Disney’s version of Sleeping Beauty begins with the celebration of the birth of the princess to the king and queen. The party is disturbed by the arrival of the evil fairy, perfectly named Maleficent. She expresses chagrin at not having been invited to the party and says that she, too, has a gift for the child. She says that when the girl is 16, she will prick her finger on a spinning wheel and die.

One good fairy still has a gift to give, and though she cannot fully undo the curse, she modifies it, so that the girl will only fall into an enchanted slumber if she pricks her finger.

In order to protect the young girl, she is hidden away in a small cottage in the middle of the dark forest and her identity is kept secret from her. There she lives with three good fairies. On her 16th birthday, despite all the protections of the good fairies, she pricks her finger and falls into eternal slumber. With her spell, the entire kingdom also becomes frozen.

Like Sleeping Beauty, we are all threatened by malevolent forces growing up, and in order to protect ourselves, we put the best of ourselves into hiding. We do this so successfully, we are not even aware of what we are missing. Like Mencius says,

“When people’s dogs and chicks are lost, they go out and look for them, but when people’s hearts, or original nature, are lost, they do not go out and look for them.”

When we hide the best of ourselves we have a lost heart.

There is a Maleficent within each of us that wants to keep us in this condition of enchantment.

This character who lives in our inner world has been called by many names. The great German writer Goethe called this force the “backside phantom.” The author Rick Carson called him the gremlin. Maleficent is that inner personality who comes in to ruin the party. She undermines our efforts. This inner demon tells us that we are never going to succeed anyway so why bother. Just at the moment that we are about to change Maleficent does something to make sure that we don’t.

I have nothing but awe and admiration for the power and influence of this inner character. More often than not, this force wins the day. It waits for the person to leave my office, and before they get out of the elevator, Maleficent is back in control again.

What is this force? Where does it come from? And what do we do about it? This may be the most difficult problem that people who are trying to find their hearts face.

Some will say that we cannot get rid of it. One possibility is that it is like the giant in the fairy tales. This giant symbolizes the hurt part of ourselves that has gone undeveloped because it has lived so long in hiding. It is like a big baby whose needs were never met and so is acting out of frustration. This view would suggest that we need to love Maleficent so that it can grow and mature. The problem isn’t that this part lives within us; the problem is that we have a poor relationship to it. If we treat Maleficent lovingly, it won’t undermine our plans.

But the fairy tales we read suggest something different. In Sleeping Beauty, the evil fairy needs to be killed. This is the usual solution (What a world! What a world!).

Maybe the answer is both. Maybe we have to love Maleficent and kill her. Then the problem becomes, how do we do this?

I’d love to hear your experiences with Maleficent, your views on where she comes from, and what to do about her.