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Rudolph the Depressed and Traumatized Reindeer

Last Year I wrote this on the psychology of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer for Psychology Today. I thought it might be fun to pull it out of storage and repost it. I hope you enjoy!

When you think about how you want to spend your holidays, I imagine that activities like shopping, cocoa drinking, gift exchanging or ice skating come to mind. It is not my hunch that watching others be judged, shamed, publicly ridiculed and kicked out of their families for birth defects or job preferences signify happy holiday activities to you.

However, there is a part of my Christmas tradition that is a must: watching an innocent be tormented for what one might consider a birth defect. That is, watching Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer. I have watched it ever since I was a child and never gave it up (even when I figured out that this is a highly abusive story line; however, less than the unwatchable Christmas Story. I know many people love that movie. I hate it. It is the therapist in me that cannot stand to watch actual children being emotionally abused. Young puppet reindeer abuse I can watch more easily as I know that no real reindeers were harmed in the making of this Christmas special). The emotional abuse of a tiny reindeer continues to be part of my annual Christmas tradition.

Let’s go through the entire show and look at all of the psychological issues that occur in its 52 minutes:

1. Santa has an eating disorder. He starts the show thin and balloons up by the end, fitting in his fat Santa suit in time for Christmas.

2. Mrs. Santa has a need for her husband to be fat. She shames him by saying, “Who ever heard of a skinny Santa? Eat, eat!” It seems that to find him lovable, he needs to look a certain way. Very often those with eating issues want to control others’ food. I think, at the very least, Mrs. Santa is codependent.

3. Rudolph is born with a “shiny nose.” Mother says, “We’ll simply have to overlook it.” Father is unable to see past his son’s faults. Ah, the joy of Christmas.

4. Santa comes to see the new baby, sees Rudolph’s nose and is equally aghast. Then, in front of the new mother and her baby, Santa decides to break into song about how he is the “King of jingling.” Methinks Santa might be a tad narcissistic. Santa is not on the nice list.

5. Rudolph isn’t an hour old and his father already has turned him into a bad object: “He’ll never make the sleigh team.” It seems Rudolph was born to live out his father’s dreams. Donner has issues. He needed this tiny reindeer to be a perfect reflection of him. Now that Donner sees that his son has some physical challenges he is angry and anxious.

6. Donner, in an act of desperation, decides to compromise his son’s breathing by taking a clomp of dirt and placing it on his baby son’s nose so as to hide his birth defect. Anyone have the number for child protective services in the North Pole? Donner is relieved, Rudolph’s nose is hidden, “Now he’ll be a chip off the old antlers.” Narcissism is rampant in the North Pole.

7. The first time Donner shows any affection to Rudolph is when he is wearing what Winnicott might call, “The False Self” or “The False Nose.”

8. Mother kisses her son. He grows giddy from the affection and praise, which causes the false self/nose to fall off, and once again is met with parental disappointment for his “non-conformity.”

9. Rudolph grows older and Donner got Rudolph a prosthetic nose. Rudolph objects and explains that it isn’t comfortable. Donner says, “There are more important things than comfort, self-respect.” I guess Donner believes that self-respect can come through prosthetics. Mrs. Donner stands by silently and does nothing to intervene on her son’s behalf. It is possible that she too is a victim of Donner’s emotional abuse.

10. Now Rudolph is depressed. He takes to singing songs about how he is a misfit. This would be a good place for a commercial for Zoloft.

11. Comet, the coach of the Reindeer boys, is trying to initiate the bucks. Rudolph gets some positive attention from a girl, which makes him fly higher than all the other bucks, and his false nose/self falls off. All of the kids in flying class call Rudolph names and he gets cut from the team. Sensitivity training in North Pole? I think not. Then Santa flies off the handle and shames Donner for having such a freak for a son.

12. Happily, Rudolph has one person in his life that likes him as he is, a lovely doe named Clarice. But her parents are mortified to learn she is dating a red nose and they insist they break things off. Uh, is all the red nose stuff via the McCarthy era?

13. Rudolph grows increasingly depressed. He joins an alienated elf and they decide to run away. Neither of them need anyone, or so they say. Actually, Rudolph needs accepting parents, peers and community support. Hermey, if he wants to be a dentist, needs clients.

14. Rudolph is feeling so alienated that he runs away and get involved with ne’er-do-wells and other loners. He grows up alone and with no friends and family and when his antlers get heavy on his head, he stops thinking clearly and decides he needs to go back home to the place he received all the early emotional abuse. Doesn’t this just warm your heart like a Yule log burning brightly in the hearth?

15. He gets home to discover that his parents finally developed some guilt and had hit the road looking for him. Narcissistic Santa, true to character, sees Rudolph and tells him that what he is worried about is how all this is impacting them. Santa, at least in this tale, is not capable of empathy.

16. After a tragedy (the seemingly untimely death of Yukon Cornelius) the narrator, a snowman prone to understatement, tells us that they were “a little hard on the misfits”. Even Santa admits he was wrong. Donner apologizes. That is all well and good, but it would be a much better story if Santa, Rudolph’s parents, the coaches, the bucks and all the members of the community openly and publicly made amends to the poor reindeer. It would also be great if they could all undergo some sensitivity training and promise not to torment others based on the color of their nose. Rudolph also needs some therapy.

17. Only when there is a horrible storm that threatens Christmas does narcissistic Santa see how the traumatized reindeer could be of use to him. Rudolph, completely lacking in self-esteem and needing to please the men (his father and Santa) who shamed him, agrees to meet Santa’s needs. His father, also a reindeer with some serious narcissistic wounding, then takes pride in his son’s nose and claims that all along he knew that Rudolph’s nose would come in handy some day. Something about seeing him gloat makes me hungry for reindeer meat.

Beyond Rudolph’s tale of abuse, neglect, depression, alienation, there are also other story lines of abuse in this brief but traumatic tale. However, if I analyze the elves and the island of misfit toys this session will go way over. And anyways, Rudolph is the identified patient of the story.

Bruno Bettelheim, the acclaimed psychoanalyst, in his book, The Uses of Enchantment, makes an eloquent case why it is so important for children to read fairy tales. Bettelheim believes these Grimm stories prepare children for the harsh realities of life. And I suppose one could argue that watching Rudolph prepares one for the difficulties of the Christmas season. Surely there will be family members who will make us feel like misfits. Some of us might have narcissists that are unable to see our light, our true selves or are not able to see us in any way but in how we reflect them. Maybe that is why this story endures as it has.

I would, for the sake of truth in caroling, like to rewrite the Christmas carol classic that celebrates poor Rudolph. Come on everyone, sing along!

Rudolph, the emotionally abused reindeer, had a very narcissist father. And if you ever saw him you would even say he blows.

All of the members of his community laughed and called him names, inflicted shame and excluded him from their reindeer games.

Then one eating-disordered narcissistic man came to say, Rudolph I need you and your disability to help me achieve my narcissistic need. Then all the reindeers loved him, as they shouted out with glee, Rudolph-the-traumatized and depressed reindeer, you need a lot of therapy.

The power of being noticed

I have been going to Igor’s for a little over two years. Each time I walk from the parking garage to Igor’s office I pass a security officer who guards a chic and spendy Beverly Hills store. Each time I walk by him he greets me with a sincere ‘Have a nice day’. He doesn’t offer this warm greeting to everyone who walks by. He seem to save it for regulars and early on he decided that I was a regular.

“Have a nice day” is a difficult phrase to pull off. It can sound cliche, insincere and hackneyed. However each time this redwood  tree of a security guard says it to me I believe him to mean it. He really wants me to have a nice day. And it never feels like “Have a nice day” is an entree to ” can I have your phone number?” Each Thursday I thank him for his well wish and wish the same for him.

Continue reading ‘The power of being noticed’

Cinderella in my closet

On a sunny Southern California day in January, the month we moved to Chicago, I took a trip to an outlet mall outside of the city. I was there to find coats, gloves, scarves and other winter weather gear. We were ill prepared for the freezing temps of Chicago and I had to stock up fast or face hypothermia and/or freeze our tuckuses off. Thanks to Eddie Bauer’s subzero line I was over-prepared for the snow in one stop and I even bought unnecessary hand warmers that one uses for skiing and car lock deicers that I never used. But since I was already there at the outlet mall, I thought I would do a little more shopping just to see what I could see. What I saw was a beautiful and delicate pair of black lace pumps at Cole Haan’s outlet store. I knew, at once, that they were highly impractical. I also knew that I didn’t have a life that required much in the way of evening shoes. However I fell in love and I was feeling that wonderful “we are moving out of L.A. ” dream come true feeling and everything felt like it was coming up roses and that soon all our wishes would come true. And since the shoes were on sale, I, without too much rationalization, bought them.

The Cole Haan black lace pumps went in a moving van across the country and they, unworn, found a home in my Lake Bluff closet. The entire time that we lived in Chicago an occasion never arose in which these lacy shoes were needed. They stayed in their box patiently waiting for the day when they would have their time in the sun( or the snow). The day never came.
Continue reading ‘Cinderella in my closet’

“A Rouge By Any Other Name”

I am so excited to share this with you!!!! I hope you enjoy the article half as much as I do.  This is so big for me. Truly, this is a life changer. Being in Forest and Bluff, I believe, is what gave me the courage to drop my anonymity. I also think that in some woo-woo kind of way that this article is what opened things for me to get the gig with Psychology Today. I cannot thank Eileen, at Forest and Bluff, enough for being so very nice to me. Her review of my blog could not be more glowing. Thank you, Eileen—you made my year!!!

Here is the link to the article. If you can’t open a PDF file I don’t have another way of getting the article to you, sorry.


If you haven’t read my Rudolph piece please do. You don’t want to miss my first attempt at writing a Christmas carol. If I keep up this Christmas carol rewriting I might do a Christmas album next year( If you have you have ever heard my singing voice, you know what a joke that is).

Cover Girl

My story made the cover. No, I am not a debutante of a bygone era. And I am also not a member of the Deer Path Girls’ Cross Country Team. I’ll let you figure out which story is mine.

Sorry, as of yet, there is no link to the actual article. I haven’t even seen it yet.  This is so surreal. Am I dreaming? Speaking of dreaming, I dreamt the other night that He-weasel and I bought a house back in Forest and Bluff. He had a job. Everything was settled. And then I woke up. As I told Igor, I think my dreams have become masochistic. If I dream tonight that I am getting published in the New Yorker I think I am going to give up on sleep.

Tory Burch shoes and subtle sexism by, *ahem*, psychology professionals

First I feel that I must tell you something that I am sure goes without saying, I take my professional life VERY seriously. When I go to work I dress professionally. It is important to me to communicate to my clients that I take our work together seriously and part of how I do that is through how I present myself visually. Actually, and I say this not out of any kind of hubris but based on somewhat objective standards that I feel sure that most of you would agree with (and, yes, I appreciate that you have a bias that would favor me as you are my friend or at least a friendly reader who has bothered to read this far), I am fairly confident that I dress better than your average therapist and I, without question, have nicer shoes than your average Rockport/Mephisto/Birkenstock wearing male-therapist.

When my toe was broken and I had to wear Tory Burch thongs to work (as it was the only thing I could get my foot into) I HATED it. I hated that my shoes might in anyway communicate that I am not a professional and that I take my work with my clients anything less than 100% seriously. I tell you all of this to tell you what some of you already know, the guy that I rent my office space from(who is also a therapist) had the nerve to ask me if my $320 Tory Burch Leopard Pumps were “professional?”. I answered reflexively, “Why do you say that?” and I feel sure my face added the non-verbal address of , “you,  in those shoes and that outfit are daring to ask me about my shoes”.  He fired back without any indication that he was aware that he was entering some seriously dangerous territory in which I was, given the time and space, capable of invicirating him even though I am declawed and highly proffesional, “well,” he went on “you are psychoanalytic. And aren’t you supposed to be a blank screen? And those shoes are kind of wild-woman.”  As soon as he completeted his accusation I  heard the door of the lobby open, my client had arrived. I left my clueless colleague behind and walked away in my beautiful shoes. I greeted my client and invited her into my office. Want to know the first thing she said to me before we sat down? “I like your shoes.” I thanked my client and we immediately got to work.

It was when my work day was over and I was on my way home that my mind returned to my colleague’s uncalled for comment and it was then that  I had the time and space to think about what exactly my colleague was saying. How dare he question my professionalism, it wasn’t like I was wearing lucite stripper heels? I was wearing designer shoes that I bought at Neiman Marcus. It wasn’t the cut or quality of the shoe that my peer had a problem with, it was the print. He was saying, in the subtext of his question, that leopard is a symbolism of sexuality. He was inferring that I was too much of a sexual object to be a professional. He was saying that my shoes made me seem like a “wild woman”.  His comment was telling me that he, when he saw me in those shoes, no longer saw me as a professional but rather as a sexual object. And you know what, that ain’t my issue. That is his. He needs to get his Dockers covered ass back into therapy and look at why he has to split women into either “professional” or “sex object”. And I have to wonder if he would say something like that to some therapist dude in a surf shirt and faded and un-ironed trousers? Would he dare to bring his professionalism into question?  Would he point out the impact of such thoughtless and unprofessional attire? I doubt it. Grrrrr!!! This leopard wearing therapist is mad.

The more I thought about his sexist and inappropriate comment the more that I wanted to go back and give him a taste of how fierce this leopard shoe wearing woman was.   The image of him in his camp shirts and his Dockers and his VERY bad shoes and his incredible gall to infer that I was in anyway unprofessional had me in a wild fury of contempt. It has been several weeks since this happened and I am still mad about it—yet I have said nothing. And I know why, I fear that if I say something that I will lose my office space. I don’t want to have to find another office space. I am not proud of this reason for not confronting him about this–but it’s the truth.

I hadn’t planned on telling you about this here as I already vented about this a bit on Facebook but then I ran into subtle sexism from a psychology professional #2 and it started to seem like a theme in my life that I can’t ignore. Actually, I am not sure how subtle either of these examples really are. Okay, so I was in my psychoanalytic psychotherapy class and the analyst in charge was lecturing on the three different Freud’s: the American, The British and the French. All was well until we get to the French Freud and the instructor started talking about Lacan and this is where everything went pear shaped. So the instructor asked if any of us had read Lacan, before I could raise my hand, a guy in the class blurted out “I was in a practicum in which this Lacanian analyst was speaking and she was a typical French bitch.” I tell you, my friends, I almost lost my mind. I feel sure that my eyes turned into the size of buffet plates and that my jaw hit the desk below me in disbelief; I looked like an animated cartoon character. I could not believe my ears, which in true Warner Brother’s style, had steam coming out of them. Happily the instructor stopped him from further slurs with a “Hey now, guy!”.

Even as the instructor moved us onto the impact of Lacan on psychoanalytic theory and away from this guy’s gender and Xenophobic slurs, I couldn’t get past what had just been said.  If the Lacanian analyst had been a man he would have called him a jerk or dumb or pompous or ill-informed but he wouldn’t have likely attacked his gender. If she or he had been from Canada he wouldn’t have brought her nationality into the equation. But because she was a French woman he attacked both her gender and her country of origin. I was relieved to see that his diatribe wasn’t going to be allowed, however something happened in that “French bitch” comment. He had, with that comment, told me a lot about who he is and, if I should I dare to say something he disagreed with, what the consequences would be. If I were to raise my hand and say that I actually like Lacan a lot and that I found Ecrits to be a fascinating extrapolation of Freudian theory that I might get dismissed and be boiled down to a stereotype. He, with that comment, silenced me and perhaps the other women in the room.

All weekend I have been thinking about this guy. I have thought about writing an email to the instructor and thanking him for not allowing that kind of speech to stand. I have thought about calling the head of the program and sharing with her that in truth I don’t think the instructor took a strong enough stance and that it is my wish that someone talk to this guy about that comment. I have decided instead to wait to talk to Igor today and see his take on this. I guess what’s holding me back is that I feel some concern that I am overreacting. Maybe I am being too sensitive. Maybe by saying anything to the instructor or to the head of the department that I will get identified as an over-sensitive troublemaker. I don’t want that reputation and yet, to tell you the truth, I can’t stop thinking about this guy’s inappropriate outburst and how it has changed my feelings about being in the class. I guess the thing is that I don’t want to be the Anita Hill of the psychology set. It didn’t go so well for Anita and, as you know, Clarence still got the job even after she dared to speak up. I will admit that I have had fantasies that I could go into class week and belt out La Marseillaise in resistance ( I can’t see this scene in Casablanca without crying)—too bad I don’t have the voice or the words, or the courage.

About Me

My name is Tracey, aka La Belette Rouge. I am a psychotherapist and the author of Freudian Sip @ Psychology Today. I blog about psychology, my therapy, dreams, writing, meaning making, home, longing, loss, infertility and other things that delight or inspire me. I try to make deep and elusive psychodynamic concepts accessible and funny. For more information, click here .
These blog posts are informational only and not meant to replace individual psychotherapy, counseling or medical advice. If you are in need of help, reaching out to a professional may help you decide how to proceed or how to find the care you need. For a referral, contact

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