Do you know the fairy tale of the ugly duckling by Hans Christian Andersen? Are you aware that, ‘beneath the surface’ it contains a lot of female knowledge and wisdom?

The author and psychologist Clarissa Pinkola-Estés once again managed to work on this fairy tale in her world bestseller ‘Women Who Run with the Wolves’. She makes the encrypted messages of the story available to everyone. It contains a few important key messages about the female soul. But let’s start with a summary:


A mother duck is sitting on her eggs. The eggs hatch and six wonderful yellow ducklings pop out. Only from the seventh egg there comes a grey, ugly duckling. It is bigger and clumsier than its siblings, and because of being different it is avoided by the others. Although mother duck tries to protect it, it even gets physically attacked and is treated like a leper. It has a painful life.

One day its mother has not got any more strength to defend the young one, so it sets out into the unknown. It is mocked and avoided because of its looks, and constantly has to face mortal danger.

So the duckling flees from one place to the next, until one day, it reaches a beautiful lake. In the meantime it has learnt how to fly, and lands on the water near three big birds. On the surface the duckling can see its own reflection. First, it hardly recognizes itself because it looks like those majestic swans surrounding it. And instead of being frozen out, the other swans preen its feathers and take the little swan into their family.


The fairy tale contains a lot of important key messages, such as:

The ugly duckling is seen as an outsider, fought against, and eventually excluded from the community. It is defenceless, and loses vital force.

Girls with a strong female primary instinct are sometimes seen as ‘totally amiss’, and punished, or at least treated more strictly than others because of their self-will. Their curiosity, imagination and eccentricity are inconvenient, and so their creativity is blocked. The girls are told that their being different is bad, or even unwanted. After some time many of these girls feel weak, ugly, unaccepted, which burdens their self-worth for a long time.

Because of the ugly duckling, the mother duck is confronted with an inner crucial test. If she stands up for her child, her family’s reputation will suffer, if she casts it out, she acts against her motherly instincts.

Mothers of unadjusted girls often try to teach them decent, socially adjusted, and accepted behaviour. Even as grown up women they are excluded or punished due to their unconventional lifestyle and resistance to social norms. In the fairy tale, the mother is completely overstretched, and fears confrontation with the others. She does not express her thoughts and opinions.

The mother duck is attacked by the community because of her strange child, until she eventually breaks down. Thus the duckling loses its only ally in life.

Many mothers of ‘wild’ and self-determined girls feel ambivalent because they cannot keep their mothering role any longer. Therefore, they often follow the path of lowest resistance, which can cause emotional cracks in the girl. The mother duck in the fairy tale is fragile, naïve, and in many ways, still a child herself. As a young girl she was probably not properly mothered by her own mother, and, therefore, cannot pass on this positive feeling to her daughter. The self-worth of a broken mother is not intact, and she threatens to collapse with challenges. In the worst case, the girl feels responsible for her mother’s sufferings.

The ugly duckling is looking for its kind for a long time, until it eventually finds them, is accepted and appreciated by them.

The danger is that maladjusted, wild women keep knocking at the wrong doors, trying to get friends in unsuitable circles, where they are treated as outsiders again. It is not worth enduring emotional abuse to receive a few dubious signs of love. Only honest self-analysis and working on your experiences can lead to real healing, and can open the doors to people like you.


Read my questions and watch the feelings that arise. Maybe you want to write down your thoughts:

_ Did you feel different to the others as a little girl?

_ Were you told to adapt to your environment?

_ Were you in the role of an outsider?

_ How much did your mother understand/support/defend you?

_What was your mother like as a little girl?

_ Have you found people of your kind?

_ Do you prefer being alone to company?

_ Do you sometimes over-adapt?

_ Would you call yourself highly-sensitive?

_ What do you like to pass on to your daughter/granddaughter for her way through life?


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