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Katz, L. (1974). The Rumpelstiltskin Complex. Contemp. Psychoanal., 10:117-124.

(1974). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 10:117-124

The Rumpelstiltskin Complex

Leo Katz, Ph.D.

MUCH ATTENTION HAS been paid to the effects on children of being rejected by their parents. Rejection has been described, not only in its overt forms, but also in its more subtle, indirect forms which often may look superficially like praise, support, loyalty, or admiration. The blind insistence by a parent, for example, that his child is a good child and can do no wrong often hides a rejecting attitude.

The phenomenon described in this paper is based on a rejecting attitude. It takes the form of overvaluation, i.e., an exaggeratedly high appraisal of the child's genuine capacity.

One of Grimm's fairy tales, Rumpelstiltskin, gives an account of such overvaluation and the trouble it can produce for the child. A brief synopsis follows.

A miller had an only daughter of whom he was very proud. One day he had to go to Court for an audience with the King during which the miller bragged about his daughter's accomplishments. He claimed that she could spin straw into gold. The King had the daughter brought to the Court, with the command to produce gold. To deliver, the daughter makes a pact with a dwarf who agrees to do the work in return for her promise to give up her first born child to him. In her desperation, the daughter agrees to these terms and all the straw the King provides is turned into gold. The King greatly admires her for her presumed skill and makes her his wife. After a year, a child is born. Soon thereafter, the dwarf appears to claim the child. The miller's daughter, now turned Queen, is unwilling to honor her contract. She pleads with the dwarf to show mercy and he gives her one chance to keep her child. If she can guess the dwarf's name, the contract is null and void. By means of stealth and the dwarf's own imprudence, the Queen discovers the dwarf's name, which is Rumpelstiltskin, and the dwarf is thwarted (Abbott, 1920).

The fairy tale describes in symbolic form the fate of an overvalued child. The trouble starts with an inaccurate evaluation of another person.

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