My son says Elsa is like me because: "She is scared of herself, that she might hurt someone she loves with her power. She has to learn to love and trust herself, and then she is ok."
|Photo from Disney's blog.|
This can be seen in the song, "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?":
Many people can relate to this archetype, especially people who have been physically or emotionally abused and were told they deserved the abuse because they were "bad." I am glad we finally have a character in mainstream media that shows how trauma can effect you and that bad behavior does not mean you are a bad person. (Which is why I also love Elphaba from Wicked.) My son says the most important line in the movie Frozen is in the song "Fixer Upper," which the trolls sing. They say: "People make bad choices if they're mad or scared or stressed." For some people if they are scared enough, even their ability to make a choice and control the fear is compromised. I feel like this scene from the movie best shows Elsa's fear and how much she wants to never hurt anyone. However, she was never allowed to learn to work with her gifts and abilities, so they remain largely uncontrolled. Elsa assumes she is out of control because she is bad, but really, no one ever gave her the tools to be in control. ("For the First Time in Forever, Reprise.")
Frozen seems to also illustrate Dr. Brene Brown's research on vulnerability, fear, and shame. Shame, the belief that "I am bad," is what destroys people because it takes away the things we most need in life: love, belonging, and connection. I see Anna and Elsa both, in the end, as saving themselves by learning the components of true love. I am going to challenge the typical definition of true love (selfless love for another person, often a romantic love) and say that I think true love is radical compassion. Compassion for others and for yourself. Anna's love came from learning to have compassion for someone that was struggling, even though they hurt you. Elsa's love came from learning compassion for herself, which I do not think was only due to Anna's act of true love in the end of the movie. Elsa started on the path of self compassion when she chose to "let it go" and be herself. She then needed the act of love (compassion) on Anna's part to round out that self compassion. She had to learn that she could be herself within a community of people, as long as that community was compassionate and did not vilify her. No one can live well and be healthy in a community that has no compassion for you. Anna's act of love taught the whole community to be loving and shame-free.
If you do not have compassion, you are unable to accept and truly love yourself or anyone else. Without compassion we engage in shaming and blaming ourselves and others, rather than seeing life as fluid and full of mistakes and success. Shame, blame, and fear keep us from healing. How could Elsa ever even think she could control her emotions if she believed she was inherently bad?
I find that in treatment for mental illness, compassion is frequently left out of the equation, and shame is the norm. No one ever learns to heal themselves and understand their mind when other people shame them and tell them they are a bad person.
Trauma is a main contributor to mental illness for most of us (and trauma looks different for every person.) We did whatever we had to do to survive, and sometimes those survival skills don't work well in the rest of our life, but they are the only skills we know and they are the only response our brains are programmed to go to. Compassionate treatment tells us that we are not bad and that our brains just have not learned yet how to survive in other ways now that the trauma is gone or now that we have some agency in how we interact with that trauma due to being an adult. Sadly, most treatment focuses on shaming us for our behavior rather than getting to the reasons behind the behavior and teaching us how to reprogram our brain from old survival responses to new, more healthy survival responses. Bad therapy and treatment is basically what Elsa's parents accidentally did to her. Good therapy and treatment looks more like the relationship between Elsa and Anna. Anna did not continue to shame and blame Elsa, but rather saw that Elsa was struggling and helped lead her to self compassion and better ways to survive.