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Today’s link from the shrink is:
This a book that I have loved since it first came out in the 1970’s even though its author, Bruno Bettleheim, was later disgraced, his other theories discredited, and he suffocated himself to death with a plastic bag.
The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales answers the question: why do we tell terrifying fairy tales to kids? If you have ever read the Brother’s Grimm as they were originally written, they are, well, grim. There’s death and abandonment and kids getting eating by wolves and witches and everything we might want to shield our precious children from. Don’t, says Bettleheim. Children need those stories to work out their fears in a safe, bracketed, setting.
He goes on to interpret fairy tales along Freudian lines. Cinderella as you’ve never heard it before.
Bettleheim was also known for his theory of autism, which he thought was caused by children being raised by “refrigerator parents” who never show affect. This theory has since been disproven.
He ran a treatment center for children in which he tried out another theory of his, that of the “therapeutic milieu”. His milieu proved to be less than therapeutic when it came to light that he was physically and verbally abusive to the kids at the center.
So, you have a guy who preaches the value of scary fairy tales, who believes autism is caused by parents who don’t show their emotions, and who showed far too many of his emotions in a disrespectful, unrestrained way. I’m seeing a pattern here. A guy who privileges feeling over reason and uses his reason to justify it.
Still, I don’t believe we should discard one contributions of his just because the whole is too much to swallow.
The moral of the story: Don’t take yourself too seriously, believe your our theories too much, or take them too far. Especially if your name is Bettelheim.