Warning: Some words in this story may offend you. Skip it if you are sensitive about "dirty words."
Sooty Sarah: A fairy tale
Once upon a time there was a poor little girl who couldn't do anything right. She lived with a wicked queen, her stepmother, in a cold, gray castle. Sooty Sarah knew she never did anything right because no matter what she did, the wicked queen (who had had an evil spell put on her by an old witch) always found something wrong with it. (You need to know that the old witch had slipped a pair of shit-colored glasses on the queen, but she didn't know they were there because they weighed nothing. Since Sooty Sarah had never seen the queen without the glasses, she never asked about them. She just thought the old queen hated her which wasn't necessarily so. But back to the story.) Things went on this way for some time. The little girl trying to please the queen and the queen continually finding fault with her. Then, one day, when the little girl was older, she noticed the queen looking very pale and sick. "What is the matter?" she asked. "My, aren't we nosy!" said the tired queen, "Well, if you must know, I have to stay awake nights thinking of things to criticize you about. You're a very difficult child to criticize, you know." Sooty felt very badly and said, "Oh, I'm sorry, I'll try to make it easier." Being a good girl, she started to do all sorts of stupid little things. Actually, things went well for a while--the girl misbehaving, getting the queen's attention, and the queen criticizing the growing girl loudly. Everyone was miserable but satisfied. But all good things must come to an end. The queen's health began to fail again.
The little girl noticed right away, but she couldn't think of any new ways to be bad, so she thought and thought. Finally, she had a plan and ran to tell her stepmother right away. "I have it," she cried, "I know how you can get all the sleep you need. I'll criticize myself!" "That may be a good plan," said the queen, "it may be the best idea you ever had." Sooty Sarah was overjoyed, finally she had done something right. "You can still criticize me if you like, but I'll take over the real work," she said and rushed off to study hard at finding fault with herself. (As she got better and better at it, two things started to happen. Little glasses started to grow over her eyes too and a wall, one stone at a time, started to build up around her. The wall was always there; it went with her. Like a chimney, the wall hid and protected her from the world, which was scary because by now Sooty Sarah was not only finding fault with herself but with everything in the world as well.) Sooty Sarah found lots of faults--bad thoughts and feelings the queen could never have found--and the queen slept happily ever after.
While all of this was going on, there was an ugly frog nearby who was firmly convinced that he was the most despicable creature on earth. But a wandering wizard happened to meet him one day and whispered a magic spell into his ear. All of a sudden the frog turned into a handsome prince.
One warm, sunny day, the prince noticed a strange-looking stone chimney with a few peep holes in it. Being curious he looked in and, to his surprise, found a beautiful princess. "Hello, princess," he said, "how did you get trapped in there?" "Who are you talking to?" said Sooty Sarah. "You, of course," he said. "You are out of your mind," she answered, "I'm a dirty, stupid, mean little girl, not a princess--but since you mentioned looks, I don't mind telling you, you look shitty."
"Ah, I know what's wrong, you're under an evil spell," said the prince. "You're crazy," she responded, "and if you don't leave me alone, I'll really tell you what I think of you." "Your words don't hurt me, I'm going to stay and try to help you break your spell," he said. "Spell, Schmell," she shouted, "I hate you bastards who look at everything through rose-colored glasses!" "But, I'm not wearing glasses," he answered.
"Hum, you're not are you!" Sooty Sarah said, "OK, if you're so smart, mister prince, tear down this wall, break my so-called spell, rescue me, big boy!" "I can't do that," he answered, "Only you can do those things." "Some prince!" she scoffed, "You couldn't prince your way out of a paper bag!" The prince was patient and said, "I just know that if I tried to do it for you, the walls would get stronger and the glasses dirtier and you'd end up criticizing yourself more. You have to do it. I know a counter-spell but you have to have the courage to use it. If you do, it will turn you into a princess so we can be married and can live happily ever after." "Good line, mister, but it will never work," Sooty Sarah said softening a little, "I don't deserve to be happy!" "Yes, you do," said the prince, "I know because the old wizard told me so." With surprise, she responded, "Did he really say that? (the prince nods) Then please help me if you can. You don't know what's it's like to lie awake nights thinking of terrible things about yourself--it's awful!" "I do know," he said, "before I learned the counter-spell I was an ugly frog!"
"No foolin'?" she said. "It's true," he replied. "Then please, please help me. Tell me the magic words and I'll say them--I'll do anything," she pleaded. The prince leaned over very close to her and whispered the words in her ear. "Oh, no! I can't say that!" she gasped, "That's terrible!" "I didn't say it would be easy, did I?" said the prince, "But that's not the hardest part--you've got to keep saying it over and over, louder and louder until the spell is broken. If you weaken and quit, it will make things worse--you would end up even more hurt and angry than you are now. Is it worth the risk?" Quietly she said, "I'll try." "Good, you're half way home," smiled the prince, "But there's another part of the spell I can't tell you. You must figure it out by yourself, then the spell will be over."
"Now, recite the magic words," urged the prince. Sooty Sarah felt scared, she hesitated, then she whispered so softly he could barely hear her say, "Go to hell, Mother." "Louder," he said. "I can't," she said, starting to cry. "But you must," he said, "do it for me, we can't stop now. Say it again!" Trembling, she spoke the counter-spell again: "Go to hell, Mother!" and again louder, "Go to hell, Mother!" Inside her heart there was a terrible wrench; she thought she would die. It was the old queen waking up and her voice from within screeched, "How dare you! You awful child! I'll get you." Sooty Sarah yelled back, "I just want to be happy!" "Say it again," encouraged the prince. "Go to hell, Mother!" screamed the girl. "You terrible child!" shouted the queen in fury, "I'll destroy you." "Go to hell, Mother!" "Good, keep it up," said the prince. The raging queen thundered, "Look at the misery you've caused me. You don't deserve to be happy! Whoever said you should be happy?" "The prince did," said the girl. The queen smiled. "Who says so?" asked the prince. "The wizard says so," said Sooty a little uncertain. The queen laughed. "Who says so?" repeated the prince patiently. "I, I, I SAY SO!!" she shouted, "I say I deserve to be happy, so Go To Hell, Mother! GO TO HELL, MOTHER! GO TO HELL, MOTHER!"
Then a miracle began to happen. Every time the girl said the words, the wicked queen began to shrink. She shrank down and down way inside the girl until she was hot like a tiny coal. And she glowed red hot, down dark inside, tiny, but very angry red. Sooty Sarah knew she had not won yet. "But what can I do?" she begged the prince, "What's the rest of the spell? Please!" "You've got to figure it out yourself...and it isn't easy...and half is something you must tell your step-mother...and they are words you have never spoken to anyone in your life," he said and then added, "You must be quick--it's now or never."
The poor little girl thought and thought--what could she say to herself and her mother that would be words she had never spoken before? The coal inside her stomach was getting redder and redder. Time was running out. At that moment the prince leaned over, touched her hand and said, "I love you." Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, she knew what to say. "Oh, Mother," she cried, her tears falling down inside her onto the coal, "I know what to say! I'm OK!" Then she screamed:
"I'M OK and YOU'RE OK!
I'M OK and YOU'RE OK TOO, MOTHER!"
Now it seemed so simple. The minute she said it, she knew it was true--she really was a princess! And the wall vanished. The glasses fell away--and she knew she would never have to criticize herself again for her mother's sake. And she knew that if she could only know her step-mother's needs and suffering and sorrow, she would understand her criticism and not be angry with her. And she knew that no matter what she ever did, she would always feel OK about herself.
So, she married the prince. And it was a beautiful world.
The Sooty Sarah story, except for a few modifications by me, was given to me by Paul Shriver, a colleague of mine. Some readers are so distracted by the "dirty" words and hostility towards the mother that they miss the main points. First, self-criticism may be learned by modeling the mother or via negative reinforcement (avoids the mother's criticism) or by being praised and reinforced by the mother or by the above-mentioned reduction of stress by self-punishment. Second, the story shows the long interpersonal history behind Sooty's self-criticism, something the learning and cognitive therapists could not do because they don't collect information about childhood. Thirdly, the fairy tale fits nicely with Karen Horney's theories about hostility turning inward and resulting in neurotic needs (too high expectations or too critical a view so that one is never satisfied). Also, the story illustrates psychoanalytic repression of violent emotions which can be uncovered with insight and removed by expressing the emotion, called catharsis.
Finally, the tale has a Transactional Analysis (see chapter 9) theme. Sooty started with a "I'm OK; You're OK, Mother" attitude. That changed to "I'm not OK; You're OK" when she adopted her mother's views and became self-critical. Then to "I'm not OK and neither is anyone else." Later, when the prince's insight enabled her to see how the old queen's need to put her down had led to her hating herself, she started to hate her mother: "I'm OK; You're not OK, Mother." Eventually, to break the spell (of irrational, ain't-it-awful thinking), Sooty had to understand and accept that both she and her mother behaved "lawfully," i.e. there had to be reasons for the old queen's put downs, cynicism, and unhappiness (maybe the queen's mother was critical, maybe Sarah was prettier and smarter and a real threat to the queen, maybe...). By accepting and understanding herself, her mother, the past, and all human beings, Sooty Sarah was freed from irrational thinking and could now become her highest potential--an accepting, happy, beautiful princess.