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And they all lived happily ever after

When I was six or seven years old, if someone had asked me what my favourite fairy tales were all about, I’d have said princes and princesses, magic spells, enchanted kingdoms and wicked witches. The stuff that little girls’ dreams are made of (perhaps with the exception of the wicked witches…) However, looking at the stories with a more grown-up eye, I can see that many of them are also about jealousy, insecurity and our insatiable need to search for answers.

The green-eyed monster

Take Cinderella – jealousy drove the ugly sisters to treat the eponymous heroine as a servant, trying to stop her going to the Ball when they realised she was prettier, nicer and had more magical fairy helpers than them. Snow White’s nemesis, the wicked queen, was enraged by the magic mirror’s assertion that she was no longer ‘the fairest of them all’ when the young girl grew up and blossomed into adulthood. Meanwhile, Hansel and Gretel would never have found themselves anywhere near the witch’s gingerbread cottage if they hadn’t been forced out of the family home and into the woods by a jealous stepmother not wanting to share their father’s love.

Jealousy starts in the head and moves on to the heart, taking unsettling thoughts and turning them into troubling emotions that choke rationality with their firm stranglehold[1]. The negative emotions fuel more jealous thoughts and so it goes round in a toxic loop. If we want to break the loop, we need to recognise that jealousy is not something that is foisted onto us without our say.

We ‘do’ jealousy to ourselves. We forget that, actually, we can control how we feel about things that have the potential to make us jealous because we can physically decide to stop doing it. Instead, we can work towards refusing to allow ourselves to feel jealous anymore and replacing any residual toxic feelings with love for ourselves and an active contentment with what we actually have got, however hard that might seem at first.

This is well worth doing. Loving, happy feelings promote production of oxytocin in the brain, which makes you feel greater empathy, trust and a desire to build relationships[2]. In other words, the direct opposite of jealousy. Who knows? If those ugly sisters had spent less effort trying to stop Cinderella from meeting her prince and more time appreciating what’s out there for themselves, maybe they could have found true love of their own on the dance floor that night.

Questions and answers

Another common theme running through many fairy tales is the mighty quest that heroes embark upon to find the object of their heart’s desire. Quests often involve questions and riddles, but the hero always figures out the answer, saving the day, stopping the uncertainty and ensuring the happy ending.

Take the story of Rumpelstiltskin, a mysterious little man who helps a miller’s daughter spin straw into gold so that she can marry the prince. In return for his help, he asks her to give him her first child when it is born. The only way she can break the deal and keep her child is by guessing the little man’s name. She sends out messengers across the land to see what they can learn about his identity. Eventually, one overhears Rumpelstiltskin gloating aloud about how his secret will never be broken and that the child will be his forever. Of course, the messenger reports back with the name, the child is saved and the mystery resolved.

Meanwhile, the somnambulant princess, Sleeping Beauty, is only discovered in her century-old sleep by a prince who is curious enough to hack though the tangled brambles that have grown up around her castle. Questioning the status quo and acting on one’s curiosity is healthy. It can help us understand the world around us, solve perturbing mysteries and even lead us to happiness that would otherwise have remained hidden from us. It has to be the ‘right’ type of questioning though. By failing to question healthily through our own insecurity or doubts about our own abilities to succeed and grow, however, we do not learn new things, meet new people or break away from old, destructive patterns[3].

So, questioning and doubt are not always bad things, so long as they don’t prevent us from acting on our instinct to look for answers to quandaries that are holding us back. Critical thinking and active questioning stops us from simply accepting life as we know it and failing to grow beyond our current state. A healthy dose of doubt helps us to challenge the preconceptions and beliefs of others, enabling us to gather evidence on their viewpoint and assess it to see if we agree with them or not[4]. By questioning things wisely, exploring new ideas and opening your heart and mind to fresh possibilities, you will be far more likely to be rewarded, fairy tale-style, with the key to your own personal happiness. Or at least a new tale or two of your own to tell at parties.

Who? Me?

Finally, many fairy tales speak to our inner insecurities, playing on our fears about who we really are and whether the world will accept us or not. The classic story of the ugly duckling who transformed into a swan after a long period of insecurity, mockery and desire to be like everyone else is a rallying call for those of us – and there are many, I am sure – who secretly wonder if glamourous white feathers and gorgeous long necks really do lurk beneath our duckling-like exteriors. Or whether our friends’ gushing, photoshopped, shiny social media posts that grace our screens and phone every day are really representative of reality.

Insecurity boils down to fear that we won’t be accepted. That the real versions of ourselves are not good enough somehow. Fear can stand for False Evidence Appearing Real[5]. As we send fear-based messages to our unconscious minds in our heart and guts, our insecurities make that which isn’t actually true seem very real and scary. In what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy, we can sometimes actually bring about the things we fear most, simply by dwelling on them and creating insecurities around our perceived worthiness. Think about the last time you had to give a speech or lead a presentation. The more you imagine yourself failing, the more your voice will falter, your mind will go blank and your confidence will decrease.

The secret to breaking this particular curse lies once more in physically deciding to stop ‘doing’ insecurity and fear. Just as with our jealousy, we can actively work to push through our insecurities and move towards strength, perhaps dropping in on the far less toxic and understandable ‘nervousness’ along the way. Everyone feels some level of discomfort when called upon to put their head above the parapet, expose some part of themselves and put themselves in the direct path of other people’s ‘healthy doubt’. The more you work on reducing your fears, believing in your own worth and breaking patterns of insecurity, the less scary that discomfort will feel.

So, take time to stop ‘doing’ jealousy and fear and start ‘doing’ courage and security instead. Take a deep breath, grab your sword and get yourself out there. That dragon won’t slay itself, you know.


[1] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p103

[2] Source: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/275795. Accessed 10 June 2021

[4] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p206

[4] Source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/caveman-logic/201609/why-little-doubt-is-good-you. Accessed 10 June 2021

[5] Source: ‘Loving Your Life’, by Grant Soosalu, 2015, p47

Post Author: Gayle Young