Beauty and The Beast: a metaphor for NPD.

beauty_beast

A few days ago, I was thinking about the wonderful 1991 Disney animated movie, “Beauty and The Beast.” I was always moved by the Transformation scene at the end when the evil spell on the Beast and his castle is finally lifted after he nearly dies and Belle finally declares her love for him. In my opinion, it’s one of the best moments in animated movie history. That scene has haunted me for a long, long time and the other day, I felt inspired to watch it again, and was as–or even more moved by it–than the first time I saw it. And this time I knew why–the entire story of the Beast in this movie is a metaphor for a man suffering from NPD–who healed from it.

As the movie opens, we are shown a series of stained-glass images telling the story of how the Beast became that way. He wasn’t always a Beast. His real name was Adam and he had been a handsome young prince, but extremely arrogant, entitled, and lacking in empathy (sound familiar?). One cold and snowy night, a beggar woman came to the castle begging for a place to sleep for the night to escape from the bitter cold. In exchange she offered him a single rose. Adam sneered at the rose and refused her a warm bed and coldly sent her on her way, but not before the beggar woman suddenly transformed into a beautiful enchantress, who in her righteous anger at the callous young prince’s heartless actions, put a spell on him, turning him into the physical manifestation of the Beast he had become inside, and at the same time transforming the trappings of his former grandiosity and entitlement (a well-appointed and beautiful castle and loyal servants) into a dark and frightening prison and common household objects. The rose she had left him–which I believe represents Adam’s True Self (and he had sneered at it because it represented the vulnerability he had rejected)–would continue to bloom for a decade. If Adam failed to learn to love another (and earn her love) in that decade, the woman had warned him the rose would die and he would be forever doomed to his fate (unable to heal from his narcissism, he would become malignant). Adam’s only window to the outside world was the magic mirror the woman had left him, but all Adam can see in it is his own hideous reflection.

The Making of a Beast:

No longer receiving any narcissistic supply, Adam falls into depression, despair, and self hatred. He attacks his own image in a painting and refuses to look at himself in the mirror anymore. He is consumed by anger and self-pity until the day a beautiful young woman (Belle) comes by the castle to rescue her father, who The Beast has imprisoned for trespassing.

Belle is the opposite of The Beast in every way. Not only is she physically beautiful, but she is poor, the daughter of the town eccentric who is a laughing stock and considered crazy, even though he is actually a brilliant inventor. Belle is kind and loving and has a high level of empathy. The first thing she does is offer to take her father’s place in the castle’s dungeon if The Beast will only free him.

The Beast takes her up on her offer on the condition she stay there in the castle with him forever. Belle reluctantly agrees, even though she is at the mercy of The Beast’s terrible temper and frequent narcissistic rages. Her father is freed, and Belle dutifully obeys whatever the Beast tells her to do, but because she is an empath, she can see through his frightening facade to the broken young man he really is.   Early during her stay, she is wandering around the Castle and comes across the enchanted rose under its glass dome.  The Beast catches her and quickly covers the rose (evidence of his vulnerability) and rages, bellowing “Do you realize what you could have DONE?? Get out!” But as the months pass, the Beast begins to look forward to their time together, and slowly learns some manners and social graces. Belle works on humanizing Adam and finds she is slowly falling in love with him, and as he begins to accept her love (mirroring), he reluctantly begins to reveal his true self to her.

Meanwhile, Belle is being pursued by a very arrogant and probably malignantly narcissistic young man from her town named Gaston. Belle can’t stand Gaston, and refuses his proposal of marriage in which she would be nothing but an object and slave to him. Consumed by rage over her rejection of him, one night Gaston and his buddies plan an attack on the The castle to kidnap Belle. In the ensuing battle, The Beast is falls to the ground from a high elevation and is left for dead. A grieving Belle finally proclaims her love for the Beast, just as the last rose petal falls.

The spell is broken and The Beast is transformed back into Adam, the handsome Prince he used to be–only with a difference–he is no longer entitled or arrogant and he is now capable of being able to love, thanks to Belle’s empathic kindness. The castle (which I think represents the quality of Adam’s life) is also transformed to its former glory and the household objects turn back into loyal servants (who can now be his friends too).   Note that a narcissist regards other people as mere objects and not human.

The Transformation:

When I talked to some friends about writing an article about this movie being a metaphor for healing from NPD, it was mentioned to me the dangers of making such a comparison. First of all, this is a fairy tale and in real life, things don’t normally work out this way. A woman who falls in love with a narcissistic man is far more likely to be abused and exploited than loved in return–and she almost certainly isn’t going to be able to “fix” the narcissist. Just as problematic is the idea that in order for a narcissistic man to change, he must earn the love of a woman. It was pointed out that this could be construed as sexist.

But because this is a fairy tale, the underlying moral is of course more compelling (and entertaining) if there’s a romance involved. I think of this romance as a metaphor for the relationship between a self-aware and willing narcissistic patient and his or her therapist. Belle’s looks don’t actually matter–her beauty is a metaphor for her pure soul and empathetic nature. She is giving the Beast the reparenting he probably never got from his own family. The Beast’s ugliness is a metaphor for his narcissistic personality, but in this case, it’s not so deeply ingrained in him for it to have become malignant–which is why the enchanted rose is still alive until the spell is broken. The rose represents The Beast’s true self, which is integrated back into the Beast’s psyche during the Transformation.

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About luckyotter

Recovering from BPD and C-PTSD due to narcissistic abuse from childhood. Married to a sociopath for 20 years. Proud INFJ, Enneagram type 4w5. Animal lover, music lover, cat mom, unapologetic geek, fan of the absurd, progressive Catholic, mom to 2, mental illness stigma activist, anti-Trumper. #RESISTANCE
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23 Responses to Beauty and The Beast: a metaphor for NPD.

  1. Momof2 says:

    How did you find out his real name was Adam?

    I never understood why the beggar woman had to punish his servants because of his selfishness.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      I’m not sure where I found out his real name was Adam since as far as I can tell, it’s never mentioned in the film, but I think I read it somewhere and in other versions of the story, that is the prince’s name. I agree it wasn’t fair of the beggar woman to put a spell on the servants too since they were in no way at fault.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Pam says:

        If you view the servants as other people who have interpersonal relationships with Adam/ the narcissist, i.e., family members, co-workers, friends, and neighbors, then you could say they are cursed as well simply by having a close association. Everyone who interacts with a narcissist eventually becomes a victim, per Sam Vaknin. So that is how you could make sense of the servants being cursed as well using the narcissistic analogy.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. lynettedavis says:

    This was a good analogy. I think the only reason it has a happy ending is because well, fairy tales must have a happy ending… or they wouldn’t be fairy tales.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      Yes, in real life things certainly would never end this way and if anyone thinks they can, they are going to be disappointed at the very least. That’s why I prefer to think of it as a metaphor.

      Liked by 1 person

      • lynettedavis says:

        I agree. Twenty something (I think it’s been that long since Beauty and the Beast was released) years ago, people weren’t talking openly about narcissism but it was still a problem. A few children stories have narcissistic themes. Think the movie “Tangled.” Also, the children’s book Matilda. It’s there but only people that are aware of narcissistic abuse would be able to pick it up.

        Liked by 1 person

        • luckyotter says:

          So many fairy tales and children’s stories are tales of narcissism and narcissistic abuse. Too bad we weren’t cognizant of these messages when we were kids, right? Better late than never.
          Lots of narcissistic mothers (well, stepmothers) in particular: Snow White and Cinderella come immediately to mind.
          It’s hard to wrap my mind around the fact this movie is 24 years old!

          Liked by 3 people

  3. Quixie says:

    Lucky,

    This was brilliant! Oh so good.

    I’ve always related very much with Belle, out of all the Disney characters. I fell in love with my own narcissist who, come to think of it, was very much the Beast in this story. I remember my narc making fun of this movie calling it “Stockholm Syndrome.” I remember feeling very personally hurt when he said that because it was like he was criticizing my love for someone who was so untouchable (him). I can definitely see how in real life it would be extremely abusive for a person to put someone through what the Beast put Belle through and in real life The Beast would not have changed just because a kind hearted woman fell in love with him. I do see the danger there in sending that message to young women in our society. I know that I’ve always wanted to transform someone with my love for them. I think it’s normal to want to have a positive impact on someone and make a difference in their life. I still absolutely love this story but, yes, it is pure fantasy.

    Anyway, great analogy!

    And Gaston…he he, I always laugh at that character. He was so ridiculous.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      Quixie, that’s interesting about your narcissist making fun of this movie being “Stockholm Syndrome” and if this happened in real life, it probably would be, lol! Taken as a metaphor, it doesn’t have to have a dangerous message, and of course Belle was also a strong woman who resisted and was disgusted by the ridiculous “charms” of the true narcissist in this story: Gaston, who was unredeemable. It’s possible the Beast may not have been fully NPD but just had narcissistic traits, because even early on, he has moments of what seems like concern for his prisoner. The message is probably a dangerous one for naive children who get the idea that a tyrant can be transformed, but seen in a more sophisticated light, it can be one of hope too.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Quixie says:

        That’s a good way to put it. I love that you focused on the relationship between the narc and the therapist being the means of hope and not the dysfunctional relationship.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Love the analogy but, doubt creeps in, could someone with NPD truly be cured? I’d like to think yes but reality screams no.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      Most, probably not, because in order for a cure, both willingness and self awareness would have to be present, and one of the hallmarks of NPD is a lack of insight or a lack of willingness (some narcissists may know they arwe narcissists but have no problem with that). I post on a forum about NPD though, and there are a number of covert narcissists there who are in therapy and do not like being that way. I think that’s because covert narcissism is a much less “adaptive” way to live for the person who has it, and is therefore ego-dystonic, meaning the person doesn’t like the way they are and wants to change. However, I do not think malignant narcissists can ever change, not they they’d ever want to anyway. But there have been documented cases of people being cured from NPD (Masterson, Kohut, Kernberg) but maybe they were never that high on the spectrum in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Dawn V. Cahill says:

    Reblogged this on Dawn V. Cahill – Hot Topic Fiction and commented:
    If only love could truly turn a narcissist into a handsome prince! Unfortunately, I’ve never known of a real-life example, except for one…God’s love for King Nebuchadnezzar in the Bible.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. hbsuefred says:

    Boy, am I relieved that Disney wasn’t a psychoanalyst!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Dave Jones says:

    This is an interesting reading of the film, especially considering my narc ex told me this was her favourite Disney film. She and I talked about how she was similar to Belle but I wouldn’t be surprised if really she identified more with the beast, even if only subconsciously.

    Liked by 1 person

    • luckyotter says:

      That could very well explain her closer identification of the Beast. But he had a heart, deeply buried. Do you feel the same is true of her? If she was irredeemable, she might have related more to Gaston….just saying.

      Like

      • Dave Jones says:

        Thanks for your reply! Yes she definitely has a heart but is deeply insecure and uses histrionics and manipulation to get her narcissistic supply, at least that’s how it was with me anyway. She had a very warm and gentle aspect to her that she always felt ashamed of revealing very soon afterwards, on the very rare occasions she did. She so obviously puts on a hard/cold front to avoid being hurt or criticised, which is certainly comparable to the beast! Unfortunately as I understand and sympathse with her condition it makes me want to occasionally email and catch up with her to try and work out if she’s getting better/happier, but it’s useless because her replies are always full of laughably hyperbolic boasts about how amazing and fun her life is now, but I would expect that!

        But to get back to the subject, I can definitely see how she might unknowingly identify with the beast and specifically his defensive agression that stems from insecurity and rejection. That and perhaps also the desire to be able to really get back to that inner self and embrace it without being ashamed of appearing soft or pathetic.

        Liked by 1 person

        • luckyotter says:

          That’s a good analogy too and a GREAT character analysis of Belle! I believe she may actually be a covert narcissist herself but low on the spectrum. She definitely has narc traits (in the beginning of the movie, looking down haughtily on her “provincial” and poor neighbors, singing in Sound of Music style about how “she wanted so much more than this.”
          She got more than she bargained for, lol! She also shows traits of possible BPD or HPD, but seems more likely to become codependent than the average narcissist or borderline. What keeps her from being a narcissist is her high level of empathy. ALthough according to the DSM, someone with NPD only needs to show 5 of the 9 traits (lack of empathy being one), a narc can happen to possess the empathy trait but still show 5 other traits, so theoretically, they can have empathy, but I’ve never met one who does. :mrgreen:
          Anyway, good post about Belle. She’s definitely a more-than-one dimensional, complicated character. So is the Beast. Gaston is very one dimensional, textbook NPD.

          Like

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