Like many parents of young children, I have seen Disney’s blockbuster and award-winning movie and listened to the soundtrack more times than I can count and can now recite lines and songs on demand: “Conceal, don’t feel”, “People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed", “Let It Go”, and a favorite funny in our house lately, “I don’t have a skull…or bones”.
I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how many conversations I’ve had with people in recent months who resonate with the movie’s themes of suppressed feelings, shame, fear, loss, love, empowerment, and freedom, all themes illustrated by the character Elsa. Whether I’ve been with acquaintances chatting at the gym, friends, colleagues, or clients in session, I’ve heard time and again how through Elsa (and also her “Let It Go” anthem), people identify with or at the very least can empathize with the torment of hiding or disowning parts of oneself, often out of fear of hurting someone or being hurt or rejected oneself. These hidden parts might include our vulnerability, anxiety, depression, sexuality, sensitivity, our power, or other possibilities.
Many people walk around suffering with the notion that their feelings or their overall sense of self, are shameful, harmful or must be hidden. And like Elsa, explicitly taught by her parents to “conceal, don’t feel”, many of us learn similar messages as children, told we’re too sensitive, dramatic, “too much”, instructed “don’t be a crybaby”, “try to be more/less…”, “you shouldn’t feel…” and on and on. I think that another reason so many people resonate with and are drawn to Elsa’s character is that we are able to witness how terrifying it is for her to fear herself and know that she is feared by others. Balancing accepting ourselves with our desire to be accepted by others is something most people struggle with at some point in their lives, often starting in childhood and adolescence.
Elsa’s discovery of freedom also reminds me of the power of accepting rather than resisting one’s reality; that unlike avoidance, acceptance of our emotions actually alleviates suffering. The term acceptance in this sense is non-judgmental, not deeming something good or comfortable but rather an acknowledgment of what is. I see this time and time again in my office. It is at the heart of my work as a Gestalt Therapist: that change can occur once we accept our feelings, ourselves, our reality, not in our attempts to change ourselves. We can not turn our feelings on and off like a faucet or a lightswitch and the energy we invest trying to do so only hurts us.
Nice reminders Disney.