even guide you to new and different choices in your life.
For example, characters in fairy tales often know they are more than who they are seen by others. They are under spells and need to break out of the disguise that contain them. Prince or princess, pauper or orphan, good person who makes a mistake or bad person who needs a lesson must develop beyond their previous limitations to find freedom. To appear in their true form and live the life that is their birthright they must overcome challenges that lead to their particularly needed personal development. Exploring stories with this theme can support you in doing the difficult tasks that lead to your freedom.
The stories usually present impossible tasks that must be accomplished in an impossibly short period of time. How often do we feel that the change we want in our lives require impossible effort with unimaginable assistance? Yet the stories unfold. The prisoner is released through his or her efforts, usually based on being kind to those ignored or debased in society and developing new skills and understanding. Those efforts release a reciprocity of giving in others that eventually breaks the spell.
In fairy tales, as in healing and psychotherapy, solutions are not fast nor easy. Yet, when the hero or heroine follows the trail of the original spell, meets the challenges with kindness and courage, the ultimate spell breaking is inevitable.
Once you understand the significance of the symbol or story you begin to integrate it into your life. You are in the process of making the unknown known. You have a greater understanding of your lived experience and often, can see how to make and respect changes in your life that better suit your emerging true identity.
Dreams and fairy tales are bridges between your conscious and unconscious mind. Traffic goes both ways. Alone or with a trusted psychotherapist who understands dream work, your dreams and stories can fuel your eating disorder recovery.
Joanna Poppink is a Los Angeles private practice psychotherapist specializing in eating disorder recovery with women.
To learn about her practice see: Psychotherapy with Joanna
*Image by Jill Wellington from Pixabay