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Dutiful daughter, darling doll. The hazards of being a princess.

Throughout the literature surrounding fathers and daughters, there exists pervasive imagery of father as hero, protector, and groom, with daughter placed in the role of “darling doll” and “dutiful daughter.”

Puella aeterna,” Latin for “eternal girl,” describes “the brilliant but volatile side of ourselves that is by turns the seemingly immortal Prince or Princess and the helplessly vulnerable, wounded boy or girl” (Beebe, 2004, p. 102).

Linda Leonard, author of The Wounded Woman, theorizes that a common puella lifestyle for a woman with a father wound is to lead the “darling” existence. She says, “Such a woman becomes the image her lover [and society] expects her to be, adapting herself to his fantasies of the feminine” (p. 39).

Though the girl or woman may outwardly appear confident and successful, “and like a powerful princess she may be the envy of many a woman’s secret wish,” inwardly her identity is vulnerable and self-doubting,

“for in continually posing for others

she does not know who she really is. …

She is virtually a doll, a puppet.”

Good girls learn to be “quiet, obedient, dependable, and loyal; in exchange they are caressed and hugged and get their father’s attention.” Later the girl may struggle with finding her voice, “because she has been listening most of her life” (Murdock, 1994, p. 20).

On the other hand, “bad girls” may be rejected for being “too much to handle.” Murdock warns that these “unheard, unacceptable feelings” do not go away, but “collect in dark corners of the personality and eventually take on a life of their own.”

How a daughter is trained to handle her emotions as a child influences how she functions emotionally as an adult.

It is vital for such a woman to see that this vision has been projected upon her, that she is living “behind a persona modeled in an image that is really not her own." “No wonder there is often exhaustion, dryness, and lack of meaning,” says Leonard (p. 70).

The “dutiful daughter” image depicts

the fantasy of goodness and virtue,

yet “denies the shadow and

all its life and creativity."

The illusion of virtuousness and purity consequently prohibits a large portion of the woman’s personality from expressing itself, eventually cutting off her connection to the Self. The disallowed parts of the woman’s personality may become undeveloped and primitive, and if they are not consciously allowed to emerge, they may erupt harshly and by surprise.

At that point, the daughter, now a grown woman, must take up the task of learning to accept herself, giving up the “good girl role” she had performed as a child, and the role she has continued to perform into adulthood.

This involves the woman being able to “trust” that she can be who she needs to be without moral judgment, dis-identifying from the negative, restricting image of herself that she may have adopted as a girl.

Leonard explains that the pivotal concern for this woman is to “assert herself as to who she really is,” since her inclination has been to acquire her identity (or lack thereof) from others (p. 54). In allowing herself to become an “object,” she has been inhabiting an identity that is not her own.

To de-armor or to shed the persona involves being open and showing one’s darker and weaker sides, the sides that have been suppressed or repressed by obedience to the strong, rigid authority” (p. 70).

“The first step of the way in transforming

this pattern is to become conscious

that one is out of relation to the self,

to know and feel there is more

in oneself” (p. 55).

Many women fail to integrate the “good girl” persona with the more primitive, shadowy aspects of their personalities, probably because they “remain unaware of how deeply they continue to identify with and reflect patriarchal values” (Murdock, 1994, p. 79). This shows up in subtle, insidious ways, such as the constant daily need for approval, behaving in ways (dressing, speaking, acting) that garner approval from others but not internal congruence and satisfaction.

Furthermore, many women have been taught, either by their personal father, or by the patriarchal father (via old myths and fairy tales), to look for magical rescue rather than do their internal work.

Murdock (1990) writes, “The betrayal of the feminine by the masculine has been recounted in endless stories and myths, but none as poignant as the betrayal of [the] daughter’s love for her father with his promise of love and marriage to a heavenly youth” (p. 77). “The feminine is not allowed to reveal itself from its center, but is reduced to those forms compatible with the prevailing masculine view,” writes Leonard (1998, p. 27).

In countless tragedies, such as the Greek play Iphigenia in Aulis, there is a particular opinion of the feminine that is implied: “Woman is regarded as man’s possession!” (p. 27). Today, many women still look for rescue from the “Other,” rather than looking inward to develop their own internal father figure, or animus (Hollis, 1998, p. 83).

© 2017, Karina McGovern Chace, with excerpts from "Fathers in the Sand: The Transformative Emergence of Archetypal Images through Sandplay.


  • Fathers, try to go easy on the princess terminology. I know it is deeply engrained in the culture, and so you may have to get really conscious about it. You will need to think for yourself and swim against the current of pop culture. Certainly it is perfectly acceptable for daughters to try on the princess role if they so desire (and they probably will); however, when daughters are treated like princesses throughout their lives (disallowing for the "trying-on" of other roles, perhaps ones that are less culturally-engrained, cute, or "appropriate"), it does not serve them well in becoming whole, actualized human beings in the future. Princesses tend to look for magical rescue, because these are the stories they have been fed. You have to remember that stories are potent. As adult daughters, we may even believe we need magical rescue in order to survive, in order to be "okay" in our own skin. Start becoming aware of what roles your daughter is playing, and what role(s) you are playing in her blooming life narrative. Because these roles will stick with her. If they are restricting or negative, it may take a long time for her to unstick them later.

  • Daughters, who would you be if there was not so much judgment about who you are "supposed" to be, or who you are not supposed to be? Do you believe you need someone to rescue you, to approve of you, to give you permission? How did your upbringing either instill this expectation in you, or conversely help you to know you are capable of taking care of yourself without the "magical other?" What qualities are considered appropriate for you to inhabit, and what qualities are considered inappropriate? If you could choose right now, what trait would you abandon or embody less, and which quality would you pick up and inhabit more? Who or what is keeping you from being your true self? Think about these qualities as garments of clothing. We have parts of ourselves we have shoved into a box, or are lying rumpled in a dark corner. Then there is that one outfit you wear day after day, the one that ripples few waves, but that might also bring you little to no joy. We can still play as adults. You can try on new roles even now. If you are a grown daughter, you might need to set down the condemnation that "grown women should not do this or that, or should not wear this or that." There is so much judgment around what we should and should not do, and frankly these messages may come from other women. In order to be your best self, you need to stop listening to these lies.

  • On a personal note, my father died when I was in my 20's. In church one day my eyes were filled with tears, when suddenly a male parishioner came alongside me, and he whispered into my ear, "One day a man will come along who will take away all the pain." I remember thinking what an incredible message this was, like a prophetic word, just for me. I witnessed others in the Church receive prophetic messages, it seemed magical and inspiring, but I never experienced it myself. [Later I realized this display of prophecy was often more theatrical than truthful.] It certainly eased the pain at the moment, but the problem with the message whispered in my ear that morning is that the underlying meaning was that I could not process, digest, and survive/grow (let alone thrive) without a man coming along to lift my pain from me. It took me a long time to figure out how to lift this myth off my life and to recognize my own inherent strength. This does not mean you can't find someone who will love and cherish you, BUT you will no longer be desperate for such a person to magically arrive on the scene. In addition to lifting the myth off of yourself, you will no longer expect "the other" to be everything for you, and so you lift that burden off him or her as well. No one human being can satisfy all of your magical cravings, and for good reason; there are tasks that are yours and yours alone.

  • What messages have been whispered in your ear as a young girl or woman? Were they helpful or damaging?

  • Reflect upon examples of women in your life today, or in the culture at large, that you witness functioning as dutiful daughters and darling dolls. Without getting caught up in judgment of the particular persons, because that does little good (and most people get stuck here), the question is how does this make you feel as a woman? And how do we each play a part in allowing this storyline to be perpetuated? How do you play a part? How do you want to see things change, and how can you be the change?


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