Updated: Mar 20
David Baddiel’s recent BBC documentary “Social Media and Me” featured his daughter Dolly talking about how social media feeds the adolescent longing to belong as well as stand out. She talks compelling of the need for an identity that gets a receptive audience. This can feed competitive, destructive impulses as well as being addictive. The search for an identity is universal and important throughout our lives. To this end fairy tales have survived because of their symbolic value and subliminal messages not because of literal meanings.
The story of Goldilocks evokes the struggle we all face in searching for an identity and a feeling of belonging. Finding a way of being in the world that feels comfortable can be an elusive and frustrating journey. We all have figures we identify with as we grow. Sometimes these are conscious; a much loved icon, musician or writer or less consciously, with parental figures. It can ultimately help to shift the emphasis from an external, literal process involving how you present yourself in the world to an internal more symbolic one. Paradoxically, accepting our outer limitations can allow growth, movement and change.
Identification is a psychological process that starts early in childhood. It involves the incorporation (a taking into the body) of an aspect or attribute of the other. A mother connects the baby’s sense of their body and mind for them through her interactions. In a sense, she introduces the baby to themselves, initially as part of the feeding process. Through this, children are transformed wholly or partially by the model that other (in this case the mother) provides. It is by means of a series of identifications like this that the personality is constituted. This exchange continues through living itself. It becomes problematic if the mother, or other early care givers, have strong feelings about an aspect of the child (because of their own experiences or emotional problems). The child will then find those parts of himself difficult to accept because of the association with rejection.
Unconsciously we can then become stuck with our own rejection of parts of us that we don’t want, eg. dismissing a healthy sense of aggression. There is a pull that the identification exerts on us that can continue to sabotage us in our lives. The experience of feeling uncomfortable with some unhelpful identifications often can spur us to seek help. We may need our aggression and ruthless parts to push us forward into life but if our parent couldn’t accept those in us this can leave us with internal conflict. Awareness of this struggle therefore can lead to helpful change. The story of Goldilocks and the three bears is about the disruption that can be involved in this process. Goldilocks is curious and wants to discover the mysteries of adult life. She is an intruder that breaks into the privacy of the family. Her search for an identity breaks the established order of things much like the experience of adolescence. One becomes a person only as one defines oneself against another person. This can mean rebellion and disruption to the family. She tries the masculine, paternal porridge and it’s too hot. His bed is too hard. The mother’s porridge is too cold and the bed too soft. Only baby bear’s porridge and bed are just right. The number three seems significant; it could be understood to mean that trying the other two was important in order to find a middle way between two extremes. Goldilocks struggles to find something that fits. She tries out all the options which we need to do to know what feels right. At the end of the story, she leaves the bears house through the window and it’s unclear where she ends up. It’s not an easy ending because all she can do is run away and continue searching. Hopefully aspects of what she found with the bears will linger and show her satisfaction is possible. We only need to keep searching for something if it feels lost which may be the case if our original identifications were problematic or parts of ourselves felt unacceptable. We are looking for ourselves in the eyes of another. The Goldilocks story illustrates this well, is she to be like father or mother or like a child? She recognises that she isn’t ready for the first two. As Goldilocks did, we may need to try different identifications, have new relationships and take them in enough so we can bear to lose the old ones.