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Coping With Emotional Pain In Movies

Being a mother of two young kids, my weekends are full of kid movies. I have come to notice that so many of these movies center in the suppression and poor coping of emotions. Take the age old Lion King (1994) movie. Simba thinks he has killed his father and runs away. When his best friend Nala finds him, he expresses terror in being found and begs that his mother “doesn’t need to know” he’s still alive. Eventually he finds his true sense of self and returns to the circle of life. He faces his past and his pain with courage and the help of his friends. 

Frozen (2013) is another great example of the denial of emotions. When emotional concerns are avoided, they become all consuming, entrenched, and painful. Elsa's powers have been demonized and she is overwhelmed with fear, which in fact triggers her powers. She becomes consumed with concealing her emotions and when she lets the fear overwhelm her, she ends up effecting the whole community. This begins a cycle of mental illness; when she faces her fear, it hurts others, so she attempts to hide it, which causes more negative emotions. I absolutely love Anna's plea to Elsa to let her in. She tells Elsa that she can handle it and wants to help Elsa. Being stubborn and afraid, Elsa thinks that by being alone, she can be "free" of her pain. But love, companionship, and support “thaws a frozen heart” and creates balance between pain and love.

Then there is Inside Out (2015). So many of my clients love this movie as it so obviously deals with the difficulties of adjusting to a typical life event (moving, making new friends), coping with sadness, and puberty. The harder Joy tries to deny Sadness’s influence, the more Sadness acts out and demands to be heard. Core parts of Riley's personality begin to be lost due to the suppression of Sadness. Though Joy is a wonderful coping strategy with positive affirmations, rationalization, and gratitude, Sadness doesn't get to have a voice and be recognized. This is similar to being invalidated, told that others have it worse than you, and/or being told to just be positive. It’s not until Joy finds balance with Sadness that Riley is able to function better. 

There are so many situations that cause an imbalance in emotions from sever childhood trauma such as abuse, bullying, or neglect to a chemical imbalance to typical life adjustments. These events can result in symptoms such as depression, social anxiety, self-injury, substance abuse, and anger as a way of coping with the depths of emotional pain. The longer you engage in avoidance of these difficult emotions or the harder you push to make them go away quickly, the more rooted the negative emotions become. Our social media screams that social connection is a way through this pain along with facing that pain with courage. 

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