I hate the whole Disney Princess thing. I hate pink, fairy princess marketing full stop. My daughters haven’t been indoctrinated into the mystique of being a girly princess and the eldest has only seen three Disney cartoons in her life. One is Tangled which we downloaded out of desperation a couple of years ago when we were marooned at my parents house and the kids had a sickness bug. Today we watched Tangled for the second only time.
The first time I was struck by the creepy Gothel character, the old woman who stole baby Rapunzel. She is absolutely a dysfunctional and abusive mother-figure and not just for the obvious child abduction reasons. She manipulates Rapunzel in a way which made me cringe the first time I saw it and again today.
Here is the opening dialogue between Rapunzel and Gothel
GOTHEL -RAPUNZEL! Let down your hair.
RAPUNZEL (to pet) – It’s time. I know, I know. Come on, don’t let her see you.
GOTHEL – Rapunzel, I’m not getting any younger down here.
RAPUNZEL – Coming, mother. Hi, welcome home, mother.
GOTHEL – Oh, Rapunzel. How you manage to do that every single day, without fail, it looks absolutely exhausting, darling.
RAPUNZEL – Oh, it’s nothing.
GOTHEL – Then I don’t know why it takes so long. (Laughs) Oh, darling. I’m just teasing.
Ouch! I really wish I knew if Dan Fogelman who wrote the script had a narcissistic mother. This is my mother-in-law but without all the false charm projected by Gothel. For fun I’m going to show how she is narcissistic and how her interactions with Rapunzel are emotionally abusive.
RAPUNZEL! Let down your hair. There is no “please” you’ll notice, she orders and expects to be unquestioningly obeyed.
Rapunzel, I’m not getting any younger down here. Impatient and self-absorbed, it doesn’t occur to her that Rapunzel may be in the middle of something.
RAPUNZEL – Coming, mother. Hi, welcome home, mother.
GOTHEL – Oh, Rapunzel. How you manage to do that every single day, without fail, it looks absolutely exhausting, darling. Notice she doesn’t greet her “daughter”, the mock concern and patronising use of the word darling. If she were really concerned she’d get a bloody rope and climb up herself.
RAPUNZEL – Oh, it’s nothing. Yep, well learned Rapunzel. No child of a narcissist ever complains about their treatment, mummy comes first.
GOTHEL – Then I don’t know why it takes so long. (Laughs) Oh, darling. I’m just teasing. Oh wow, every time I read that it packs the same punch. Rapunzel walked straight into the trap. And then the bit that makes me shudder because my MIL does it, the light laugh and “oh darling” (again belittling) “I’m just teasing” er no, she bloody is not!
It is a classic trap used by emotional abusers, it should have its own name. First deflect and disarm by leading the other person to believe you are concerned for them, with a great dollop of belittlement and condescension thrown in, then when the victim of your trap attempts to brush off your concern slam them with the real criticism you were intending all along. And throw in the revolting sting in the tail by then laughing in the face of their obvious distress at the stinging remark and implying that their lack of perspective or sense of humour is what has made the remark hurt in the first place. This last comment is also defensive as it acts to protect against any comeback, it was a joke, I was teasing. Vomit inducing.
If Rapunzel had replied “Yes it really is exhausting” she would have got the other side of the trap, “Oh! I had no idea that safely bringing you mother to greet you every day was such a burden” cue massive self pitying sulk.
The scene plays on and poor Rapunzel gets more of the same.
All right…so, mother. As you know tomorrow is a very big day. Ha! Good luck with that, nobody else has a big day in a narcissists mind, she’ll hijack it somehow.
Rapunzel look at that mirror. You know what I see? I see a strong, confident, beautiful young lady. Oh look, you’re here too. I’m just teasing, stop taking everything so seriously. This is an overtly narcissistic comment, vain and self absorbed, though not all narcissists revel in their physical beauty. This interaction also shows how the mother always notices herself ahead of others.
Okay, so mother. I was thinking tomorrow…
Flower, mother’s feeling a little run down. Would you sing for me, dear? Then we’ll talk. Repeatedly she ignores her “daughter”‘s need to talk putting her own needs first, the hallmark of a narcissistic parent.
-OH! Of course, mother. Again the child has been trained so well she responds without arguing (cue a bit of singing in the cartoon).
So, mother, Earlier I asked if tomorrow was a pretty big day, and you didn’t really respond, So I’m just going to tell you. It’s my birthday! TADA! In the world of the narcissistic parent you have to remind them when it’s your birthday, and having them not respond to you is completely normal.
No, no, no can’t be. I distinctly remember. Your birthday was last year. Crazy-making at its height, denying a fact everyone knows to be true. Minimising the other person’s claim for attention.
That’s the funny thing about birthdays. They’re kind of an annual thing. Mother, I’m turning eighteen. And I wanted to ask, what I really want for this birthday. Actually what I want for every birthday…
Rapunzel please, stop with the mumbling. You know how I feel about the mumbling. Blah, blah, blah,…blah. It’s very annoying. I’m just teasing, you’re adorable I love you so much, darling. Totally ignores what the girl is building up to, no empathy here at all just jumps in with her criticism. Rapunzel should stop mumbling because Gothel hates it, her wishes come first.
Oh, I want to see the floating lights.
-What? Snapped out, not a question more of a challenge. NPD MIL frequently snaps out things when loosing control of the conversation in some way.
-Oh,…Well I was hoping you would take me to see the floating lights.
Oh, you mean the stars. Again deliberately misunderstanding the other person’s needs.
That’s the thing I’ve charted stars and they’re always constant. But these, they appear every year on my birthday, Mother. Only on my birthday. And I can’t help but feel that they’re, they’re meant for me. I need to see them, Mother. And not just from my window. In person. I have to know what they are. Rapunzel clearly articulates a deep, yearning need.
You want to go outside? Oh, why Rapunzel. Look at you, as fragile as a flower. Still a little sapling, just a sprout. You know why we stay up in this tower. Questions her daughter’s need, undermines her with infantilising comments and attacks her independence and self esteem to make her more emotionally reliant on the abusive parent.
-I know, but…
Thats right, to keep you safe, and sound, dear. Guess I always knew this day was coming. Know that soon you’d want to leave the nest. Soon, but not yet. Shhh.. The core of all abusive behaviour is to put one person’s needs ahead of the others, in this case the mother’s need for her daughter to keep her young and beautiful ahead of the child’s need to grow and become independent. Keep them dangling and hoping for a change but don’t deliver it.
Trust me pet, Mother, knows best. Finishes with the ultimate put down to any child, the parent’s views and in this case needs automatically trumps the child’s simply by virtue of the relationship between them, no one can argue with “because I’m your mother and I know best”.
The reason this entire scene horrifies me is because it as an almost exact replication of interactions I have seen between my husband and SIL and their mother. And Gothel in the story is an evil, child stealing witch for goodness sake, the worst sort of fairy tale villain. The most vile way of protraying an abusive parent that the scriptwriter could come up with is an almost exact description of my MIL!