The Iron Stove (Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, No. 127)


In the Days When Wishing Was Still of Some Use

The Magical Phase

An Old Witch

Deprivation of Feelings



The Conscience Was Not Lovingly Integrated

The False Self

Rage, Hate, and Envy

Escape into a Relationship

The True Needs of the King’s Daughter

Two People Magically Attract Each Other

I Love You Because I Need You!

The Courage of Despair

A Tragic Relationship

The Harsh Realities of Life

Glass Mountains and Cutting Swords

The Search for the Beloved

The Unloved Parts of the Self

The Three Needles and the Glass Mountain

Therapy and Therapeutic Communities

Making Plowshares Out of Swords

Addiction to Resentment

Recognizing Individual Powerlessness!

The Trip Across the Lake or Remembering

In the Castle of Inauthentic Feelings or The False Self

Immediate Satisfaction of Needs

Awakened to Love

An Exercise

The Trip Back to the Personal Kingdom

The Journey Across the Lake or The Spiritual Rebirth

Overcoming the Cutting Swords Again

The Journey Back Over the Glass Mountain

The Castle and the King’s Daughter

Two Kingdoms or The True Self

The Redemption of the King’s Daughter or Feminine Narcissism

Don’t Think!


Guilt Feelings

Relationship Games

What Can Help the King’s Daughter

Peace with the Parents

Integrating the Good Mother and Good Father


The Narcissistic Society

The Fall into the Body

Interactions with Iron Stove People in the Workplace

Iron Stove People in the Role of Boss

Redeemed Iron Stove People as Bosses

Dealing with Iron Stove People as Bosses

Not Overrating Things

Defend, but Do It Properly!

Iron Stove People as Co-Workers

The Feelings Tree – A Model

The Language of Feelings

Development of Emotional Blocks

Consequences of Emotional Blocks

A Brief Overview of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD)

Characteristics of the NPD

Diagnostic Criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder According to DSM-5

Pathological Narcissism and Addiction

Therapy of the Narcissistic Personality Disorder



About the author



Publisher's Information


1 Quoted from Grimm’s Household Tales. With the Author’s Notes. Volume 2. Translated from the German and edited by Margaret Hunt. With an introduction by Andrew Lang. George Bell, London 1884.

2 Reinhard Mey: Alles geht! (Everything Goes!) CD, text, and music by R. Mey.

3 Clinical psychology, which researches the emergence of personality disorders, has long placed responsibility for disorders on the environment of the upbringing, especially the relationship with the child’ most important people: the parents. But during recent years, genetic factors have also been taken more strongly into account again. Especially with the help of research on twins, the significance of the individual’s predisposition has been highlighted. Both areas must certainly be taken into account: Disadvantageous dispositions intensify a difficult development. Conversely, a destructive environment of the upbringing can cause less damage with a good disposition.

4 H. Kohut: The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders. U. of Chicago Press. 2009.

5 E. Drewermann: Tiefenpsychologie und Exegese (Depth Psychology and Exegesis), Band I, Walter: Olten 1984. In mythological terms, this is the divine child who comes to this world through a virgin birth. In other words, nothing must be done or can be done to conceive the child. Divine love is given without any effort.

6 See the chapter on “The Redemption of the King’s Daughter or Feminine Narcissism.”

7 A. Lowen: Narcissism. Touchstone, 2004.

8 A. Lowen: Love, Sex, and Your Heart. The Alexander Lowen Foundation, 2013.

9 It should be noted here that there is ultimately no clarity about the extent to which the aggression drive is strengthened or weakened by the hereditary disposition. But in the interpretation of the fairy tale, we assume that the prison of the iron stove was caused by the mother or a similarly important caregiver during the magical phase.

10 See H.-P. Röhr: Ich traue meiner Wahrnehmung. Sexueller und emotionaler Missbrauch oder Das Allerleirauh-Schicksal (I Trust My Perceptions: Sexual and Emotional Abuse or The All-Kinds-of-Fur Fate). Walter: Zurich 1998.

11 Similarly, in the Alcoholics Anonymous Program, Step 2, it reads that only a power which is greater than man can bring healing. This means that a person must recognize his or her own powerlessness and forego every false form of wanting to be powerful.

12 C. G. Jung used the term “complexes” for these contents We can also visualize them as emotional energy fields.

13 The fairy tale of “All-Kinds-of-Fur” (Allerleirauh in German) reflects sexual abuse of the daughter by the father. This problem also involves the loss of the lost masculine aspect by the victim, i.e. the daughter. This aspect must be developed. See H.-P. Röhr: Ich traue meiner Wahrnehmung. Sexueller und emotionaler Missbrauch oder Das Allerleirauh-Schicksal (I Trust My Perceptions: Sexual and Emotional Abuse or The All-Kinds-of-Fur Fate). Walter: Zurich 1998.

14 Based on a lecture by R. M. Hilton, held in May 1988 at the Congress for Bioenergetic Analysis in Montebello, Quebec.

15 These principles are also used by Alcoholics Anonymous in their spiritual program.

16 E. Drewermann: Kleriker. Psychogramm eines Ideals (Clergy: Psychogram of an Ideal). Walter: Olten 1989.

17 K. Wilber: The Atman Project. Quest Books, 1996.

18 H.-P. Röhr: Ich traue meiner Wahrnehmung. Sexueller und emotionaler Missbrauch oder Das Allerleirauh-Schicksal (I Trust My Perceptions: Sexual and Emotional Abuse or The All-Kind-of-Fur Fate). Walter: Zurich 1998.

19 Compare with B. Wardetzki: Weiblicher Narzissmus. Der Hunger nach Anerkennung (Feminine Narcissism: The Hunger for Recognition). Kösel: Munich 1995.

20 H.-P. Röhr: Weg aus dem Chaos. Das Hans-mein-Igel-Syndrom oder Die Borderline-Störung verstehen (Path Out of Chaos: The Hans My Hedgehog Syndrome or Understanding Borderline Disorder). Walter: Zurich 1996.

21 Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, DSM-5. Fifth Edition. American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013. Reprinted with permission from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, (Copyright © 2013). American Psychiatric Association. All Rights Reserved.

Heinz-Peter Röhr


Escaping from the Inner Prison

English translation by Christine M. Grimm

Patmos Publishing


Heinz-Peter Röhr practiced psychotherapy at a clinic for substance abuse treatment in Bad Fredeburg, Germany, for more than thirty years. He is the author of numerous long-selling self-help titles, and his books have been translated into many languages. For further information, please visit the author’s website at


Many people have the tormenting feeling of living in an inner prison: They do not feel truly free and comfortable in their own skins. In their despair, they expend a great deal of energy in trying to find themselves or realize their full potential. This effort usually involves seeking a solution to the problem with inappropriate means, which actually increases their lack of freedom.

This book is primarily targeted at those who are afflicted by narcissism. It describes the origin, development, and possibilities for healing narcissism.

Original German paperback edition:



All information, references, instructions, and exercises contained in this ebook were compiled by the author to the best of his knowledge and carefully examined. However, they do not replace medical or psychotherapeutical advice or treatment. Publisher and author cannot assume any liability for errors or possible damages resulting from the use of the presented information, references, instructions, or exercises. Their use or practice is at the reader’s own risk and responsibility.

All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use such as copying, dissemination, storage, or file-sharing may result in civil or criminal prosecution.

© 2018 Patmos Verlag,

ein Unternehmen der Verlagsgruppe Patmos

in der Schwabenverlag AG, Ostfildern

Cover design: Finken & Bumiller, Stuttgart

Cover: © Sami Sarkis / Getty Images

ISBN 978-3-8436-0987-6 (ebook in English)

ISBN 978-3-8436-0047-7 (original German paperback edition)


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Many people have the tormenting feeling of living in an inner prison. They do not feel truly free and comfortable in their own skins. In their despair, they expend a great deal of energy in trying to find or themselves or realize their full potential. This effort usually involves seeking a solution to the problem with inappropriate means, which actually increases their lack of freedom.

More than any other fairy tale recorded by the Brothers Grimm, the story of The Iron Stove illustrates the fundamental problem of these individuals. It is also referred to as the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD).

Narcissism means “self-love,” and every human being requires a health amount of it. The ability to turn toward ourselves in a positive, loving way is necessary for a happy and fulfilled life. This is expressed by the biblical exhortation to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Yet, this is all too easily perceived in an abbreviated form: Many people hear only “you should love your neighbor” while the remainder – “as yourself” – is lost. But self-trust, self-respect, and self-confidence are essential elements of a stable personality. So the possibility of feeling genuine joy about our own accomplishments is important. When praise, admiration, and recognition are offered with sincerity, they are positive expressions of human connectedness and should be accepted with joy. The ability to accept praise and recognition indicates a solid sense of self-worth.

Each of us strives for meaning since it is a deeply human need, but this is easily forgotten in our everyday dealings with other people. If we stop for a moment to listen within ourselves, we become aware of this aspiration. This may be expressed by the desire to be important to those who are close to us, by pursuing goals that will bring us admiration, or by working on our self-realization to give us inner meaning. To a certain degree, seeking attention and recognition is also an element of healthy narcissism – and therefore just as necessary to our emotional health as the sense of well-being is to our body.

The term narcissistic personality disorder is applied when the need for love, admiration, and recognition becomes exaggerated to an unhealthy degree. The book demonstrates that individuals who are affected by this disorder experienced a lack of true love in their early development. They attempt to compensate for this deficit in various ways without experiencing deliverance from their drama. The tale of The Iron Stove tells us that healing is actually possible.

Men develop the Iron Stove syndrome more frequently than women, but the latter can obviously also suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder. Due to the different socialization of boys and girls, the disorder develops in complementary ways: For girls, the danger is less that they will wall themselves off emotionally than that they will want to merge with the other person. This tendency is also reflected in the fairy tale.

The narcissistic personality disorder has many facets and forms of expression, so a wide diversity of symptoms can occur. References for diagnostic analysis can be found in the Appendix. The degree of the disorder can also vary greatly. This ranges from slight forms of disturbed self-love that are hardly noticed in everyday life to cases of very serious pathological changes in character. The disorder always is characterized by how these individuals cause themselves to suffer and develop symptoms of a physical and emotional nature. Above all, they have significant problems in the interpersonal sphere. Many are affected by a disorder of medium severity, and this is precisely what we see in the tale of The Iron Stove.

This book is primarily written for people who are afflicted with this disorder. Individuals with such a disorder often appear almost normal to the outside world and do not seem to suffer as a result of it. However, their fellow human beings frequently must suffer because of them. Consequently, one concern of this book is helping relatives and all those who must deal with people in the Iron Stove to better understand them.

The related research presents various concepts for understanding the narcissistic disorder, some of which contradict each another. I have primarily oriented myself toward the systematic works of Otto Kernberg since they are most convincing for the area of personality disorders from my perspective. However, the works of Heinz Kohut and other authors form the theoretical background of fairy tale interpretation. As a therapist at a large addiction clinic, I encounter these individuals every day – as expressed in the case examples. If we follow the fairy tale interpretation, typical male and female forms of NPD are described. In reality, a clear distinction does not always exist and we frequently find mixed forms. So it is important to emphasize that some women develop a typical Iron Stove syndrome, which is seen as the “male” form of the narcissistic disorder. Conversely, men can also develop the “female” form.

Aside from the less severe cases, the therapy for early personality disorders often has a difficult course. These patients can initially achieve relief instance by getting a better understanding of their disorder, which is the main contribution of this book. Experience has shown that this step clearly improves the motivation for therapy.

The fairy tale of The Iron Stove reflects not only the exact origin and appearance of pathological narcissism. It also finds possibilities for further developing the personality, and these can be seen as guideposts for the individual’s therapy and life. As I will demonstrate, this fairy tale has been unjustly ignored and therefore usually just found in complete editions of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales. No other tale also presents the dilemma of our age so well.

I would first like to thank my patients. Although they were unaware of it, time and again they held up a mirror for me and this allowed me to become better acquainted with my own Iron Stove problems. I am also very grateful to my friend and psychologist colleague Werner Pappert for supporting me with suggestions and ideas. I would especially like to thank my dear wife Annemie for editing the manuscript and the patience that she showed me during this time.

Heinz-Peter Röhr

If you want to climb a mountain

You must start at the bottom!

The Iron Stove1
(Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, No. 127)

In the days when wishing was still of some use, a King’s Son was bewitched by an old witch, and shut up in an iron stove in a forest. There he passed many years, and no one could deliver him. Then a King’s Daughter came into the forest, who had lost her way and could not find her father’s kingdom again. After she had wandered about for nine days, she at length came to the iron stove. Then a voice came forth from it and asked her, “From where do you come, and where are you going?“

She answered, “I have lost my father’s kingdom and cannot get home again.”

Then a voice inside the iron stove, “I will help you to get home again, and that indeed most swiftly, if you will promise to do what I desire of you. I am the son of a far greater king than your father, and I will marry you.”

Then she was afraid and thought, “Good heavens! What can I do with an iron stove?” But as she much wished to get home to her father, she promised to do as he desired.

But he said, “You shall return here, and bring a knife with you, and scrape a hole in the iron.” Then he gave her a companion who walked near her but did not speak, but in two hours he took her home; there was great joy in the castle when the King’s Daughter came home, and the old King fell on her neck and kissed her.

She, however, was sorely troubled, and said, “Dear Father, what I have suffered! I should never have got home again from the great wild forest, if I had not come to an iron stove; but I have been forced to give my word that I will go back to it, set it free, and marry it.” Then the old king was so terrified that he all but fainted, for he had but this one daughter. They therefore resolved that they would send, in her place, the Miller’s Daughter, who was very beautiful. They took her there, gave her a knife, and said she was to scrape at the iron stove. So she scraped at it for twenty-four hours, but could not bring off the least morsel from it.

When day dawned, a voice in the stove said, “It seems to me that it is day outside.”

Then she answered, “It seems so to me too; I fancy I hear the noise of my father’s mill.”

“So you are a miller’s daughter! Then go your way at once, and let the King’s Daughter come here.” Then she went away at once and told the old king that the man outside there would have none of her, he wanted the King’s Daughter. They, however, still had a Swineherd’s Daughter, who was even prettier than the Miller’s Daughter, and they determined to give her a piece of gold to go to the iron stove instead of the King’s Daughter. So she was taken there, and she also had to scrape for twenty-four hours. She, however, made nothing of it.

When day broke, a voice inside the stove cried, “It seems to me it is day outside!”

Then answered she, “So it seems to me also; I fancy I hear my father’s horn blowing.”

“Then you are a swineherd’s daughter! Go away at once, and tell the King’s Daughter to come, and tell her all must be done as promised, and if she does not come, everything in the kingdom shall be ruined and destroyed, and not one stone be left standing on another.”

When the King’s Daughter heard that she began to weep, but now there was nothing for it but to keep her promise. So she took leave of her father, put a knife in her pocket, and went forth to the iron stove in the forest. When she got there, she began to scrape, and the iron gave way, and when two hours were over, she had already scraped a small hole. Then she peeped in and saw a youth so handsome, and so brilliant with gold and with precious jewels, that her very soul was delighted. Now, therefore, she went on scraping and made the hole so large that he was able to get out.

Then he said, “You are mine, and I am yours; you are my bride and have released me.” He wanted to take her away with him to his kingdom, but she entreated him to let her go once again to her father and the King’s Son allowed her to do so, but she was not to say more to her father than three words, and then she was to come back again. So she went home, but she spoke more than three words, and instantly the iron stove disappeared and was taken far away over glass mountains and piercing swords; but the King’s Son was set free and no longer shut up in it.

After this she bade goodbye to her father, took some money with her, but not much, and went back to the great forest and looked for the iron stove, but it was nowhere to be found. For nine days she sought it, and then her hunger grew so great that she did not know what to do, for she could no longer live.

When it was evening she seated herself in a small tree and made up her mind to spend the night there, as she was afraid of wild beasts. When midnight drew near she saw in the distance a small light and thought, “Ah, there I should be saved.” She got down from the tree and went towards the light, but on the way she prayed.

Then she came to a little old house, and much grass had grown all about it, and a small heap of wood lay in front of it. She thought, “Ah, where have I come,” and peeped in through the window, but she saw nothing inside toads, big and little, except a table well covered with wine and roast meat, and the plates and glasses were of silver. Then she took courage and knocked at the door. The fat toad cried,

“Little green waiting-maid,
Waiting-maid with the limping leg,
Little dog of the limping leg,
Hop hither and thither,
And quickly see who is outside.”

A small toad came walking by and opened the door to her. When she entered, they all bade her welcome, and she was forced to sit down. They asked, “Where have you come from, and where are you going?”

Then she related all that had befallen her and how she had transgressed the order which had been given her not to say more than three words, the stove and the King’s Son also, had disappeared, and now she was about to seek him over hill and dale until she found him.

Then the old fat one said,

“Little green waiting-maid,
Waiting-maid with the limping leg,
Little dog of the limping leg,
Hop here and over there,
And bring me the great box.”

Then the little one went and brought the box. After this they gave her meat and drink and took her to a well-made bed, which felt like silk and velvet, and she laid herself in it, in God’s name, and slept. When morning came she arose and the old toad gave her three needles out of the great box, which she was to take with her; they would be needed by her, for she had to cross a high glass mountain and go over three piercing swords and a great lake. If she did all this, she would get her lover back again. Then she gave her three things, which she was to take the greatest care of, namely, three large needles, a plough-wheel, and three nuts.

With these she traveled onwards, and when she came to the glass mountain which was so slippery, she stuck the three needles first behind her feet and then before them, and so got over it. And when she was over it, she hid them in a place that she marked carefully. After this she came to the three piercing swords, and then she seated herself on her plough-wheel and rolled over them.

At last she arrived in front of a great lake, and when she had crossed it, she came to a large and beautiful castle. She went in and asked for a place; she was a poor girl, she said, and would like to be hired. She knew, however, that the King’s Son whom she had released from the iron stove in the great forest was in the castle. Then she was taken as a scullery-maid at low wages. But, already the King’s Son had another maiden by his side whom he wanted to marry, for he thought that she had long been dead.

In the evening, when she had washed up and was done, she felt in her pocket and found the three nuts that the old toad had given her. She cracked one with her teeth and was going to eat the kernel when, lo and behold, there was a stately royal garment in it! But when the bride heard of this, she came and asked for the dress and wanted to buy it and said, “It is not a dress for a servant girl.”

But she said no, she would not sell it; but if the bride would grant her one thing she could have it, and that was, let her sleep one night in her bridegroom’s chamber.

The bride gave her permission because the dress was so pretty, and she had never had one like it. When it was evening, she said to her bridegroom, “That silly girl will sleep in your room.”

“If you are willing so am I,” he said. She, however, gave him a glass of wine in which she had poured a sleeping draught. So the bridegroom and the scullery-maid went to sleep in the room, and he slept so soundly that she could not waken him.

She wept the whole night and cried, “I set you free when you were in an iron stove in the wild forest; I sought you and walked over a glass mountain, and three sharp swords, and a great lake before I found you, and yet you will not hear me!”

The servants sat by the chamber-door and heard how she thus wept the whole night through, and in the morning they told it to their lord. And the next evening when she had washed up, she opened the second nut and a far more beautiful dress was within it, and when the bride beheld it, she wished to buy that also. But the girl would not take money and begged that she might once again sleep in the bridegroom’s chamber. The bride, however, gave him a sleeping drink, and he slept so soundly that he could hear nothing.

But the scullery-maid wept the whole night long and cried, “I set you free when you were in an iron stove in the wild forest. I sought you and walked over a glass mountain, and three sharp swords and a great lake before I found you. And yet you will not hear me!” The servants sat by the chamber door and heard her weeping the whole night through, and in the morning informed their lord of it.

And on the third evening, when she had washed up, she opened the third nut and within it was a still more beautiful dress that was stiff with pure gold. When the bride saw that she wanted to have it, but the maiden only gave it up on the condition that she might for the third time sleep in the bridegroom’s chamber. The King’s Son was, however, on his guard and threw the sleeping-draught away. Now, therefore, when she began to weep and to cry “Dearest love, I set you free when you were in the iron stove in the terrible wild forest,” the King’s Son leapt up and said, “You are the true one, you are mine and I am yours.” Thereupon, while it was still night, he got into a carriage with her and they took away the false bride’s clothes so that she could not get up.

When they came to the great lake, they sailed across it, and when they reached the three sharp-cutting swords they seated themselves on the plough-wheel, and when they to the glass mountain they thrust the three needles in it, and so at length they got to the little old house. But when they went inside, it was a great castle; all the toads were disenchanted and were the King’s children, and full of happiness. Then the wedding was celebrated and the King’s Son and the princess remained in the castle, which was much larger than the castles of their fathers. As, however, the old king her father grieved at being left alone, they fetched him away and brought him to live with them, and they had two kingdoms, and lived in happy wedlock.

A mouse did run,
The story is done.