Once Upon A Time ~ A Tale of Maternal Narcissism

Louisa Leontiades Beastly & Beautiful, Film & TV, Film/TV-General

I’m in thrall with a new series. Well, it’s new for me even if it came out in 2011… but having children delays the newness of things (which is why Netflix is a mother’s godsend).

Once Upon A Time re-frames every fairy tale you’ve ever known and intertwines them in a different narrative. After a terrible curse cast by the evil queen, all characters minus their memories are transported to an interesting version of hell – the fictional town of Storybrooke, Maine. Once I’d got over the shock of seeing House’s Dr. Cameron in the role of a bounty hunter and modern day daughter of Snow White, I was interested in the glorious archetypes depicted by each character… From the wise man Jiminy Cricket, to the good ‘ol ordinary Joes, the seven dwarves. But most of all, Regina the evil Queen the ruler, and Snow White’s stepmother.

We’re going through quite a revival of the ‘other side of the story’. From Gregory Maguire’s Wicked which explains that the wicked witch of the west in Oz, is simply an activist and freedom fighter, to Disney’s Maleficent who was originally a pure young girl thwarted and betrayed by those she loved. And so in order to explain how people become what they become, we must examine the formative influences in their lives. Enter Cora, Regina’s mother (stage right).

Regina: Daddy, you don’t know what Mother’s doing to me. It’s like she’s turning me into her. I have to get away.
Henry: Get away? But tomorrow’s the wedding, child.
Regina: I don’t want to marry the king. I’ve told you that.
Henry: Are you certain it isn’t just cold feet?
Regina: Daddy, this is not cold feet. This, this is… this is insanity! I’m angry all the time. She’s making me crazy.
Henry: She wants to give you everything she never got for herself.
Regina: I don’t want her life! I want a life of my own.

In fairy tales, like real life… evil is narcissism.

Regina is an example of extreme narcissism. A grandiose sense of self-importance, fantasies of unlimited success and power, requiring excessive admiration, a huge sense of entitlement, inter-personally exploitative and lacking in empathy. And Regina is unsurprisingly the daughter of an extreme narcissist. Because narcissists are not born, they are made. Firstly, through continued emotional (and maybe other) abuse. And afterwards by their own re-affirming choices.

I’ve been studying narcissistic personality disorder for so long now due to my own experience of maternal narcissism, that I can sniff it out from the briefest of clues. To tell you the truth it is everywhere… and is especially prevalent in my personal favourite fucked-up abusive class system, Britain (and therefore by definition any country that has been influenced by the British). Regina and her mother are not the briefest of clues. They are the finest demonstration of the regenerative, self-perpetuating and insidious power that is narcissism. But usually maternal narcissism is not so obvious. It’s dangerous because it can almost appear like justified behaviour, in the ‘best interests’ of the child.

Are Children of Narcissists destined to be Narcissists themselves?

Such is the power of narcissism to be passed on from generation to generation, that the biggest fear of all children of narcissists… is to become narcissists themselves, thus passing on the disease to their own children. Narcissism can only be beaten by awareness of what the traits are, and conscious, deliberate actions to combat their manifestation. Because no one can change a narcissist, apart from themselves. And the jolt of awareness you need to recognise your own narcissism will come from one source. Love. A greater love for someone else than for yourself. Like Regina’s for Henry, her adopted son.

Disney’s Evil Queen leaves no room for compassion, but Once Upon A Time is more realistic. Regina is the product of a toxic and abusive upbringing. And yet, eventually as an adult, she was responsible for the choices she made. As is continually mentioned throughout the series, her choices and her magic… comes with a price. That price for Regina is the love of her adopted son and very nearly her soul (in the second series she starts therapy; I’ll let you know how that turns out).

It’s difficult to look in the mirror and realise that you are not the fairest of them all. You may have some or all of these traits because you were yourself shamed, controlled and competed with. And yet the choice is a black and white as in the fairy tales themselves. Either you can be the person you were made into, or change into the person you want to be.