Dichotomous Lives of Abuse Survivors

The following is an article from H2G2 that was published some years ago.  It points out one possible effect of being taught that the bad things that happened to you were your fault, that your are bad.  Often the counterbalancing strategy is to be “perfect”.  If your could have done it all perfectly, then you would not have been hurt.   This instills a kind of black and white or “dichotomous” thinking.  The reality is that you were not hurt because you were bad and that being perfect would have changed nothing.  Moving away from dichotomous thinking opens up a broad spectrum of possibility in our lives.

For a printable version click here:  Dichotomous Lives of Abuse Survivors


It is a common consequence of traumatic life experiences – particularly in children that have suffered at the hands of abusive parents or bullying – to continue in life with a degree of dichotomous thought; a sense of a firm line separating their experience of life and its complications in rigidly polarised terms of ‘Good’ or ‘Bad’, with an impairment of ability to establish the capacity for both in their experiences, or weigh up such situations in more relative terms.

Safety First

This dichotomy of mind comes from a natural instinct that exists in all living things – the need for security and protection from harm. From an evolutionary perspective it is evident that the categorisations of Good and Bad in life experience can mean the difference between survival and extinction, but for children, not ready or able to take such responsibilities, this instinct for survival can develop much earlier and with more significant consequences for them in adulthood – especially when the danger comes all too often from those meant to protect them, at home.

Threat and Elimination

Naturally, in such circumstances as abused children suffer, they will develop a sense of life-or-death imperative with skills for assessing their environment and learning what steps they can take to control it, to find some sense of safety. Thus they learn to recognise people they can trust, safe places to go, behaviour in themselves and in others likely to precipitate abuse, and should be avoided. So, it causes a rigid black-or-white appraisal of all human experience that continues into adulthood.

Dichotomy in Relationships

It is most often recognisable in survivors’ relationships with others. It is hardly surprising that anyone who has suffered a prolonged period of victimisation at the hands of a dangerous and violent person would come away from that with very clear concepts of what constitutes good and bad, but it’s important to recognise when such a dichotomy is necessary for personal survival, and when it causes difficulty in a healthy relationship; where such a polarity of attitude can inevitably cause unnecessary conflict.

You Absolute Star / You Total B******

It may often be the case that a person may develop a relationship with someone they find to be kind, loving and trustworthy and put them on a pedestal, praising them as ‘one of the good guys’. This can be intensely unfair on the object of such praise, because ultimately it puts them in a position from which they will inevitably at some stage fail to live up to expectation, and descend from their position of grace at the first sign of fault; with detrimental consequences for the foundation of trust that existed before, and potentially lasting damage to the relationship.

Similarly, such a polarised attitude may condemn someone as ostensibly ‘bad’, based on limited experience; which may be equally unfair, as it fails to appreciate capacity for kindness and generosity they may have, as such putting them in a position of permanent misrepresentation, destined to remain there whether or not they have means or opportunity to rectify that perception.

Good v Bad Activities and Topics

Deciding some activities are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ may help survivors to classify people aswell. For example, ‘This person likes to watch Are You Being Served, insulting people who sell clothing. Therefore this person is bad.’ Or, conversely, ‘This person is a welfare worker, and therefore good.’

Because an abuse survivor will need that sense of control over their environment, it is likely they will need assurances that when they say they’re uncomfortable with an issue, discussion will cease. Sometimes parameters of topics that can be safely discussed may be stricter than necessary, which will help them prove to themselves that ‘these people care enough to follow the rules. I am safe.’

Control or Be Controlled

In any abuse situation the victim is entirely at the mercy of the caprice of the abuser – in every sense they are under control. The dichotomy that may precipitate is that one’s only choice in conflict is to have control or be controlled. Consequently then, they are likelier than most to experience that in later life, and could perceive any sort of conflict as a resurrection of that same sense of persecution, and powerlessness. It follows that the survivor’s capacity to reason through that feeling may be impaired, which will cause them to treat a situation that could be resolved by compromise and negotiation, as a greater power struggle than it actually is.

The Baby and the Bathwater

A survivor given to dichotomous experiences of life and people may have similar attitude towards the choices they are presented with in life, whether or not they concern any individual or relationship. For example, they might make efforts to avoid an occupation or activity that they would otherwise enjoy, on the basis that some element of it, or associations they have made with it (which could be worked past) triggers anticipation of danger, which equates to Bad.

Dichotomy of Feeling

Obviously, survivors of trauma are increasingly prone to suffer from depression or Post-traumatic Stress-related Triggers. In these circumstances, if they take antidepressant medication there may even be times when they may have exaggerated feelings of joy when things are going well, or depression when they aren’t. If extremes are reached it may become increasingly difficult to control, which may result in rapid cycling between moods, and symptoms similar to bipolar disorder.

Dichotomy of Self

Perhaps the most significant demonstration of this mode of feeling though is that of a survivor’s own sense of self. In a life marred by conflict and violence, it may be a natural progression for a dichotomous mind to propagate such values towards one’s own being.

This may result in the survivor struggling with a concept of themselves gravitating between roles – as having a choice to be either the victim or the aggressor, the rejected or the rejecter; a martyr to ‘goodness’ struggling against ‘badness’ as though such notions associated with ‘bad’, as for example anger, or a refusal to help others, would necessitate a crossing from one side of this imaginary line to the other.


I am Good / They are Bad

The most important, and one of the hardest things for an abuse survivor to remember is that they did not deserve what happened to them. They may believe they are good, but need to continually prove it to themselves and others. They might feel a compulsive need to help others who are abused, going to lengths that they would in other circumstances recognise as bad.

Many survivors might often seek a notion of total acceptance – investing all of their emotion and feeling to a person or group in which they are involved, hoping to be loved totally and without hesitation. Any sort of rejection will likely reaffirm their secret suspicion that they aren’t good after all, which will trigger the sadness, fear and anger they remember from the abuse experience.

This also can cause problems for one’s confidence and willingness to assert feelings of anger, or ability to admit fault or accept criticism for example, but moreover in one’s sense of personal freedom, because carried with it is a burden of responsibility to remain true to one’s own perception of right and wrong, which has naturally been exaggerated by such extremes as would be commonplace in an abuse situation. It may follow that someone with that experience would regard anger as a commodity that can only be released when it has reached a critical level beyond their control, and repress natural angry feelings up to that point as a matter of course, as a threat to such polarised personal values. This may also be compounded by an understandable sense of guilt associated with expressing anger, which can prove to be physically, mentally and emotionally very unhealthy, as one’s anger will likely be channelled inwardly, through self-neglect.

When Culture Reinforces Good v Evil

Human culture has evolved and flourished, empires have risen or fallen on that same basis – that there are two kinds of people in the world, the good guys and the bad guys. Unfortunately in the social, cultural and religious diaspora our species is, such notions of good and evil will be in constant opposition across the world for a long time to come.

No better example comes though, of the importance of such attitude to human nature, than from the storytelling tradition. As children we are taught through stories to recognise what importance there is in doing good and struggling against bad – it is the foundation for every moral challenge that awaits us as adults – and in an age where our exposure to good vs. bad stories in TV, film and music culture (and freedom to participate in those stories, socially and through computer games) grow ever more ubiquitous, sophisticated and complex, and the distance between good and bad can extend to battles between star systems and Gods, it should be remembered that such polarity of perception can be damaging to ourselves and our relationships with others, if our pre-existing sense of right and wrong, good and bad has already been taken to extremes beyond our control.

A Note of Caution

That said, it is most important to remember that such dichotomy of mind was and is a survival necessity, and in extreme situations where one’s personal health or the health of those closest to us (be it physical, mental or emotional) is at stake in a relationship, then the recognition of someone as good or bad may prove a life-or-death choice. In such circumstances, it may be better for a person not to ask if a situation is good or bad, but rather if it is safe to continue.

Evolution-Based Personality Theory

Professor Theodore Millon of Harvard came to use the title Evolution-Based Personality Theory to describe his discoveries and view of psyche.  Dr. Seth Grossman has been a key factor in extending Dr. Millon’s work.  I use the Millon Clinical Multiaxial Inventory III and the Grossman Facet Scales in conjunction with many of my assessments and treatment plans.  The following writings of Millon and Grossman, along with the link below, explicates this theory in some detail:

Dr. Theodore Millon
Dr. Theodore Millon

Millon asserted in his theory that in psychopathology it is not the overt anxiety or depression, nor the stressors of childhood or contemporary life that are the key to psychological well-being. Rather, it is the mind’s equivalent of the body’s immune system, that structure and style of psychic processes that represents our overall capacity to perceive and to cope with our psychosocial world that is the key determinant of mental health or disorder; it is, in other words, the psychological structure and function we term personality.Elements of evolutionary theory were introduced by Millon in a 1990 book owing to his belief that its essential principles operate in all aspects of nature and scientific endeavor, from cosmogony, at one end, to human interactions, at the other. Pathological forms of human functioning were interpreted by Millon as disruptions or imbalances in those evolutionary principles that foster the functions of survival and ecologic adaptation. From this viewpoint, personality maladaptations could not be fully understood by limiting attention, for example, solely to cognitive preconceptions, or to unconscious repetition compulsions, or to neurochemical dysfunctions. rather, each of these psychological dysfunctions represent a partial expression of evolutionary functions that have gone awry. Cognitions, unconscious structures, interpersonal styles, and neurohormonal dynamics were viewed, in this formulation, as structural forms or functional mechanisms that reflect evolutionary processes. Each evolutionary structure or function is important in that it serves to identify one clinical domain in which pathology manifests itself, and hence becomes one vehicle for specifying and understanding that pathology. But, each of these manifestations and correlates are not the totality of pathology, however, but one of several expressions and mechanisms of problematic evolutionary structure or functions in realms cognitive, behavioral, affective, as well as biologic.

In his 1990 book, Millon conceptualized the theoretical grounding of clinically derived personality styles and disorders. As a result, Millon deduced that the principles and processes of evolution were universal phenomena, albeit expressed in nature’s many realms at different levels and in different manifest forms.

Dr. Seth Grossman
Dr. Seth Grossman

Millon came to believe that the widespread desire among theorists to unify science should not be limited to explicating physics; that is, it should be possible in all fields of nature that have been subdivided by habit, tradition, or pragmatics (e.g., economics, sociology, geology). He believed unification to be a worthy goal even within the newer sciences, such as personology. Efforts to coordinate the separate realms that comprise the study of personality and, more specifically, that of mental disorders would be particularly useful. Rather than developing independently and being left to stand as autonomous and largely unconnected professional activities and goals, a truly mature clinical science of mental functioning, one that would create a synergistic bond among its elements, would embody, five explicit elements:

  1. Universal scientific principles are grounded in the ubiquitous laws of evolutionary theory as found in nature. Despite their varied forms of expression (cosmology, biology), these principles may provide an undergirding framework for guiding and constructing numerous specific and focused subject-oriented theories of nature’s structures and functions.
  2. Subject-oriented theories, or explanatory and heuristic conceptual schemas for specific subjects, such as personology and psychopathology. These theories should be consistent with established knowledge in both its own and related sciences and should enable reasonable accurate propositions concerning all clinical conditions to be both deduced and understood, enabling thereby the development of a formal classification system.
  3. Classification of personality styles and pathological syndromes, or a taxonomic nosology that has been derived logically from the subject areas’ theory. The taxonomy should provide a cohesive organization within which its major subject categories can readily be grouped and differentiated, permitting thereby the development of coordinated assessment instruments.
  4. Personality and clinical assessment instruments or tools that are empirically grounded and sufficiently sensitive quantitatively to enable the theory’s propositions and hypotheses to be adequately investigated and evaluated. The clinical categories comprising its nosology should be able to be readily identified (diagnosed) and measured (dimensionalized), thus specifying target areas for interventions.
  5. Personalized therapeutic interventions, or planful strategies and modalities of treatment. These interventions should accord with the theory and be oriented to modify problematic clinical characteristics, consonant with an understanding of the whole person being treated.

For a full treatment of these ideas, please view the following:  Evolution-Based Personality Theory

Soul Loss and Hope

Emily Dickenson’s life is largely a mystery.  She kept her poetry to herself for the most part.  After her death, her sister discovered her poems.  There are two in particular that I find helpful in my practice.  The first clearly states what it is like to experience a trauma that brings about a kind of change to the psyche that I refer to as “soul loss”.  Such a loss can easily lead to a kind of existential despair.

There is a pain—so utter—
It swallows being up—
Then covers the abyss with trance—
So memory can step
Around—across—upon it—
As one in a swoon—
Goes steady—where an open eye—
Would drop him—bone by bone.

The second poem reflects the kind of courage it takes to keep on living in the face of such despair.

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune–without the words,
And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.

Defense Mechanisms

Defense mechanisms show up often and repeatedly in our lives.  I have already written about a specific set of defense mechanisms in The Drama Triangle.  As an example of The Drama Triangle in action: “You are being mean to me (blame).  I didn’t do anything to you (denial) and besides it was no big deal (minimization).  I was only trying to help you (rationalization).”  Another example is avoidance by asking a question or flipping the focus to the other party:  Question “Did you do your chores?” Answer “What are your responsibilities around here?”

Much can be gained when we become aware of 1) when we are using defense mechanisms and 2) when they are being used on us.  In the first case, you may choose to become more accountable and in the second you may be able to respond more appropriately by refusing to take the bait and respond by naming the defense mechanism the other is using.

At any rate, becoming aware of the defense mechanisms and how they work is the first step towards more conscious and appropriate behavior in this regard.   The following is from a Wikipedia article on the subject.  Professor Vaillant worked on categorizing the defense mechanisms.  His work, while I do not think it is exhaustive, is certainly a good starting place.  Click here for a printable version of this posing:  Defense Mechanisms

Vaillant’s Categorization of Defense Mechanisms

Level 1: Pathological

The mechanisms on this level, when predominating, almost always are severely pathological. These six defenses, in conjunction, permit one to effectively rearrange external experiences to eliminate the need to cope with reality. The pathological users of these mechanisms frequently appear irrational or insane to others. These are the “psychotic” defenses, common in overt psychosis. However, they are found in dreams and throughout childhood as well.

They include:

  • Delusional Projection: Delusions about external reality, usually of a persecutory nature.
  • Conversion: the expression of an intrapsychic conflict as a physical symptom; some examples include blindness, deafness, paralysis, or numbness. This phenomenon is sometimes called hysteria.
  • Denial: Refusal to accept external reality because it is too threatening; arguing against an anxiety-provoking stimulus by stating it doesn’t exist; resolution of emotional conflict and reduction of anxiety by refusing to perceive or consciously acknowledge the more unpleasant aspects of external reality.
  • Distortion: A gross reshaping of external reality to meet internal needs.
  • Splitting: A primitive defense. Negative and positive impulses are split off and unintegrated.
  • Extreme Projection: The blatant denial of a moral or psychological deficiency, which is perceived as a deficiency in another individual or group.

Level 2: Immature

These mechanisms are often present in adults. These mechanisms lessen distress and anxiety provoked by threatening people or by uncomfortable reality. Excessive use of such defenses is seen as socially undesirable in that they are immature, difficult to deal with and seriously out of touch with reality. These are the so-called “immature” defenses and overuse almost always leads to serious problems in a person’s ability to cope effectively. These defenses are often seen in major depression and personality disorders.

They include:

  • Acting out: Direct expression of an unconscious wish or impulse in action, without conscious awareness of the emotion that drives that expressive behavior.
  • Fantasy: Tendency to retreat into fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts.
  • Idealization: Unconsciously choosing to perceive another individual as having more positive qualities than he or she may actually have.
  • Passive aggression: Aggression towards others expressed indirectly or passively such as using procrastination.
  • Projection: Projection is a primitive form of paranoia. Projection also reduces anxiety by allowing the expression of the undesirable impulses or desires without becoming consciously aware of them; attributing one’s own unacknowledged unacceptable or unwanted thoughts and emotions to another; includes severe prejudice, severe jealousy, hyper vigilance to external danger, and “injustice collecting”. It is shifting one’s unacceptable thoughts, feelings and impulses within oneself onto someone else, such that those same thoughts, feelings, beliefs and motivations are perceived as being possessed by the other.
  • Projective Identification: The object of projection invokes in that person precisely the thoughts, feelings or behaviors projected.
  • Somatization: The transformation of negative feelings towards others into negative feelings toward self, pain, illness, and anxiety.

Level 3: Neurotic

These mechanisms are considered neurotic, but fairly common in adults. Such defenses have short-term advantages in coping, but can often cause long-term problems in relationships, work and in enjoying life when used as one’s primary style of coping with the world.

They include:

  • Displacement: Defense mechanism that shifts sexual or aggressive impulses to a more acceptable or less threatening target; redirecting emotion to a safer outlet; separation of emotion from its real object and redirection of the intense emotion toward someone or something that is less offensive or threatening in order to avoid dealing directly with what is frightening or threatening. For example, a mother may yell at her child because she is angry with her husband.
  • Dissociation: Temporary drastic modification of one’s personal identity or character to avoid emotional distress; separation or postponement of a feeling that normally would accompany a situation or thought.
  • Hypochondriasis: An excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness.
  • Intellectualization: A form of isolation; concentrating on the intellectual components of a situation so as to distance oneself from the associated anxiety-provoking emotions; separation of emotion from ideas; thinking about wishes in formal, affectively bland terms and not acting on them; avoiding unacceptable emotions by focusing on the intellectual aspects (e.g. isolation, rationalization, ritual, undoing, compensation, magical thinking).
  • Isolation: Separation of feelings from ideas and events, for example, describing a murder with graphic details with no emotional response.
  • Rationalization (making excuses): Where a person convinces him or herself that no wrong was done and that all is or was all right through faulty and false reasoning. An indicator of this defense mechanism can be seen socially as the formulation of convenient excuses – making excuses.
  • Reaction formation: Converting unconscious wishes or impulses that are perceived to be dangerous or unacceptable into their opposites; behavior that is completely the opposite of what one really wants or feels; taking the opposite belief because the true belief causes anxiety. This defense can work effectively for coping in the short term, but will eventually break down.
  • Regression: Temporary reversion of the ego to an earlier stage of development rather than handling unacceptable impulses in a more adult way. (ex. Using whining as a method of communicating despite already having acquired the ability to speak with appropriate grammar)[19]
  • Repression: The process of attempting to repel desires towards pleasurable instincts, caused by a threat of suffering if the desire is satisfied; the desire is moved to the unconscious in the attempt to prevent it from entering consciousness; seemingly unexplainable naivety, memory lapse or lack of awareness of one’s own situation and condition; the emotion is conscious, but the idea behind it is absent.
  • Undoing: A person tries to ‘undo’ an unhealthy, destructive or otherwise threatening thought by acting out the reverse of unacceptable. Involves symbolically nullifying an unacceptable or guilt provoking thought, idea, or feeling by confession or atonement.
  • Withdrawal: Withdrawal is a more severe form of defense. It entails removing oneself from events, stimuli, interactions, etc. under the fear of being reminded of painful thoughts and feelings.

Level 4: Mature

These are commonly found among emotionally healthy adults and are considered mature, even though many have their origins in an immature stage of development. They have been adapted through the years in order to optimize success in life and relationships. The use of these defenses enhances pleasure and feelings of control. These defenses help us to integrate conflicting emotions and thoughts, whilst still remaining effective. Those who use these mechanisms are usually considered virtuous.

They include:

  • Altruism: Constructive service to others that brings pleasure and personal satisfaction.
  • Anticipation: Realistic planning for future discomfort.
  • Humor: Overt expression of ideas and feelings (especially those that are unpleasant to focus on or too terrible to talk about) that gives pleasure to others. The thoughts retain a portion of their innate distress, but they are “skirted round” by witticism, for example Self-deprecation.
  • Identification: The unconscious modeling of one’s self upon another person’s character and behavior.
  • Introjection: Identifying with some idea or object so deeply that it becomes a part of that person.
  • Sublimation: Transformation of negative emotions or instincts into positive actions, behavior, or emotion. (ex. Playing a heavy contact sport such as football or rugby can transform aggression into a game)
  • Thought Suppression: The conscious process of pushing thoughts into the preconscious; the conscious decision to delay paying attention to an emotion or need in order to cope with the present reality; making it possible to later access uncomfortable or distressing emotions whilst accepting them.


A golden hairThere was once upon a time a king who had a wife with golden hair, and she was so beautiful that her equal was not to be found on earth. It came to pass that she lay ill, and as she felt that she must soon die, she called the king and said, if you wish to marry again after my death, take no one who is not quite as beautiful as I am, and who has not just such golden hair as I have, this you must promise me. And after the king had promised her this she closed her eyes and died.

For a long time the king could not be comforted, and had no thought of taking another wife. At length his councillors said, this cannot go on. The king must marry again, that we may have a queen. And now messengers were sent about far and wide, to seek a bride who equalled the late queen in beauty. In the whole world, however, none was to be found, and even if one had been found, still there would have been no one who had such golden hair. So the messengers came home as they went.

Now the king had a daughter, who was just as beautiful as her dead mother, and had the same golden hair. When she was grown up the king looked at her one day, and saw that in every respect she was like his late wife, and suddenly felt a violent love for her. Then he spoke to his councillors, I will marry my daughter, for she is the counterpart of my late wife, otherwise I can find no bride who resembles her. When the councillors heard that, they were shocked, and said, God has forbidden a father to marry his daughter. No good can come from such a crime, and the kingdom will be involved in the ruin.

A FursThe daughter was still more shocked when she became aware of her father’s resolution, but hoped to turn him from his design. Then she said to him, before I fulfil your wish, I must have three dresses, one as golden as the sun, one as silvery as the moon, and one as bright as the stars, besides this, I wish for a mantle of a thousand different kinds of fur and peltry joined together, and one of every kind of animal in your kingdom must give a piece of his skin for it. For she thought, to get that will be quite impossible, and thus I shall divert my father from his wicked intentions. The king, however, did not give it up, and the cleverest maidens in his kingdom had to weave the three dresses, one as golden as the sun, one as silvery as the moon, and one as bright as the stars, and his huntsmen had to catch one of every kind of animal in the whole of his kingdom, and take from it a piece of its skin, and out of these was made a mantle of a thousand different kinds of fur. At length, when all was ready, the king caused the mantle to be brought, spread it out before her, and said, the wedding shall be tomorrow.

A leaving homeWhen, therefore, the king’s daughter saw that there was no longer any hope of turning her father’s heart, she resolved to run away. In the night whilst every one was asleep, she got up, and took three different things from her treasures, a golden ring, a golden spinning-wheel, and a golden reel. The three dresses of the sun, moon, and stars she placed into a nutshell, put on her mantle of all kinds of fur, and blackened her face and hands with soot. Then she commended herself to God, and went away, and walked the whole night until she reached a great forest. And as she was tired, she got into a hollow tree, and fell asleep.

A in treeThe sun rose, and she slept on, and she was still sleeping when it was full day. Then it so happened that the king to whom this forest belonged, was hunting in it. When his dogs came to the tree, they sniffed, and ran barking round about it. The king said to the huntsmen, just see what kind of wild beast has hidden itself in there. The huntsmen obeyed his order, and when they came back they said, a wondrous beast is lying in the hollow tree, we have never before seen one like it. Its skin is fur of a thousand different kinds, but it is lying asleep. Said the king, see if you can catch it alive, and then fasten it to the carriage, and we will take it with us. When the huntsmen laid hold of the maiden, she awoke full of terror, and cried to them, I am a poor child, deserted by father and mother, have pity on me, and take me with you. Then said they, Allerleirauh, you will be useful in the kitchen, come with us, and you can sweep up the ashes. So they put her in the carriage, and took her home to the royal palace. There they pointed out to her a closet under the stairs, where no daylight entered, and said, hairy animal, there you can live and sleep. Then she was sent into the kitchen, and there she carried wood and water, swept the hearth, plucked the fowls, picked the vegetables, raked the ashes, and did all the dirty work.

a in roomAllerleirauh lived there for a long time in great wretchedness. Alas, fair princess, what is to become of you now. It happened, however, that one day a feast was held in the palace, and she said to the cook, may I go upstairs for a while, and look on. I will place myself outside the door. The cook answered, yes, go, but you must be back here in half-an-hour to sweep the hearth.

Then she took her oil-lamp, went into her den, put off her dress of fur, and washed the soot off her face and hands, so that her full beauty once more came to light. And she opened the nut, and took out her dress which shone like the sun, and when she had done that she went up to the festival, and every one made way for her, for no one knew her, and thought no otherwise than that she was a king’s daughter. The king came to meet her, gave his hand to her, and danced with her, and thought in his heart, my eyes have never yet seen any one so beautiful. When the dance was over she curtsied, and when the king looked round again she had vanished, and none knew whither. The guards who stood outside the palace were called and questioned, but no one had seen her.

A making soupShe had run into her little den, however, there quickly taken off her dress, made her face and hands black again, put on the mantle of fur, and again was Allerleirauh. And now when she went into the kitchen, and was about to get to her work and sweep up the ashes, the cook said, leave that alone till morning, and make me the soup for the king, I, too, will go upstairs awhile, and take a look, but let no hairs fall in, or in future you shall have nothing to eat. So the cook went away, and Allerleirauh made the soup for the king, and made bread soup and the best she could, and when it was ready she fetched her golden ring from her little den, and put it in the bowl in which the soup was served. When the dancing was over, the king had his soup brought and ate it, and he liked it so much that it seemed to him he had never tasted better. But when he came to the bottom of the bowl, he saw a golden ring lying, and could not conceive how it could have got there. Then he ordered the cook to appear before him. The cook was terrified when he heard the order, and said to Allerleirauh, you have certainly let a hair fall into the soup, and if you have, you shall be beaten for it.

When he came before the king the latter asked who had made the soup. The cook replied, I made it. But the king said, that is not true, for it was much better than usual, and cooked differently. He answered, I must acknowledge that I did not make it, it was made by the hairy animal. The king said, go and bid it come up here.

When Allerleirauh came, the king said, who are you. I am a poor girl who no longer has any father or mother. He asked further, of what use are you in my palace. She answered, I am good for nothing but to have boots thrown at my head. He continued, where did you get the ring which was in the soup. She answered, I know nothing about the ring. So the king could learn nothing, and had to send her away again.

a with cookAfter a while, there was another festival, and then, as before, Allerleirauh begged the cook for leave to go and look on. He answered, yes, but come back again in half-an-hour, and make the king the bread soup which he so much likes. Then she ran into her den, washed herself quickly, and took out of the nut the dress which was as silvery as the moon, and put it on. Then she went up and was like a princess, and the king stepped forward to meet her, and rejoiced to see her once more, and as the dance was just beginning they danced it together. But when it was ended, she again disappeared so quickly that the king could not observe where she went. She, however, sprang into her den, and once more made herself a hairy animal, and went into the kitchen to prepare the bread soup. When the cook had gone upstairs, she fetched the little golden spinning-wheel, and put it in the bowl so that the soup covered it. Then it was taken to the king, who ate it, and liked it as much as before, and had the cook brought, who this time likewise was forced to confess that Allerleirauh had prepared the soup. Allerleirauh again came before the king, but she answered that she was good for nothing else but to have boots thrown at her head, and that she knew nothing at all about the little golden spinning-wheel.

When, for the third time, the king held a festival, all happened just as it had done before. The cook said, fur-skin, you are a witch, and always put something in the soup which makes it so good that the king likes it better than that which I cook, but as she begged so hard, he let her go up at the appointed time. And now she put on the dress which shone like the stars, and thus entered the hall. Again the king danced with the beautiful maiden, and thought that she never yet had been so beautiful.

A with knigAnd whilst she was dancing, he contrived, without her noticing it, to slip a golden ring on her finger, and he had given orders that the dance should last a very long time. When it was ended, he wanted to hold her fast by her hands, but she tore herself loose, and sprang away so quickly through the crowd that she vanished from his sight. She ran as fast as she could into her den beneath the stairs, but as she had been too long, and had stayed more than half-an-hour she could not take off her pretty dress, but only threw over it her mantle of fur, and in her haste she did not make herself quite black, but one finger remained white. Then Allerleirauh ran into the kitchen, and cooked the bread soup for the king, and as the cook was away, put her golden reel into it.

When the king found the reel at the bottom of it, he caused Allerleirauh to be summoned, and then he espied the white finger, and saw the ring which he had put on it during the dance. Then he grasped her by the hand, and held her fast, and when she wanted to release herself and run away, her mantle of fur opened a little, and the star-dress shone forth. The king clutched the mantle and tore it off. Then her golden hair shone forth, and she stood there in full splendor, and could no longer hide herself. And when she had washed the soot and ashes from her face, she was more beautiful than anyone who had ever been seen on earth. But the king said, you are my dear bride, and we will never more part from each other. Thereupon the marriage was solemnized, and they lived happily until their death.

From the collected fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm

A dresses


Iron John

Iron John BlyONCE UPON a time there lived a King who had a great forest near his palace, full of all kinds of wild animals. One day he sent out a huntsman to shoot him a roe, but he did not come back. “Perhaps some accident has befallen him,” said the King, and the next day he sent out two more huntsmen who were to search for him, but they too stayed away. Then on the third day, he sent for all his huntsmen, and said, “Scour the whole forest through, and do not give up until ye have found all three.” But of these also, none came home again, and of the pack of hounds which they had taken with them, none were seen more. From that time forth, no one would any longer venture into the forest, and it lay there in deep stillness and solitude, and nothing was seen of it, but sometimes an eagle or a hawk flying over it.

This lasted for many years, when a strange huntsman announced himself to the King as seeking a situation, and offered to go into the dangerous forest. The King, however, would not give his consent, and said, “It is not safe in there; I fear it would fare with thee no better than with the others, and thou wouldst never come out again.” The huntsman replied, “Lord, I will venture it at my own risk; I have no fear.”

Iron John PondThe huntsman therefore betook himself with his dog to the forest. It was not long before the dog fell in with some game on the way, and wanted to pursue it; but hardly had the dog run two steps when it stood before a deep pool, could go no farther, and a naked arm stretched itself out of the water, seized it, and drew it under. When the huntsman saw that, he went back and fetched three men to come with buckets and bail out the water. When they could see to the bottom there lay a wild man whose body was brown like rusty iron, and whose hair hung over his face down to his knees. They bound him with cords, and led him away to the castle. There was great astonishment over the wild man; the King, however, had him put in an iron cage in his court-yard, and forbade the door to be opened on pain of death, and the Queen herself was to take the key into her keeping. And from this time forth every one could again go into the forest with safety.

Iron John boy ballThe King had a son eight years old, who was once playing in the court-yard, and while he was playing, his golden ball fell into the cage. The boy ran thither and said, “Give me my ball.” “Not till thou hast opened the door for me,” answered the man. “No,” said the boy, “I will not do that; the King has forbidden it,” and ran away. The next day he again went and asked for his ball; the wild man said, “Open my door,” but the boy would not. On the third day the King had ridden out hunting, and the boy went once more and said, “I cannot open the door even if I wished, for I have not the key.” Then the wild man said, “It lies under thy mother’s pillow, thou canst get it there.” The boy, who wanted to have his ball back, cast all thought to the winds, and brought the key. The door opened with difficulty, and the boy pinched his fingers. When it was open the wild man stepped out, gave him the golden ball, and hurried away. The boy had become afraid; he called and cried after him, “Oh, wild man, do not go away, or I shall be beaten!” The wild man turned back, took him up, set him on his shoulder, and went with hasty steps into the forest.

Iron John CageWhen the King came home, he observed the empty cage, and asked the Queen how that had happened. She knew nothing about it, and sought the key, but it was gone. She called the boy, but no one answered. The King sent out people to seek for him in the fields, but they did not find him. Then he could easily guess what had happened, and much grief reigned in the royal court.

When the wild man had once more reached the dark forest, he took the boy down from his shoulder, and said to him, “Thou wilt never see thy father and mother again, but I will keep thee with me, for thou hast set me free, and I have compassion on thee. If thou dost all I bid thee, thou shalt fare well. Of treasure and gold I have enough, and more than any one in the world.” He made a bed of moss for the boy on which he slept, and the next morning the man took him to a well, and said, “Behold, the gold well is as bright and clear as crystal; thou shalt sit beside it, and take care that nothing falls into it, or it will be polluted. I will come every evening to see if thou hast obeyed my order.” The boy placed himself by the margin of the well, and often saw a golden fish or a golden snake show itself therein, and took care that nothing fell in. As he was thus sitting, his finger hurt him so violently that he involuntarily put it in the water. He drew it quickly out again, but saw that it was quite gilded, and whatsoever pains he took to wash the gold off again, all was to no purpose.

Iron John Golden FingerIn the evening Iron John came back, looked at the boy, and said, “What has happened to the well?” “Nothing, nothing,” he answered, and held his finger behind his back, that the man might not see it. But he said, “Thou hast dipped thy finger into the water; this time it may pass, but take care thou dost not let anything go in.” By daybreak the boy was already sitting by the well and watching it. His finger hurt him again and he passed it over his head, and then unhappily a hair fell down into the well. He took it quickly out, but it was already quite gilded. Iron John came, and already knew what had happened. “Thou hast let a hair fall into the well,” said he. “I will allow thee to watch by it once more, but if this happens for the third time then the well is polluted, and thou canst no longer remain with me.”

On the third day, the boy sat by the well, and did not stir his finger, however much it hurt him. But the time was long to him, and he looked at the reflection of his face on the surface of the water. And as he still bent down more and more while he was doing so, and trying to look straight into the eyes, his long hair fell down from his shoulders into the water. He raised himself up quickly, but the whole of the hair of his head was already golden and shone like the sun. You may imagine how terrified the poor boy was! He took his pocket-handkerchief and tied it round his head, in order that the man might not see it. When he came he already knew everything, and said, “Take the handkerchief off.” Then the golden hair streamed forth, and let the boy excuse himself as he might, it was of no use. “Thou hast not stood the trial, and canst stay here no longer. Go forth into the world, there thou wilt learn what poverty is. But as thou hast not a bad heart, and as I mean well by thee, there is one thing I will grant thee; if thou fallest into any difficulty, come to the forest and cry, ‘Iron John,’ and then I will come and help thee. My power is great, greater than thou thinkest, and I have gold and silver in abundance.”

Then the King’s son left the forest, and walked by beaten and unbeaten paths ever onwards until at length he reached a great city. There he looked for work, but could find none, and he had learnt nothing by which he could help himself. At length he went to the palace, and asked if they would take him in. The people about court did not at all know what use they could make of him, but they liked him, and told him to stay. At length the cook took him into his service, and said he might carry food and water, and rake the cinders together. Once when it so happened that no one else was at hand, the cook ordered him to carry the food to the royal table, but as he did not like to let his golden hair be seen, he kept his little cap on.

Such a thing as that had never yet come under the King’s notice, and he said, “When thou comest to the royal table thou must take thy hat off.” He answered, “Ah, Lord, I cannot; I have a bad sore place on my head.” Then the King had the cook called before him and scolded him, and asked how he could take such a boy as that into his service, and that he was to turn him off at once. The cook, however, had pity on him, and exchanged him for the gardener’s boy.

Now the boy had to plant and water the garden, hoe and dig, and bear the wind and bad weather. Once in summer when he was working alone in the garden, the day was so warm he took his little cap off that the air might cool him. As the sun shone on his hair it glittered and flashed so that the rays fell into the bed-room of the King’s daughter, and up she sprang to see what that could be. Then she saw the boy, and cried to him, “Boy, bring me a wreath of flowers.” He put his cap on with all haste, and gathered wild field-flowers and bound them together. When he was ascending the stairs with them, the gardener met him, and said, “How canst thou take the King’s daughter a garland of such common flowers? Go quickly, and get another, and seek out the prettiest and rarest.” “Oh, no,” replied the boy, “the wild ones have more scent, and will please her better.”

Iron John Golden Hair.When he got into the room, the King’s daughter said, “Take thy cap off, it is not seemly to keep it on in my presence.” He again said, “I may not, I have a sore head.” She, however, caught at his cap and pulled it off, and then his golden hair rolled down on his shoulders, and it was splendid to behold. He wanted to run out, but she held him by the arm, and gave him a handful of ducats. With these he departed, but he cared nothing for the gold pieces. He took them to the gardener, and said, “I present them to thy children, they can play with them.”

The following day the King’s daughter again called to him that he was to bring her a wreath of field-flowers, and when he went in with it, she instantly snatched at his cap, and wanted to take it away from him, but he held it fast with both hands. She again gave him a handful of ducats, but he would not keep them, and gave them to the gardener for playthings for his children. On the third day things went just the same; she could not get his cap away from him, and he would not have her money.

Not long afterwards, the country was overrun by war. The King gathered together his people, and did not know whether or not he could offer any opposition to the enemy, who was superior in strength and had a mighty army. Then said the gardener’s boy, “I am grown up, and will go to the wars also, only give me a horse.” The others laughed, and said, “Seek one for thyself when we are gone, we will leave one behind us in the stable for thee.” When they had gone forth, he went into the stable, and got the horse out; it was lame of one foot, and limped hobblety jig, hobblety jig; nevertheless he mounted it, and rode away to the dark forest. When he came to the outskirts, he called “Iron John” three times so loudly that it echoed through the trees. Thereupon the wild man appeared immediately, and said, “What dost thou desire?” “I want a strong steed, for I am going to the wars.” “That thou shalt have, and still more than thou askest for.”

Then the wild man went back into the forest, and it was not long before a stable-boy came out of it, who led a horse that snorted with its nostrils, and could hardly be restrained, and behind them followed a great troop of soldiers entirely equipped in iron, and their swords flashed in the sun. The youth made over his three-legged horse to the stable-boy, mounted the other, and rode at the head of the soldiers. When he got near the battle-field a great part of the King’s men had already fallen, and little was wanting to make the rest give way. Then the youth galloped thither with his iron soldiers, broke like a hurricane over the enemy, and beat down all who opposed him. They began to fly, but the youth pursued, and never stopped, until there was not a single man left. Instead, however, of returning to the King, he conducted his troop by bye-ways back to the forest, and called forth Iron John. “What dost thou desire?” asked the wild man. “Take back thy horse and thy troops, and give me my three-legged horse again.” All that he asked was done, and soon he was riding on his three-legged horse.

When the King returned to his palace, his daughter went to meet him, and wished him joy of his victory. “I am not the one who carried away the victory,” said he, “but a stranger knight who came to my assistance with his soldiers.” The daughter wanted to hear who the strange knight was, but the King did not know, and said, “He followed the enemy, and I did not see him again.” She inquired of the gardener where his boy was, but he smiled, and said, “He has just come home on his three-legged horse, and the others have been mocking him, and crying, ‘Here comes our hobblety jig back again!’ They asked, too, ‘Under what hedge hast thou been lying sleeping all the time?’ He, however, said, ‘I did the best of all, and it would have gone badly without me.’ And then he was still more ridiculed.”

The King said to his daughter, “I will proclaim a great feast that shall last for three days, and thou shalt throw a golden apple. Perhaps the unknown will come to it.” When the feast was announced, the youth went out to the forest, and called Iron John. “What dost thou desire?” asked he. “That I may catch the King’s daughter’s golden apple.” “It is as safe as if thou hadst it already,” said Iron John. “Thou shalt likewise have a suit of red armor for the occasion, and ride on a spirited chestnut horse.” When the day came, the youth galloped to the spot, took his place amongst the knights, and was recognized by no one. The King’s daughter came forward, and threw a golden apple to the knights, but none of them caught it but he, only as soon as he had it he galloped away.

Iron John White HorseOn the second day Iron John equipped him as a white knight, and gave him a white horse. Again he was the only one who caught the apple, and he did not linger an instant, but galloped off with it. The King grew angry, and said, “That is not allowed; he must appear before me and tell his name.” He gave the order that if the knight who caught the apple should go away again they should pursue him, and if he did not come back willingly, they were to cut him down and stab him.

On the third day, he received from Iron John a suit of black armor and a black horse, and again he caught the apple. But when he was riding off with it, the King’s attendants pursued him, and one of them got so near him that he wounded the youth’s leg with the point of his sword. The youth nevertheless escaped from them, but his horse leapt so violently that the helmet fell from the youth’s head, and they could see that he had golden hair. They rode back and announced this to the King.

The following day the King’s daughter asked the gardener about his boy. “He is at work in the garden; the queer creature has been at the festival too, and only came home yesterday evening; he has likewise shown my children three golden apples which he has won.”

The King had him summoned into his presence, and he came and again had his little cap on his head. But the King’s daughter went up to him and took it off, and then his golden hair fell down over his shoulders, and he was so handsome that all were amazed. “Art thou the knight who came every day to the festival, always in different colors, and who caught the three golden apples?” asked the King. “Yes,” answered he, “and here the apples are,” and he took them out of his pocket, and returned them to the King. “If thou desirest further proof, thou mayest see the wound which thy people gave me when they followed me. But I am likewise the knight who helped thee to thy victory over thine enemies.” “If thou canst perform such deeds as that, thou art no gardener’s boy; tell me, who is thy father?” “My father is a mighty King, and gold have I in plenty as great as I require.” “I well see,” said the King, “that I owe thanks to thee; can I do anything to please thee?” “Yes,” answered he, “that indeed thou canst. Give me thy daughter to wife.”

Bly MusicThe maiden laughed, and said, “He does not stand much on ceremony, but I have already seen by his golden hair that he was no gardener’s boy,” and then she went and kissed him. His father and mother came to the wedding, and were in great delight, for they had given up all hope of ever seeing their dear son again. And as they were sitting at the marriage-feast, the music suddenly stopped, the doors opened, and a stately King came in with a great retinue. He went up to the youth, embraced him and said, “I am Iron John, and was by enchantment a wild man, but thou hast set me free; all the treasures which I possess, shall be thy property.” – –

From the collected fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm

Each Man is my Father


Asa Baber
Asa Baber

This poem was written by Asa Baber.  He was a Vietnam vet, columnist for Playboy magazine, and author of Naked at Gender Gap among other accomplishments.  He was an alumnus of the New Warrior Training Adventure.  He passed away in 2003 from ALS.  I first heard this poem shortly after he wrote it and have been inspired by it and shared it with other ever since.  Blessing to you Asa for the gifts of your wisdom.

Each man is my father
Each man is my brother
Each man is my son

Each man is my teacher
Each man is my leader
Each man is my mirror

I will always honor it
I will always remember it
I will always respect it

My work is for men
For their safety and growth
My pledge is to men
And LIFE is my goal

—Asa Baber 1993

The Invitation

OriahI ran across this bit of inspiration back in the 1990’s.  It has stayed with me and helped shed light on my path.  It was written by a woman who took the name Oriah at the suggestion of her dream teachers during a time when she was severely ill.  She subsequently wrote a book called The Invitation in which this prose poem appeared.  Her website is

The Invitation

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.   I want to know what you ache for and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love for your dream for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon… I want to know if you have touched the centre of your own sorrow if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shrivelled and closed from fear of further pain.

I want to know if you can sit with pain mine or your own without moving to hide it or fade it or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy mine or your own if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful to be realistic to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself. If you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul. If you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see Beauty even when it is not pretty every day. And if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure yours and mine and still stand at the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes.”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up after the night of grief and despair weary and bruised to the bone and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the centre of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you from the inside when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

By Oriah © Mountain Dreaming, from the book The Invitation published by HarperONE, San Francisco, 1999 All rights reserved

It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.

Marianne Williamson
Marianne Williamson

These words of inspiration were first presented to me as being from Nelson Mandela’s inaugural speech. This fallacy is still being spread today.  To set the record straight, the words came from Marianne Williamson in her book A Return to Love.  Nelson Mandela did not quote her or in any way use the material.  It is a mystery why these words were ever attributed to him.  At any rate, I have always found these words to be inspirational and share them with you here:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.
Your playing small does not serve the world.
There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.
We are all meant to shine, as children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.
It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
—-from A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson.

Managing from the Heart

I ran across this little tidbit some years back while reading a book on being a good manger.  It has stayed with me over the years.  I find that it is a good practice for all relations, not just in the work place.  I share it with you:


Managing from the Heart

H ear and understand me.

E ven if you disagree, please don’t make me wrong.

A cknowledge the greatness within me.

R emember to look for my loving intentions.

T ell me the truth with compassion.