* cw sexual assault *
There are probably a few great films that get trauma healing right, but there’s MANYYY that get it completely wrong and serve to traumatise viewers by not even hinting at any hope for trauma healing in the future; not cool. For the sake of this post, I’m going to focus on two films. They both originate as Disney films, and they both go above and beyond in their care to actually get human psychology — and specifically trauma psychology — right. Let’s begin.
This movie is maybe my absolute favorite of all time. It’s feminst, there’s no romantic love plot (what a beautiful breath of fresh air!) and it’s all about women helping other women heal. Oh and a cry out for environmental activism. What’s not to love?
Moana is largely about Te Fiti. She’s a central character even though we don’t see her much; her trauma is really fuelling the plot line of the whole movie. Te Fiti was essentially “raped” by Maui in the beginning, when he stole her heart (literally.) Because of this, the entire ocean’s islands are in crisis — Moana’s island of Motunui can’t catch any fish, the trees and plants are dying, and no one can figure out why. Moana decides the only way to heal the island is to return Te Fiti’s heart — and she believes, for good reason, that Maui, who stole it, is the only one that can do it.
But anyone who’s been through trauma like this knows that the attacker, the thief, is not the one who is going to heal you. Maui treats Te Fiti like an object — stealing the heart, wanting to put it back when that ends up not getting him exactly what he wants, as if her sacred, precious heart is just a cog in a machine.
Te Fiti needs Moana. She needs someone strong enough and brave enough and kind enough and patient enough to actually see her; not pin her down and force the heart back in. She needs real, deep healing after such a horrific event.
My favourite part of the movie is seeing the wrath of Te Fiti in the beginning of this scene and how it looks like she could just maul Maui, but then sees her heart and realises that is more important. I feel that way about the people who have traumatised me; like you little piece of total sh*t, get the f*ck away from me; I matter more.
In the end, Te Ka, who we originally are led to believe is another thief trying to steal Te Fiti’s heart, but ends up actually being the traumatised version of Te Fiti herself, gets her heart back, no thanks to Maui and all thanks to Moana, and the ocean’s islands are restored. The earth is in harmony again. Trauma healing almost always has far-reaching benefits.
Now. Maleficent. MWAHAHA.
This is a lesser known film, so if you haven’t seen it, please watch it! It is a sequel to the original classic, Sleeping Beauty. It is the true story of Maleficent, known as one of the evilest of evil Disney villains of all time. It stars Angelina Jolie as Maleficent and Elle Fanning as Aurora. Yeah. You can watch it on YouTube.
This clip is when Maleficent’s wings are stolen. I find it unbelievably painful to watch. I guess because I’ve been there. The prince cutting off her wings symbolises him raping her and taking her innocence (she’s only 16 here). He was her first love, and she trusted him. And he violated that in the biggest way possible. Her wings were her life; her transport, her freedom, her safety mechanism, her independence, her essence. And he took all of that in one slash.
Maleficent is so seethingly angry at this horrific wrong that she makes it her life’s mission to get revenge on the whole kingdom, but especially the prince, who by this time is the king and has married and had a baby, the princess Aurora.
This is perhaps the saddest part of this whole narrative. Instead of being able to live her actual dreams, she is now psychologically forced by the impact of severe trauma to get revenge, to make the king’s life and all the people in the kingdom’s lives, a living hell, like he had made her life. This just absolutely breaks my heart. In the end, though, her and Aurora create a bond that is strong enough to make up for this (I’ll try not to completely spoil the end here!). And I also believe that the act of fighting for yourself after enduring a trauma can bring out a strength and a love of self and an ambition that you may not have reached otherwise.
After watching Maleficent, I urge you to go back and re-watch Sleeping Beauty and see how you experience the entire movie differently, knowing that Maleficent isn’t evil, she is traumatised and wants revenge.
So, what do we get from these films? What can we extract about how to holistically heal trauma the right way?
- The person/people who broke you is not the person/people who will heal you. Do not view them as a saviour, as a prince, or, god forbid, as your true love. This is harder than it seems, because of a fun little thing called trauma bonding. We think that because someone took something so valuable from us, that they are the only ones who can give it back. Wrong. I’ll write more about that in a future post.
- There are many different kinds of perpetrators. Maui represents the clueless, ignorant, egotistical, self-aggrandising type; and King Stefan represents the evil, self-serving, wanting-to-become-king-at-all-costs, sinister type. There are obviously a million more types. But we can all understand these two, I’m sure.
- “Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.” — Peter Levine, a trauma expert. Not being seen and holding it inside you can destroy you, as it nearly did for Te Kā and Maleficent.
- You have a right to be angry, and should take time to actually feel that anger. Te Fiti and Maleficent are both livid after their respective traumas. They take time to feel the pain, the anger, and, naturally, they try to get revenge. This isn’t bitchy or crazy; this is normal, it is self-loving, and it is a necessary part of the healing process.
- Most of us will not be able to get revenge in the drastic ways Te Fiti and Maleficent have, because we, unfortunately, do not have access to magic, or a benevolent, human-like ocean (damn.) But we have a different magic; it’s called intuition, it’s called karma, it’s called post-traumatic growth, it’s called sheer will. Use it all to your benefit and you’ll get all the revenge you need, in the form of a totally kick-ass life. But also, speaking of magic, the brain doesn’t know the difference between what’s real and what’s imagined; so using dark magic on your attackers/perpetrators in your mind can actually help you heal. It’s also super satisfying 😉
- Women who have been through trauma are the strongest forces on this planet. They can shut down entire oceans, entire kingdoms, entire worlds. They can destroy your world. They cannot be messed with.
- Trauma must be validated. This is really first and foremost in trauma healing. Someone trusting, loving, and brave needs to see your trauma and validate it for what it was and what happened to you. This is absolutely crucial.
- Your body knows more about your trauma than your mind does. Through my work with the International Trauma Healing Institute, I’ve learned about and begun my certification in the Somatic Experience method of trauma healing, which is allowing your body to process trauma somatically. Find out where where your trauma is stored in your body and you can greatly accelerate your healing process.
- Trauma is often created in the wrong relationships. Trauma is often healed in the right ones. Te Fiti’s heart was stolen when Maui got too close. It makes sense that she would never, ever want to let someone get that close again. Something about Moana, though, let Te Ka know that she could trust her, and she let her get close enough to return the heart to her. Maleficent’s wings were stolen by a prince who told her he loved her but really wanted to exploit her for his own benefit. Maleficent gets her wings back when she and Aurora work together to heal each other.
- You are worthy of healing. It would be easy for Te Fiti and Maleficent to say, “I’m ruined. Oh well. That’s it.” But imagine if they had done that. Te Fiti had the sole power to restore the entire island community of the ocean. Maleficent had to restore the forests, and be the voice “for those in the shadows,” as she says. They had shit to do. So do you. So do I. The world needs us.
- It’s important to note that getting revenge, helping someone else heal, and finding true love (remember, neither of these loves (between Te Fiti and Moana and Maleficent and Aurora) are romantic love! They are the love between comrades, friends, teachers, students, etc.) don’t automatically heal you. Te Fiti and Maleficent are still traumatised by what happened to them. That’s okay. Now that they are in a safe place, with safe people, and they can heal properly, but we don’t get to see that whole process. They each have breakdowns, anger, confusion, grieving, and shame in their future. They will survive the rise from the ashes just like they survived the trauma.
- Romantic love is never, ever worth losing yourself for. Read that again.
- We should always question who the real villain is. Not all villains look like villains. Not all heroes look like heroes. Pay attention.
- Act when your intuition tells you something is wrong. If something feels off about someone, IT IS. Do not keep quiet. Do everything in your power to address the trauma around the time it’s happening, if you possibly can. Don’t wait to get help. The arc of the moral universe is long, and it bends towards justice (thx, MLK Jr.), but don’t be afraid to help it out a little.
- You will be okay. Trauma healing takes time, and you will get to the other side. Just channel our new friends Maleficent and Te Ka.
Love to all,