Drawing on her many years of psychology training and client therapy, Jacqueline Schectman, director of training for the Jung Institute of Boston, makes a comparison between the four archetypes in Cinderella and the stages of grief families and children she treats in therapy. In her article, she describes a step-mother who, rather than hostile and unfeeling, seems to present a structure and truth to an abandoned little girl; step-sisters who are themselves reeling from unacknowledged grief; and a father who has withdrawn into his own pain resulting from the loss of his wife. Using experiences she has shared with children and families in her practice, Schectman uses the storyline, both overt and subtle, to help her understand where children and their families are at a given point on the path of recovering from loss. To this end, she uses not so much Cinderella’s loss of her mother, but rather, the absence of her father’s attention despite his physical presence. In looking at the actual words of the story Cinderella, even a casual reader is left wondering why her father would allow callous treatment of his child by his new wife and step-daughters. What Schectman brings to light, however, is that every member of the family is engaged in grief, though this isn’t spelled out directly. Anyone who has suffered through a death of a close family member or the loss of a relationship would recognize the behavior exhibited by the step-mother and daughters as being not only understandable, but expected. By tying the tale of this family, and the part each person plays in the story, together with notes from family therapy, Schectman easily paints a picture for the reader to see how quietly and without notice fathers can become emotionally absent in a fractured family relationship. She takes this a step further by describing the real emotions and actions that the other family members endure and the benign actions that lead up to the “wicked step-child” and “wicked step-mother” behaviors. In this way, Schectman skillfully brings sympathy and understanding to the “vile and black of heart” sisters. Through the words of therapy patients who self-identify as an “ugly step-sister”, she opens a portal of understanding into the sisters’ dark grief, and allowing the reader to see them as normal people who are hurting and acting out. In a similar manner, Schectman also portrays the step-mother as the person who tells Cinderella the necessary truth, though bitter to hear. Calling this “the work on Shadow,” Schectman considers this the most painful task in therapy and one that only a step-mother would ask for (607). Schectman also discusses the failure of the step-mother on the part of her own daughters to do the inner work required to win the heart of the Prince, musing perhaps as a loving mother, she indulged rather than disciplined. “She is too close to them to see them as they are, too attached to their ‘well-being’ to offer them an honestly reflective eye.” (612) Schectman finalizes her analysis and comparison of Cinderella to the real-life work on the psyche that takes place in therapy by stating that upon being physically blinded, the step-sisters would finally be forced into doing the painful work on their own inner selves, eventually acknowledging and dealing with the grief resulting from their own father-loss.
Jacqueline M. Schectman. “Cinderella” and the Loss of Father-Love.