We Don’t Talk About Trauma: Encanto and Healing, part 2

Welcome back! Last time we started down the path of trauma recovery with Abuela and the triplets. Today we’ll be examining the grandchildren, their relationships, and what we can learn from embracing being “powerless” – that is, without powers or “gifts” – like Mirabel, who lives in a world full of people who seem extraordinary, but only appear so, and why that is actually the most powerful place to be.

We’re covering a lot today, so grab a snack and let’s get to it!

To Recap

Last time, we talked about the roles Abuela and her children play in the coping of the family Madrigal, and also talked about why exactly we don’t talk about Bruno. I do recommend reading the first article before this one. It’s a quick read and we’ll reference some of the points made.

Without further ado, let’s jump into Abuela’s grandchildren, and how they figure into the healing of the family.

The Grandchildren

The second generation affected by the initial trauma, each of the children not only represent different aspects of coping, but also easily stem from the representations of coping personified by their parents.

Pepa’s Children

Dolores

Dolores, the daughter of Pepa, is the second-oldest grandchild after Isabella, whose gift is super hearing. Out of all the powers, this is the one I would most hate to have. Poor Dolores hears, and therefore, knows everything, carrying the emotional burdens of the family, or the town. She is also asked occasionally to listen in on different conversations in the town, like when Abuela asks for an update on Mariano’s whereabouts and conversations are, in regards to Isabela.

From a coping perspective, Dolores also represents hypervigilance, which makes sense, considering Pepa, her mother, is the most emotionally distraught of the characters. From Pepa’s own brand of vigilance comes Dolores’s, with Dolores’s powers also having the additional bonus of keeping anything else unexpected from sneaking up on the family they way they did Abuela and her husband.

Camillo

The oldest son of Pepa’s Camillo shape-shifts. He doesn’t get much screentime, but his powers are also indicative of a potential coping strategy. As he is able to mimic any person’s physical appearance, he is able to blend in and even hide when needed, which is something that would have been very useful when Abuela and Abuelo were running for their lives. From a coping perspective, pretending to be someone else could range from putting on an act when in public (or in private) to be the person the trauma survivor would like to be (aka, someone without the trauma), to dissociating in the clinical sense.

For a slightly darker interpretation, Camillo’s powers could also represent changing oneself to fit in, to be anything to anyone, in order to minimize the change of being hurt again.

Camillo is also described as wanting to make people smile, showing that he, like his aunt Julieta, is caring insofar as he wants to make people “feel better.” As the middle child, this desire for people to feel better could be seen as an important bridge between hypervigilant Dolores and Antonio, whose gift breaks from this trauma cycle of “gifts.” (More on that below.)

Antonio

Antonio’s gift was most fascinating to me, because while Abuela, the family, and the whole town celebrated it, Abuela herself comments that it will take some time to figure out the best way for Antonio’s gifts to be of service to the family and to the town. We as the audience know that his powers lead him to Bruno, but otherwise, controlling animals doesn’t quite fit into any coping strategy or fallout from trauma.

But I would argue that this is intentional. Mirabel is the fresh start after healing/moving forward after a trauma, and so his powers don’t need to “serve” the family in this way. There is no need or his powers to be anything other than a gift for himself.

Julieta’s Children

Isabella

The oldest grandchild, and the first daughter of the healer Julieta, Isabella is “perfect in every way,” or at least is seen that way by Abuela. As the first grandchild, and the one who looks the most like Abuela, Isabella has all of the family’s hopes and dreams on her shoulders. She could, in this moment, be seen as “healing” the family: marrying a nice boy to keep the “miracle” (or the façade that everything is okay) perpetuating.

She isn’t perfect, and she doesn’t like the stress and responsibility put on her, so she puts on an act, pretending that everything is fine, because she feels like that is all she can do.  In fact, both of these points are referenced in song, first in “We Don’t Talk About Bruno” when Mirabel is putting the prophecy back together and Isabella sings “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine” as she circles the table (and, for the eagle-eyed viewer, she is the only character who looks to see what Mirabel is doing before turning away), and the second in her showstopper “What Else Can I Do?”

Isabella is under the most pressure to act like she (and therefore “everything”/the family) is fine now, and is expected to suppress any of her own feelings and desires for the sake of appearances. Therefore, she is the one who must be approached in order to break the trauma cycle, to actually become fine.

All of this is consistent with dealing with trauma, when a person is removed from the trauma event by time and perhaps begins to feel like they must act like everything is back to the way it was prior to the trauma. It’s the suppression of these emotions that must be dealt with to promote full healing, which is symbolically shown in the film by Mirabel and Isabella’s relationship arc. It is for this reason that Mirabel, discussed below, must “hug” her, and why that hug and reconciliation is so important.

Louisa

In Louisa’s hit “Surface Pressure,” she sings about carrying the emotional burdens of the family, specifying it is because it “doesn’t hurt her,” even though we as the audience see that it very clearly does upset her, at the very least. Her super strength is a blessing, for sure, but it is often called on to fix every little problem, both at home and in the community, because she is expected to be able to uncomplainingly bear any weight, even though we see that, even at her strongest, she does seem to have limits.

Louisa represents repressing negative emotions, or “carrying” them even when they are very heavy, but as a child of the healer Julieta, she is – on some level – in touch with her feelings. She very clearly knows how much she is asked to bear, and while she does it uncomplainingly, is also acutely aware of the toll it is taking on her.

Like someone dealing with trauma, emotions can be suppressed, but in Louisa’s case, she is on the road to recovery by realizing the negative effect this particular “gift” is having on her, paving the way for eventual true healing. As the middle child, Louisa bridges the gap between Isabella and Mirabel, in the same way recognizing that one needs help is the bridge between suppressing feelings and pretending everything is fine, and actually working toward healing.

Mirabel

If all of these powers represent either a coping skill or another type of “fallout” from experiencing a trauma, than Mirabel’s lack of power is also significant. We’ll talk a little more about her below, but her not having a power indicates that she doesn’t “need” one. If the powers are coping skills, Mirabel is the one who has moved past needing hypervigilance, emotional suppression, and fear of the future, clearing the way to live one’s life for oneself, instead of living a life in reaction to trauma.

In this case, that is represented by Antonio, like we mentioned above.

Broken Chains

Each gift was bestowed on the family members because of the original trauma event, as we’ve established and as is fairly obvious from the movie. From this, we can conclude that the magical powers possessed by each family member is a direct result of the trauma event. Whimsical though the powers may be, they are representative of the trauma passed down from Abuela.

Down and down the trauma is passed, from Abuela to her children, to their children… except for Mirabel.

This isn’t to say Mirabel isn’t affected by the trauma event. She is. We have been talking about these people are representative of this or that, but Mirabel as a person is a 15-year-old who feels like an outcast in her own family, and is very aware of being her grandmother’s least favorite grandchild, for a reason that she had no control over whatsoever.

But what sets Mirabel apart is, back in symbology land, Mirabel represents the person who breaks the cycle.

Another Definition Sidebar

When it comes to generational trauma, there is a term called “breaking the cycle,” which is when a family member and someone holding generational trauma is willing (and begins) to work through their family’s trauma.

…Okay! Now, back to Encanto!

This is shown throughout the movie. Mirabel she has the best relationship with Casita, insofar as the house positively dances for Mirabel. Mirabel is also the only one we ever see greet the picture of her abuelo in the entire movie. She is, symbolically, the only one willing to interact with the ”trauma events” in a positive (read: healthy) way. She is also the only one to notice cracks in the walls, and is the only one willing to seek out help for healing the house (from Bruno, who we talked about last time), and is willing to do anything, including sacrifice herself, to try and heal her family.

It’s no coincidence that Mirabel, the one without a trauma-given “gift,” but the one who is, by her willingness to heal herself and her family, is a gift (to paraphrase Bruno), is very close to Antonio, the first family member who doesn’t have a gift that can’t be explained from a trauma response angle. In fact, he is the only one we ever see enjoying his powers. Pepa is made miserable by them, Bruno dislikes his, Julieta used her powers out of obligation to heal, Isabela must be perfect, Luisa needs to reroute the river, Dolores must eavesdrop on the townspeople, and Camillo transforms into other people to either help them, or make them laugh. All of their gifts are “public facing,” but Antonio’s is all for him and his enjoyment.

But I digress. Mirabel, in the Mirabel/Antonio relationship, represents healing. And, after healing (read: being the child after Mirabel) means a person can live their life for themselves, instead of as a reaction to inherited trauma.

How Encanto Teaches Us to Heal

Two main points about healing are of paramount importance: the willingness to change, and the acceptance that one only has control over one’s own behavior. Let’s look at these from the perspective of the movie.

Willingness to Change

I’ve seen posts, videos, and comments about Abuela, claiming that she is the villain in this story, or that her apology wasn’t “good enough.” I have even read opinions that say if Disney makes Encanto 2, it should focus on Abuela apologizing and making amends. Besides thinking that is an incredibly boring plot for a movie and better suited for a person’s imagination, or for fanfiction, I think a crucial point has been missed here.

At the end of the movie Abuela is the one who knows where Mirabel is, and goes to find her. She revisits the place of her trauma, and we (and presumably Mirabel) learn the extent of Abuela’s trauma. Then, Abuela does something amazing, and asks for forgiveness, both from Mirabel and in the song “All Of You.” She realizes what she has passed on to her family, and apologizes sincerely for it. Not everyone does this, and so Abuela’s actions are noteworthy. It is also assumed she will try to treat her family better, after her realization that the true “gift” is her family, not some magic bestowed on them. She expressed a profound shift in thinking, showing her willingness to change.

Showing her willingness to heal. In the movie, this is shown musically, and in her end-of-movie close relationship with Mirabel, who represents healing.

Don’t Hold on Too Tight

I had to fit Abuela’s line in here, because her apology for holding on to her family “too tight” is so important, especially within the context of the movie. There are a few key steps a person can take to begin the process of healing from intergenerational trauma, and so we’ll look at each one in regards to the movie:

  1. Talking about the trauma/the associated feelings
    Once the secrets are all out, the healing can begin. Or, to quote G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle. Abuela, the one originally traumatized, shares her trauma – the full traumatic event – with Mirabel. There are no more secrets now, and Mirabel (the catalyst for healing, in this context) now knows the full story.
  2. Talk about how the trauma has impacted you/the family
    This seems obvious, but it’s important. Abuela and Mirabel facilitate this, first when Mirabel invites the family back into the destroyed Casita and comments that the stars don’t shine, but rather burn, and then when Abuela apologizes for holding on too tightly, out of fear of losing more people she loves.
  3. Be a team
    This means no pointing fingers, and no blaming one person or another. Intergenerational trauma is made of up “shades of grey” when it comes to actions, not black and white. In the case of Encanto, Abuela has been traumatized, too, so the ones needing “the blame” (if we are to bring such a thing into this) are the people who killed Abuela’s husband.

    In the movie, this is shown when the family, now without their “gifts” rebuild their home together. It’s imperfect, like them, but it’s theirs and they came together to heal their home, i.e., heal their family trauma/intergenerational trauma.
  4. Move forward
    Knowing may be half the battle, but another good part of it is making a conscious effort to not make the same mistakes again and again. This is shown by the family’s newfound respect for Mirabel, and how the family interact with their powers after they are returned (Louisa takes a break, Isabela makes the plants she wants to, etc.).
  5. Go to therapy
    This doesn’t occur in the films, but it’s worth noting again for IRL situations. Traumatic experiences are hard to deal with (understatement of the century), and enlisting the help of a professional is like hiring a guide to take you through a treacherous jungle.

Giving Up Control

You may be thinking, Gee, Alix, this is all well and good, but aren’t you thinking a little too deeply about a children’s movie?

Nah, I don’t think so. Media is important, and media for children even moreso because children are always learning, even if, through our actions, they learn something that we don’t intend for them to learn. I think including such a sensitive topic so beautifully into a movie is actually very good for children to see… They can see that there can be healing.

My concern is for those on social media who talk about Abuela’s apology not being good enough, to be honest. At the end of the day, the only behavior that we can control is our own, and sometimes all we receive is an apology, and perhaps a change in behavior, but no other “amends” for past hurts. At that point, it’s up to us to decide whether we accept the apology and move forward, or cross our arms and demand something more, while not extending grace ourselves.

Roll Credits

In Encanto, Abuela shows remorse and changes her behaviors, and at the end of the day, the family forgives her, and each other, and through their actions agree to face life together as a cohesive family unit, and I think there is nothing more important in this life than to show children, and indeed all of us, the importance of forgiveness, love, and working together for a better tomorrow.

Have you seen Encanto? What were your thoughts on it? How did you interpret the Madrigal family’s powers? Let me know in the comments!

Warmly,
Alix

If you liked what you’ve read, please consider signing up to follow the blog!
It’s free, and it helps me out a lot on my writing journey 😊

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s