Becoming Ethical

Waking up and becoming more conscious, as indiviudals and as a collective is a never ending task.  We can each only do our bit.


No one person has all the persepectives, or all the answers.  There are so many paths that need to be followed and explored.


My hope is that the more we connect through conversation we can understand ourselves and each other, then maybe we can chose more clear eyed and wisely the world we live in and the paths we take.  

By DrLibbyNugent, Nov 15 2021 09:46AM

You messaged me asking to talk and I agreed to zoom. We met online and you told me how fed up you are, how you feel exhausted at work and how you couldn’t bear being there anymore. You said maybe you just needed better supervision and support in your workplace.

I said you sounded very unhappy and wondered if you needed to enjoy your life a bit more and how important it is to have community, rest and creativity. You wondered how you could get more of this in your work. Maybe apply for a new job? The place you work at the moment is so underfunded and under-resourced. Everyone at work always tells you how creative and innovative you are, how much you help effect change and the hope your presence carries for others. Maybe you just need to be in a better supported team? You wondered if there was a way your work might pay for external supervision? But then the service is so underfunded and there would be just no space to think it through with someone. Maybe you could set up a staff supervision group, you could do it as a pet project, after hours? We then talked some more about the impossibility of this as your colleagues are exhausted. We came back to leaving your job and you said the people you work with are so vulnerable, you couldn’t bear to walk away.

I wondered if you might look for a therapist. But you felt that this was not really a personal issue and more about finding a way to hold your work space more effectively. This was a systemic problem, not personal and you just needed to find the right systemic change. I disclosed that I had never managed to create that kind of charge and didn’t know how. Also I had to leave the NHS to then find out that the unrelenting to do list that is everywhere in the NHS, was also inside me.

We discussed how socialism is so important to you and how you felt worried by how many mental health practitioners were leaving the NHS. It felt immoral. I said there are a lot of complicated narratives around leaving. I said I know leaving can feel like you are betraying something vital. I said I’m not too good at being a socialist, but then I also think always having to be good is overrated. You agreed with my poor socialism, we laughed. Sort of. Then you said awkwardly maybe you just need to find the right team? I didn’t reply to that. You looked alarmed.

You needed to go.

We ended the call. I now know I won’t be hearing from you again.

The moment has gone and we can’t go back but this is what I wish you could have known:

There are reasons why I love fairytales and myths: they help me think about painful aspects of myself without needing to cut off or run away. One thing they have particularly helped me with is my relationship with the ability to mother myself. My relationship with the mother archetype.

When thinking about the mother archetype in fairy tales and myths, psychoanalysts generally follow the Brothers Grimm frame of ‘mother’ being both the loving birth mother in stories as well as the stepmother who symbolises the dark side of motherhood. The Grimm brothers travelled around Europe collecting stories told only by word of mouth, typically by women to other women in weaving rooms and to their children. Importantly many of the stories the Grimms brothers collected began with no step mother, only any mother who might be loving, abandoning, self sacrificing and devouring. In the Grimm brothers’ revisions they slowly separated out the positive from the negative aspects of the mother, elevating one aspect and denigrating another until the wicked step-mother was born. The potent uptake of these male written stories, replacing the female oral tradition and then given their revised patriarchal form is one way of noticing the loss of society’s ability to value the feminine.

Our culture’s wounding and belittling of the feminine and its values has led many mothers to mistrust the world and men to a greater extent than ever before, and this mistrust inevitably becomes part of the emotional heritage of our children.

– by Massimilla Harris, Ph.D., and Bud Harris, Ph.D., from Into the Heart of the Feminine

So many health care professionals are the child of a mother suffocated by her lack of self and social worth. Her devaluation is evidenced in her lack of support, constrained sexuality and denied social position beyond the success of her children and husband. Eventually she internalises her worth as being only found in her usefulness to others. The NHS is sometimes referred to as a kind of mother. She also is a mother suffocated by chronic underfunding, ever increasing expectations of quality of care and relentless shifting political climates

As the child of the mother in these stories, you inherit the feeling of being unheard, invalidated and an awareness that you (or some part of you) is so unloveable and bad it should not exist at all. The mothers in these stories want to love their children but to do so they need their children to fit in, to not take up resources, to be good, useful and well behaved. Just as Mother is trying to be. Mother has enough going on without more chaos being added. The child learns to kill off their unwanted messy parts- they see mum’s torment and want to help. The child learns to be useful too.

As one person put it in Understanding and Healing Emotional Trauma by Daniela Sieff:

When I am hungry, I am not fed. When I’m exhausted, I’m not allowed to rest. When I need to move, I’m forced to stay still.”

If the child can be useful to mum in this way, then maybe mum will be ok and everything else will fall into place. Jungian analyst Marion Woodman calls this narrative the Death Mother.

Marion Woodman described that the “Death Mother is born out of despair. It is incubated by the crushed hope of an unlived life. Death Mother is the shadow side of disappointment. When you look into the eyes of death mother you see they are glazed over with hopelessness. You see a blank look; there is nobody at home. You see an unconscious, frozen and profoundly wounded body-psyche devoid of authentic feeling. You see somebody with desperate need to be in control. You see someone who is driven by will power.

At some point in the repetition of this experience the child internalises her. The child learns to be disapproving, denigrating, even repulsed by their impulse to live their own life - it’s just greed, indulgent selfishness and lack of social conscience. You tell yourself you just need to care about others more, you just have to do what is right. The self, the body becomes something to be mastered and tamed. You can become possessed by the Death Mother and be completely unconscious of it. Your motivations are cleverly disguised from everyone, even from yourself: we see a leader of social conscience, a strong work ethic, admirable self-discipline, a purity of religious faith and NHS heroism.

The death mother always says she is grateful. She knows what she is asking. She waves and cheers as you go to work. Your work will set us free, she says. She rewards you with more responsibilities, letters before and after your name and gold star certificates. She knows what she is asking but …. If only she had more money, more time, and was better supported. These are exceptional times. We all need to compromise, to sacrifice. She is right. There can be a terrible cost to others when we set limits. But these are always exceptional times. She says maybe if you try harder, become more efficient, more effective, have the right attitude, just surround yourself with positive people who care too - doers, who understand the severity of the problem. It will be better next week, next month, next year, next supervisor, next job, next generation. Then finally Mother will be safe, secure and she will know her value as will others. Finally then she can care for everyone in the magnificent way that only she knows how to best. My mum, the NHS, the best mum in the world.

In work your internal death mother is easily evoked. The smallest amount of feeling you might let people down or be seen as difficult can render you immobile. But the brighter you shine, the darker your shadow. The best way to describe her influence on you is your emotional collapse, paralysis, even a longing for the oblivion of death. This is the heart sink and collapse you feel when you said no, but they came back and asked again. You wish for a different life , but then feel shame at the thought of people knowing your selfishness. Instead you take the extra patients, move the annual leave, silence your objections in the meeting. You say yes to work and sorry but no to your partner, your friends, your children. You say it’s just this once, again. If only I had more time, more support, more resources, then I wouldn’t need to say yes. It will be better next month, next year, next job, next generation.


Daniela F. Sieff (2019) The Death Mother as Nature’s Shadow: Infanticide,

Abandonment, and the Collective Unconscious, Psychological Perspectives, 62:1, 15-34.

Marion Woodman and Daniela F. Sieff. “Facing the Death Mother to claim our lives”

Massimilla Harris, Ph.D., and Bud Harris, Ph.D.. Into the Heart of the Feminine.

By DrLibbyNugent, Oct 1 2021 02:49PM

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?”

“Thou, O Queen, art the fairest in the land,” said the mirror.

Little Snow-White. Grimm. 1812

I’m sure many reading this blog will know the story of Snow White: a powerful, insecure queen seeks reassurance of her insurmountable beauty from her reflection in a magical mirror. One day the mirror declares her step daughter (Snow White) is the fairest in the land and on hearing this the Queen becomes envious and Snow White is the object of her murderous hatred.

Of course, the story wouldn’t be quite the same if the queen actually made use of her reflection to improve herself in some way - maybe practice some mindfulness and notice her body responses with compassion, engage in some radical self-acceptance, channel her aggression and envy into challenging internalised cultural scripts of hierarchy, power, and position that are contributing to her own lack of self-worth? Instead the Queen uses the information offered by the reflection to blame others - to scapegoat and attack the people around her. Her effort goes into removing the external obstacle she observed could exceed her beauty, and also dethrone her from power and position, her happy ending. Rather than self-improvement, she chooses to maintain both her self-image and position of power by trying to kill off Snow White.

The importance of reflections dates back to ancient Greek and Roman times. The first ‘mirrors’ were pools of water or streams where the ancient Greeks and Romans told the future. Later, they created small, heavy hand-held mirrors from copper or bronze. However pools of water and murky copper and bronze set mirrors were known to require peering into and an awareness that the reflecting image could change and be manipulated easily.

The Romans believed every person goes through seven-year soul cycles. Broken mirrors would bring bad luck to the physical being and the soul. Beliefs about mirrors as soul portals persisted through medieval times and into today. In many cultures still, when someone dies, it is customary to cover up all the mirrors in the house to ensure safe passage of the soul to the afterlife. In our modern day stories we are accustomed to vampires and supernatural creatures having no reflection on account of being dispossessed of a soul. Thus, as a means of disclosure, the image/reflection that appears in a mirror can be thought of as being more revealing than the mere surface appearance of a person. It can give us access to our soul.

Interestingly the word psychology comes from the Greek ‘psukhe’, meaning "soul" combined with the Greek logos or "-ology," as "the study of." So psychology can mean the study of our inner mental life or the study of our soul.

As for the discipline of psychology, we use the concept of mirrors and reflections a great deal. Just one example is that belonging and being part of a group has been compared, in group analysis, to a 'hall of mirrors'.(Foulkes 1957). This refers to how as individuals in a group we look at other group members and are faced with seeing many versions of ourselves and our own stories that can feel like alternative universe versions. So each group member is thought of as the same human template having been subject to various interacting aspects of social, psychological, and body influences which create differences. Group analysis suggests if we use each other as mirrors and engage in a careful inner assessment of these aspects of sameness and difference we can link our hidden parts up and get a better picture of ourselves: we can grow and heal.

The Founderof Group Analysis Foulkes in 1957 described how “In the development of a baby, the so-called 'mirror reactions' help in the differentiation of the self from the not-self. The reflections of the self from the outside world lead to greater self-consciousness, so that the infant Narcissus eventually learns to distinguish his own image from that of other images. The mirror reactions are, therefore, essential mechanisms in the resolution of this primary narcissism.”

Mirrors, magical and otherwise, appear a great deal in stories and art. The symbolic meaning of mirrors is pretty ambiguous. Two apparently contradictory themes emerge, one associated with mirrors and their reflections holding a way to see the truth (the mirror is said not to lie) and the other shows how reflections encourage us to avoid or distort the truth (encouraging our obsession with creating or sustaining an ideal image or persona). This pivot point of truth versus distortion appears to sit with our ability to reflect on ourselves when noticing our reflections. The ability to attend to ourselves as we reflect, of course, is called reflexivity. As the Snow White story shows, engaging in reflection without reflexivity is a potentially dangerous task to those around us.

Life experiences combined with our socialisation into gender, race, ethnicity, social class and professional status draw and shape our curiosity and gaze, inform what we pay attention to, and shape what we do not consider important (Denzin & Lincoln, 2013; Finlay, 2016). When we engage in reflexivity it compels us to confront the choices we make regarding what we chose to pay attention to and what we chose to ignore when looking at our reflections.

To play around with the initial quote from Snow White and reflect some more. The word ‘Fair’ can be understood in a variety of ways, as an adjective, adverb, verb, and noun: In its traditional sense we might hear it as meaning a beloved and desired person; fair can mean ‘pretty’; it can mean light skin tone (whiteness ?), a clear complexion or having blond hair; the word fair also describes something as being free of bias or injustice; fair can describe something as being done according to the rules or as being neither good nor bad - if something is fair, it does not favor one side or the other.

Returning to the evil Queen, and maybe thinking about myself as an evil Queen - we all want to be desirable and appear beautiful in our social mirrors but if my ability for self reflection is lacking, I may share the fate of Evil Queen. In trying to protect myself from my terror of not being fair (maybe in many of its meanings) - I may justify my destruction of others

The idea of reflection and reflective practice has become a foundation skill within psychology/ mental health professionals. Yet do we reflect to unveil the truth of our professional soul, or, to use our reflections to legitimise enactment of power to hold onto our powerful social identities? In the Queen’s desire to appear ‘fair’ whilst also protecting her positive self image whilst in a powerful hierarchical position, she behaved very ‘unfairly’. Likewise we can be so determined to sustain a ‘fair’ reflection of ourselves - that we attack others who might make us look unfair or challenge our position of power.

Could we be able to stay with some self-compassion and humility that we might not always be seeing clear eyed about our fairness, or be the wisest judge of what fair is? Can we be curious that the image we see in our reflections might be under the influence of manipulation - personal and collective, conscious and unconscious?

As a society we are increasingly invested in the notion we create change by destroying those around us. Structural and systemic change is necessary and urgent in so much of our world, especially clinical psychology. This task for all of us, begins with ourselves and our personal and professional contribution. We can choose to turn inward and observe ourselves, using each other to enhance consciousness, unite outer and inner worlds, of feeling, and thinking - or we can invest in discrediting those who might make us feel unjustly described as ‘unfair’.

So how do any of us go about trying to influence our reflexivity?

When we ask ourselves reflexive questions we are referring back to ourselves to make sure we are connecting with our soul and not just our desired image.

James Hollis on p99 of his book ‘The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other’ generated a list of Necessary Questions that can draw reflexivity out of us.

1. Where do my dependencies show up in my relationships?

2. What am I asking my partner/ colleague/ friend etc to do for me that I, as a mature adult, need to be doing for myself?

3. How do I repeatedly constrict myself through my historically conditioned attitudes and behavior patterns?

4. Am I taking too much responsibility for the emotional well-being of others? - Am I taking on his or her journey at the expense of my own, and if so, why?

5. Am I living my life in such a fashion that I will be happy with the consequences of my choices? If not, when do I plan to start? What fears, lack of permission or old behaviors block me from living my life?

6. In what ways do I seek to avoid suffering?

List By James Hollis from p99 of his book ‘The Eden Project: In Search of the Magical Other’

As Hollis explains, these questions are not for the faint hearted. They can stir up painful memories, uncomfortable feelings, trigger our defensiveness and draw attention to some of the power games we play in our lives.

My hope in writing this blog is that others connect with me on this task of strengthening our personal and group ability for reflexivity (and not just think this would be something useful for others to take up).

By DrLibbyNugent, Aug 12 2021 01:26PM

Recently, I have been thinking a great deal about the tale of Rumpelstiltskin. It is a story I was told regularly when I was in a Jungian analysis and I return to it often.

The story of Rumpelstiltskin – albeit under a different name – is thought to be about 4,000 years old and is one of the earliest known stories in Western literature. Something about this story has stuck in our collective conscious and it is not letting go. The name Rumpelstiltskin means ‘little rattle stilt’, from rumpelstilt, a goblin that was rumoured to make noises by rattling posts (or stilts), like a sort of ghost.

In Jungian analysis each character in a story is a part of the self/ community. Rumplestiltskin can be thought of as our shadow part in the story. In the tale the queen discovered his name in time. When she informs Rumpelstiltskin of his true name, he angrily disappears into the earth. My initial point is taken from a James Hillman’s interpretation: we are all visited by shadows from our family and community’s past. It may be the rattling, unnamed ghosts of greed, deprivation, abuse, exploitation, addictions, you “name it!” The story promises that when we face these rattling ghosts and are able to name them, we can loosen some of their powerful grip on our lives. Furthermore, that means new life and growth can stay with us! (Gadjos, 2013). This is true for both individuals and communities.

As for the theme of spinning: Being a spinster, long before the word became an insult of low social status and relationship failure, is an ancient and honoured craft. It is a job that links many aspects of female identity - a way to clothe family, make a living and express creativity. In Greek mythology, each human life is a thread that the three Moirae, or Fates, spin, measure, and cut. With Rumpelstiltskin's help, the girl spins straw into gold, however even without this aspect of the tale, the ability to take a mass of fiber and transform it into yarn, thread and rope is work of huge value (Windling, 2020).

It’s no accident that spinning is associated with language, that we may be said to 'spin' a tale or tell a 'yarn', … Spinning brings a cosmic 'twist' into the raw materials of nature, giving them strength and continuity. When we look at events with a higher awareness, we can perceive the links between them and weave them into an ongoing story, coming to an understanding of their true essence. The spinning of straw into gold can be transformed from a mechanical search for material gain into a quest for meaning and knowledge.” (Hess, 2011).

To extend the metaphor to the world of clinical psychology: in our work in formulation we maintain this tradition of taking the raw materials of our patient’s stories, drawing out threads and finding rich narratives that transform into powerful resources.

I have been clinician and supervisor to clinical psychologists: pre, post and during training for over a decade; witnessing first hand the unintended consequences of our community culture. I have listened to the rage and frustration of trainees who are giving everything and feel unseen, hurt and exploited. I have listened to confused, frustrated and sometimes bewildered course trainers and supervisors who “gave them everything” only to have it thrown in their faces. I have often wondered why it can feel so difficult to navigate relationships, power and authority in our system. It seems we are all trapped in the same problem, one that cannot quite be named.

The plot of the fairy tale can be summarised easily enough:

In order to appear superior, a miller lies to the king, telling him that his daughter can spin straw into gold. The king calls for the miller’s daughter, locks her up in a tower room filled with straw and a spinning wheel, and demands she spin the straw into gold by morning or he will cut off her head.

When she has given up all hope, an imp-like creature appears in the room and spins the straw into gold in return for her necklace (since he only comes to people who are seeking a deal or a trade).

When next morning the king takes the miller’s daughter to a larger room filled with straw to repeat the feat, the imp once again spins, in return for the miller’s daughter’s ring.

On the third day, when the miller’s daughter has been taken to an even larger room filled with straw and told by the king that he will marry her if she can fill this room with gold or execute her if she cannot, the miller’s daughter has nothing left with which she can pay the strange creature. He extracts from her a promise that she will give him her firstborn child, and so he spins the straw into gold a final time.

The king keeps his promise to marry the miller's daughter, and she no longer gave a thought to the imp. But when their first child is born, the imp returns to claim his payment: "Now give me what you promised." She offers him all the wealth she has to keep the child, but the imp has no interest in her riches.

He finally consents to give up his claim to the child if she can guess his name within three days.

Her many guesses fail, but before the final night, she wanders into the woods searching for him and comes across his remote mountain cottage and watches, unseen, as he hops about his fire and sings. In his song's lyrics—"tonight tonight, my plans I make, tomorrow tomorrow, the baby I take. The queen will never win the game, for Rumpelstiltskin is my name"—he reveals his name.

When the imp comes to the queen on the third day, after first feigning ignorance, she reveals his name, Rumpelstiltskin, and he loses his temper and their bargain.Rumpelstiltskin driving his right foot so far into the ground that he creates a chasm and falls into it, never to be seen again.

So where do we begin in this fairytale analysis of clinical psychology culture? Hopefully some threads have already begun to twist into shape. In my research around Rumplestiltskin I came across Diane Roshelle’s work and her blog in 2015. She provides a wonderful interpretation of the tale around the necessity of learning how to say no. Her interpretation, transposed and woven into the clinical psychology context is one I have taken up here …

For much of the tale the protagonist is known only in her relationship to her father, she is the miller’s daughter. Her tasks of weaving straw to gold are given to her because of a combination of her father’s lies and the king’s ambition. We do not know what the king wants the gold for. He is greedy, yes. But is this for his kingdom or for him? Is he desperate and trying to provide resources for his people or is he hoarding his own wealth?

In our early careers, before we qualify as a clinical psychologist there is a part of us that is greedy for a particular knowledge and wants to achieve in the world in this particular way. The task we give ourselves can feel like a fantastical goal that requires magical assistance - we have no real idea of how people accomplish it. As such we all start out being the miller’s daughter needing to spin our identities in clinical psychology. But whether it be a specific post, professional relationship, accessing the clinical psychology training, or maintaining a feeling of competent clinician (rather than under a constant threat of being caught as an imposter) we always seem to encounter a situation which is insurmountable and frankly out of our skill set.

Clinical Psychology is not a community that initiates us into the skill of saying “no” to unreasonable demands or allows for personal limitations. Nor are we really a group that values those who do (Roshelle,2015). Very few training courses offer part-time options and the discourse around people who leave the NHS or reduce hours to allow for a different way of life can get aggressive very quickly. Conversely, we often want free access to an abundance of information and support at minimal rates. Training courses are castles of high expectation; like the miller’s daughter, trainees and course staff can feel left alone and locked in, striving to meet the other’s expectations; we also internalize these standards so they inevitably become our own (Roshelle,2015).

In the tale, the miller’s daughter is threatened with her head being chopped off if she fails at her tasks. However, the miller's daughter does not tell the king she is incapable of weaving straw into gold. Maybe she believes the king will not listen? Maybe she doesn't want to destroy her father’s reputation? Maybe secretly she thinks she might? Either way, the king believes she can and that she just needs sufficient incentive to perform.

In our early careers people are encouraged to work for free, or little money and a lot of over time. This personal cost/investment can start to make us feel desperate, if we are not able to make good on our promise to get on to training. Likewise on clinical psychology training, when the employer exhibits the same greedy attitude as the king - such as demanding high percentage passes in limited years or funding will be withdrawn - jobs and livelihoods are at stake, as well as professional membership for the trainee. If we fail, we might lose our ability to provide for ourselves, have our desired career options, or for the training course access to sufficient future funding for future placements. How will nhs targets be met and our society receive appropriate psychological care if we don’t get enough trainees through? In short, the future is riding on it (Roshelle,2015). This pressure and cost is most strong for those in our community who are from marginalised groups.

Rumpelstiltskin shows up on cue and helps the miller’s daughter - but at a cost and she must pay with her necklace, a small sacrifice in comparison to the reward? “How many of us get sucked into a similar deal? It might be sleep, time with friends, a principle, a boundary, but it’s something that seems small at the time. Sacrificing it gets us through. Makes us successful. Puts off that dreaded something that we would lose.

But it’s a setup.” Roshelle, 2015.

In the morning, when the king returns and sees all that has been accomplished, he wants more. Of course he does. Why wouldn't he? So now there is more straw to spin into gold and she is still locked in the chamber under threat of death. Of course Rumpelstiltskin shows up again, offering to help, and the miller’s daughter again is quick to pay his price. For many of us this scenario, of pulling the hat out of the bag, only to wake the next morning and be given another even bigger task, might feel extraordinarily familiar. The attitude of personal sacrifice of the professional caregiver being necessary and ‘worth it’ for the greater good is ingrained into both clinical psychology and nhs culture: it is always thought worth services at least trying to meet demands to do more with less resources.

Predictably after the second success, the King wants more again and the miller’s daughter is set up for a third rotation. The number three often just means numerous in fairytales and in real life, these Rumplestiltskin exchanges can go on any number of times (Roshelle, 2015). However, as a collective the number of times isn’t as important as the fact that this way of working becomes expected —so habitual that there is no acknowledgement of any exchange. “It’s just what you do.” (Roshelle, 2015).

On the third encounter, Rumplestilstsin greatly increases the stakes . Whilst the threat of death is still there, if the miller’s daughter delivers the gold she will become the queen. She will receive both an identity of her own and also social power! (Roshelle, 2015). Even if that power might be in service to the king that had been threatening to kill her and making unreasonable demands. (Roshelle, 2015). The sacrifice this time is also different. Rumpelstiltskin now wants her first-born child, he wants to control her future life. Similar to the exchange her father made for her, and now fully habituated to self-sacrifice and dependence on Rumpelstiltskin, she agrees (Roshelle, 2015).

In training, both trainees and course staff have the same ‘King’. When everyone is being paid to be there by the same powers, it is quite difficult to have a clear exchange of money for accountability. Who actually is wanting (rather than needing) to be there, who is really making the demands and who has the authority to speak or hear a ’No’ . Where is the person not under both the King’s rule and dependent on Rumplstiltskin that can say “Are you out of your *&^% mind ?” - when the cost gets too high?

My experience is that most people say they chose clinical psychology training because self-funding was an impossible task and if they wanted any future as a clinical psychologist then they needed to be salaried to train. However, what is the relational cost of this? I am not suggesting trainees should pay, but rather I am asking that we have a conscious engagement with the impact of these exchanges. Money, its direction of flow and what we offer in its exchange (or absence) matters.

After the third night, the miller’s daughter becomes a Queen. She now has both power and a social identity. But is this a loving marriage? (Roshelle, 2015). Is it a marriage of mutual desire? Can either ever feel secure and trust, when she was coerced? Can she ever truly feel confident of his desire if she knows it wasn’t really her that accomplished the cherished tasks? The Queen is not able to own those accomplishments. She was never allowed to fail. Nor was she ever allowed to own her choice. She can always say she was made to do it, or that Rumpelstiltskin did it for her. She is an imposter.

The Queen tries to go back on her deal with Rumplestilskin. She offers him all her wealth. In Jungian interpretation of fairy tales children are often symbols of creativity. ‘Rumpelstiltskin helped her “fake it ‘til she made it.”’ so she could become the Queen (Roshelle, 2015). A child—is an act of creation that has nothing to do with Rumpelstiltskin, she has created with her own body’s magic. The child is a validation of her own ability and power . Also nobody accuses the birth mother of the heir to the throne that she is holding an unrightful position of authority. The child symbolises certainty of the Queen’s right to be there. But Rumplsestiltskin now wants that. He wants her ability to hold self-confidence.

The final part of the tale, the naming is hugely important. It’s only when the queen is able to name Rumpelstiltskin for what he is that she truly comes into her own power, the power to keep hold of her ‘children’, the power to feel confident in her position and hold personal sovereignty. Likewise in psychoanalytic thinking when we put things into words and are able to bring them into consciousness we see them more clearly for what they are. In doing so Rumpelstiltskin disappears and our options can begin to look quite different along with our ability to take ownership of our choices.

However whilst the naming is the end of the fairytale (and in life coming into consciousness of a dynamic) - what then happens to the queen? Naming does not undo what has been done, nor is it a one-off experience. We often have to live our stories many times over - naming them over and over again. We could speculate the queen has been traumatised by her experiences and even if not, she still has a narcissistic father, an abusive partner and patriarchy to contend with. All whilst being a first time mum and holding down a new powerful job. I suspect she is in for a difficult time. So maybe the happy ending is more of a hope that this particular rattling ghost will be laid to rest and the potential for a new future is kept open a little longer. Maybe that’s more than enough .

If you would like to join me for more discussions on fairytales, myths and psychology please do got to the events section at my website:


Mind Matters — Remember Rumpelstiltskin? (

By DrLibbyNugent, May 29 2021 08:26AM

One of the stories from my childhood that used to particularly fascinate and frighten me was "The Pied Piper of Hamelin", in which a rat-catcher leads away an infestation of rats with enchanted music. The piper is later refused payment, so he in turn leads away the town's children. Depending on the version, at most three children remained behind: one had a walking impediment and could not follow quickly enough, the second was deaf and therefore could not hear the music, and the last was blind and therefore unable to see where he was going. These three informed the villagers of what had happened when they came out from church. This image of irresponsible parents and both lost children/left behind children terrified me and to this day I still have an irrational dislike of rats.

I am not alone in my irrational dislike of rats, they have long appeared in popular European culture as symbols of dirt, disease and the realities of survival. The rat is feared as it is tenacious and has an enormous ability to survive in a vast range of conditions, oddly linked to humans by our shared evolutionary successes. Rats have go wherever humans have go, living alongside us in our basements and sewers, occasionally we see them scurrying around bins, or in alleys reminding us of our waste, inequality, and deadliness as they nocturnally feast on our rubbish.

As with all fairy tales and myths we can hear the story and its symbols on a literal level and think about what might have really happened in the town of Hamelin-maybe experiences of the plague etc We can also hear the story more symbolically - What happens when our psyche and social conscious suffer from a symbolic plague of rats? What do rats represent to us? Do we try and get rid of them? What happens when we refuse to pay the fee for their removal?

I am aware I am writing this at the end of May 2021 when in Australia there is a plague of rats.

So what associations do we have with rats?

• Rats are connected to dirt.

• Rats are considered to bring infections.

• Freud believed rats to be phallic symbols.

• Freud also felt that rats represented dirty children: screaming, crying, and biting vermin. As vermin, rats symbolize unwanted children or unwanted siblings.

• Rats can also represent unwanted or dirty thoughts.

• Rats are hoarders and they stock up on grains for the winters. They can cause large scale destruction to farmers. As a result, rats are not welcome anywhere.

• In the Bible, they are deemed as animals too lowly to be eaten.

• Superstitions and myths surround rats in many parts of the world. Many of these depict the rat as a trickster.

• China, the rat is associated with money; when you hear a rat scrabbling around for food at night, it is said to be ‘counting money’. ‘Money-rat’ is a disparaging way of referring to a miser.

• The rat’s wedding is a big event in China. There are paintings of rat bridal processions showing rat bride and rat people.

• To look like a drowned rat.

• To smell a rat.

• To rat on someone.

• Like a rat up a drainpipe.

• Rat race.

• King rat

• Like rats leaving/abandoning a sinking ship

• Lab rat

• Love rat

• Rat in the kitchen

• Rug rat

• Rat pack

• You dirty rat

• Don’t give a rat’s ass

• To get rat arsed/pissed as a rat

• Rats nest of problems

• Rats may be symbols of poverty, decay and disease, but they also signify a certain abundance of waste, or at least that there’s some extra food lying around.

• Rats have been used to invoke a fantasy of a predatory relationships of rats on humans which in turn is used as a symbol to evoke a predatory relationship of the homeless, refugees, unemployed on society.

• In 1895, Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, established a population of domestic albino brown rats to study the effects of diet and for other physiological studies. Over the years, rats have been used in many experimental studies, adding to our understanding of genetics, diseases, the effects of drugs, and other topics that have provided a great benefit for the health and wellbeing of humankind.

• Rats have a keen sense of smell and are easy to train. These characteristics have been employed, for example, by the Belgian non-governmental organization APOPO, which trains rats (specifically African giant pouched rats) to detect landmines and diagnose tuberculosis through smell.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts?

By DrLibbyNugent, May 25 2021 02:29PM

In Cinderella there is an important symbol of feet (and shoes). It is Cinderella’s uniquely shaped, small feet that make her a perfect fit for the glass or golden slippers. In the original Grimm brother’s version, by instruction from the mother, the ugly sisters' feet are cut up to fit Cinderella's shoes. The first sister has her big toe cut off, the second sister has her heel removed. They are told to hide their pain and that it will be worth it, because if they marry the prince, they won’t need to walk, they can just be carried everywhere. It is all rather gruesome and disturbing.

However, despite the gruesomeness, I am cuirous about feet as a symbol or metaphor - what associations might people have with feet …

Direct contact with the earth.

Being grounded.

Standing on your own two feet.

Is phallic with the shoe as the vulva and the foot itself as a euphemism for genitals.

Can connote dying, passing on as well as slow wandering.

Bare feet are a sign of mourning and respect.

Fairies have no footprints.

Can also bring luck and prosperity.

Footprints and worn-out shoes can provide evidence of someone's presence.

Global footprint


Foot is the furthest part of the body from the head/mind/thought/intellectualisation.

Get your feet wet

Take a load off your feet.

Dead on my feet

Cold feet

Find your feet

Have itchy feet

Sweep someone off their feet

Thinking on your feet

Having feet of clay

Binding of Feet

Voting with your Feet

How we shape our feet can be for some a symbol of social oppression - foot binding, high heels etc For others it can represent something powerful about femininity.

The foot was a unit of measurement throughout Europe. It often differed in length not only from country to country but from city to city. Because the length of a foot changed between person to person, measurements were not even consistent between two people, often requiring an average. Henry I of England was attributed to passing the law that the foot was to be as long as a person's own foot. This was one of the first times a standard unit of measurement was put into place.

Feet as a symbol clearly has some fascinatting narratives attached.

If we refer back to the Cinderella stroy, in both Group and Jungian interpretation each aspect of a story is thought to represent a part of the self. With this in mind, in the fairy tale and therapy reflective practice space I hold, the Ugly Sisters' Feet have been the source of much discussion.

When do wesubmit to our feet being cut - maybe from the instruction of an authority who promises we wont need them, and encourages us to hide our pain? Surely we need our toes and heels for balance and/ or independence in our life. Or are we told our reward will mean we wont need that in the same way? Just as long as we have others to carry us? It makes me wonder about the mother/authority structures in our lives/ communites/institutions?

Do we embody the stepmother and command ourselves to cut off part of our feet with the hope of a reward?

What does it mean to have feet that are too big for the shoes we feel entitled to wear?

What do we need our feet for - what would living with a severed big toe or heel be like? I imagine there would be daily reminders but maybe also adaptations, whilst a feeling of being different that might often be able to be hidden from view?

What is lost in trying to make our feet smaller than they are?

How do we embrace a small footed life - without cutting off parts of ourselves?

There are many more questions and paths of thought this symbol inspires. I would be curious to hear others thoughts and associatons.

By DrLibbyNugent, Apr 15 2021 03:34PM

"We don't have a word for the opposite of loneliness, but if we did, I could say that's what I want in life."


“It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together.”

These are lines from an essay written by Marina Keegan, a 22-year-old Yale graduate on her experiences at Yale university. She died in a car accident not long after it was published.

To me the opposite of loneliness is the rather elusive feeling of belonging: the experience of connection to or solidarity with a particular group, identity or collective (Halse, 2018). There is something innate about our need to belong and the feeling of yearning, or to ‘be- in- longing for’, that takes hold of us so strongly when the need to belong is not met.

I have felt the yearning to belong at many points in my life - however I think it was somewhat at a febrile peak when applying for training to become a clinical psychologist. There was a consuming pull to get on to/ to belong to a clinical psychology training, any clinical psychology training. As an aspiring psychologist, I felt I had mined into some kind of secret social seam filled with diamonds and gems of people, people who were wise, kind and thoughtful - who seemed to know what was important, and knew what was normal. As someone who had no idea about what was normal, this felt extraordinary.

After several years of trying, thanks be to the gods and a reserve list, I got on. Similar to as Keegan describes, my experience of clinical psychology training was one full of ‘tiny circles’ that were “pulled” around me: Training cohorts, work teams, specialism faculties, social media groups, reflective circles, supervision spaces and ranting friends. These tiny groups that made me feel I could be part of something bigger - if only I could keep my act together. It wasn’t love and it wasn’t community - it was a sharing of experience and a feeling that this group we were joining was somehow defining and doing something important in the world. Whilst I doubt anyone felt an explicit sense of individual identification and belonging to training there was a sense that as a group we represented something meaningful, the group was part of something bigger, the group belonged. The lack of individual belonging whilst being part of a special group - a group that we think does deserve its success - can inflate a feeling of imposter syndrome. So that even when we have evidence of our accomplishments, individual group members remain convinced that they need to keep trying harder to follow group rules to fit in.

During training the feeling of the specialness of clinical psychology, its necessity and belonging in society, felt everywhere and I loved being around it. I didn’t quite know how to grab hold of it and make me part of it too, but I had a sense that if I could just stay close to it for long enough (and in the presence of these people) it might rub off onto me and stick. When I reflect on my experiences of training I recall repeatedly in lectures being told, if something is too difficult you can leave the room - now I suspect this might also include ‘you can turn off your camera’. We were encouraged to be mindful of ourselves, and to hold in mind the feelings of others before we speak. These statements at the time felt wise and generous, maybe because they were so familiar to me. Sometimes it was expressed that we need to be able to manage difficult conversations and practice not getting overwhelmed: clinical psychology training is not therapy and if you need this then you should seek this out privately. I’m not sure if it was ever said please try and stay, bring yourself and your bodies responses, we will all help each other get through this.

The cultural message was hidden but clear if you are in distress then that is private and what is necessary for the acceptance into this professional identity is to keep personal reactions and feelings away in order to keep your professional mask on. This I think was done with the intention of offering both compassion and privacy to the trainee and also in service of instruction on how to behave when acting as the container for others; no-one wants to encourage a therapist that prioritises their own feelings over the patient. Which is important except the pace of learning and changing contexts was so intense and relentless when was there time for processing?

There is a difference between acting or performing emotional containment and actually being a container for others. Importantly, how can anyone know the difference and discern between the two if they have never experienced it? When you don’t know the difference between performance of containment and actually being a container, then there can be a blurring of narratives: a thinking that boundaries are equivalent to rules. This can then lead to a lack of meaning making when events (such as overwhelm or distress) occur at the borders of professional versus personal identities: there can be a lack of discernment between encouraging self-respect through privacy and a passing on/colluding with shame. Instead there is a pressure for the group to be seen to know the right rule to follow and inevitably scapegoat someone when they prove we do not.

"Loneliness does not come from having no people around, but from being unable to communicate the things that seem important to oneself, or from holding certain views which others find inadmissible." - Carl Jung

When thinking about belonging I returned to a favourite film I first saw as a teenager: Breakfast at Tiffany’s with Audrey Hepburn. This story is based on a novella written by Capote. As an awkward teenager I resonated with the yearning expressed by the main character Holly Golightly, in her search for a place to belong; for a sense of kinship and love and also how this search is constantly tempered by Holly's difficulty to trust and her need for independence. She navigates her situation in the world by offering herself as what Capote describes as an ‘American Geisha’ in her social group. Geisha have long embodied the height of refinement and they are undoubtedly custodians of Japanese culture and traditions.

Culture is “like the air we breathe, it is both in us and all around us” (Hofstede, 1991).

In the Breakfast at Tiffany’s story we see a culture of wealth, social status, and a striving to belong. Holly is consumed by the idea of wealth and status, as evidenced by the fact that she goes to Tiffany’s—a jewellery shop famous for its diamonds—when she’s feeling down, finding that the shop gives her a feeling of calm. I wanted to be Holly, she made the feeling of loneliness look so glamorous and desirable. The film elicited in me the same pattern of striving to belong through special status and wealth - that somehow if only I could be more like Audrey Hepburn. Whilst I had little interest in real diamonds, I certainly felt that if I could just get close to people who shared my values and truly knew what’s important in life (like helping others) that I might be able to find a place to belong and I too could be transformed into something sparkly and valuable.

When I think about the story some more, what is tragic about Holly’s preoccupation with Tiffany’s is that she feels as if her actual life is not good enough when she compares it to what Tiffany's shop represents. As such she doesn’t bother to properly furnish her home or name her cat - she doesn’t feel as if her current life contains the happiness she’s looking for, so she doesn’t want to claim it as her reality. She says she would finally do this if she could find “a real-life place” that made her feel like she feels when she’s at Tiffany’s. This suggests that Holly’s attraction to Tiffany’s is directly linked to her unhappiness, though she never quite admits that she’s dissatisfied with her life. All the same, it’s obvious that her trips to Tiffany’s are attempts to feel something that she thinks is sorely missing from her actual existence.

Interestingly, the type of wealth that Tiffanys symbolizes and Holly idolises is in sync with the life Holly already leads, since she has successfully become a popular and respected “girl-about-New York” who is an integral part of the city’s high society. Holly significantly contributes and curates the group culture that she simultaneously does not quite feel that she belongs in. Accordingly, viewers can see that Holly yearns for something deeper than the supposed happiness that comes along with superficial wealth and status.

Indeed, what Tiffany’s represents to Holly isn’t just status and wealth, but a sense of belonging. Although she socialises with the city’s elite, she herself doesn’t come from a wealthy background. Ironically the more she denies and hides her past, acting in a way that reinforces and tragically validates her feeling of shame, the less she feels able to be a part of the group she so desperately aspires to be in. If Holly could be a customer at Tiffany’s in her own right, it seems, she might feel like she actually belongs in her life.

All we have to do now

Is take these lies and make them true somehow

All we have to see

Is that I don't belong to you

And you don't belong to me

George Michael - Freedom

Abraham Maslow famously defined a hierarchy of needs. The hierarchy is often portrayed as a pyramid, with what is described as the basic needs of food, house etc at the base and more complex needs such as spirituality near the peak. The need for love and belonging lie at the center of the pyramid as part of a social needs description. While Maslow suggested that these needs were less important than physical safety, he believed that the need for belonging helps people to experience companionship and acceptance through family, friends, and other relationships. Experiencing not belonging through isolation, loneliness and low social status can harm a person's subjective sense of well-being, as well as his or her intellectual achievement, immune function and health. Research shows that even a single instance of exclusion can undermine well-being, academic performance and self-control.

With adult eyes I can see how Maslow studied what he called the master race of people such as Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt as he felt "the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy." Maslow studied what he described as the healthiest 1% of the population. The healthiest also happened to be the most privileged and celebrated in society. The subtext of this is that the hierarchy might be better understood as the hierarchy of motivations for the privileged, than exactly a hierarchy of need. Maslow’s hierarchy to me has always felt almost intuitively accurate, of course we need physiological needs met before we can attend to matters of belonging, self-esteem and self-actualisation. Yet if I pause and wonder what the implications of this are, it starts to make a little less sense as a hierarchy. Even in my limited understanding I know people's sense of belonging and safety hugely influences whether someone feels able to take in physiological care; and many people (adults and children) will sacrifice physical safety, food and shelter - such is our drive to belong to a desired group. From a group analytic perspective our need to attach and belong to our groups is the primary task for survival, both physically and psychologically.

It is also essential to speak about how racist the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s is. The only character in the film who is not white is played by Mickey Rooney, a white man in yellow face - his story arc there to provide comic relief for the white audience. The punch line being as a white audience we all know who can never belong, who will never pass as elite. My wanting to have Breakfast at Tiffany’s held as something only good and beautiful as part of my cultural identity, makes it tempting for me to split off all the active abuse in the film. What does it then mean about me if I keep the racism in mind and still am drawn to the film? Is it as simple as throwing everything racist in the bin and never looking back? Is there a way to hold it differently - to hold all of it? What is created if I do? Or is this simply just my ego refusing to give something up? I don’t have the right answers to these questions. I don’t think any one person can - this is a social problem and as such we need social methodology - we need group conversations and multiple understandings to hold all the parts.

With adult eyes I can see how there is much for me to learn from the story of Holly’s white woman position in her social group. Her white femininity, elitist conversation and socially sanctioned beauty are the things she can trade on to help her access the social elite group. She hides the reality of her external and internal poverty, as well as the existence of her traumatic past, in order to put conditional belonging first.

When trying to discuss the antiracist book club for psychologists one of the concerns that gets raised amongst white peers is that as a white psychologist wanting to discuss racism, I am coming from a place of shame and self harm. There can be a fear that by naming and exploring something so ugly within our collective identity, I might be trying to encourage a collective experience of self-flagellation, or, self-hate amongst my white colleagues. There have been several times verbalised a fear the bookclub is a way of promoting ‘struggle sessions’ - that is to say ritualised public shaming to elicit conformity. Other questions that get asked are why would anyone with privilege give it up - what is in it for them?

Whilst I am sure these self hating/masochistic aggressions exist as motives as part of the unconscious group experience , my practice of anti racism has little to do with self attack and I have no interest in harnessing this in the space. In a community with so little experience of collective containment from a secure base, it is easy to understand why a request for self-examination of aggression, trauma and pain might be experienced as potentially abusive, disturbing and shaming. When the feeling of belonging is so elusive and our social script is built on damaging belief that belonging is achieved through denial of painful realities and of believing boundaries are rules, it makes sense that this is a concern. However, to my mind integrating something painful so that I can be less self-destructive is not quite the same as simply ‘giving something up’.

To speak directly, my hope is that in continuing to try and have conversations about racism and white supremacy we might create a better understanding of ourselves, own contexts, our own psyches and therefore the psyche of groups we belong to. My desire is to belong and I know my ability to belong is woven into the fabric of our community's ability to be conscious of its need to heal.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”

― Brené Brown, Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

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