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
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