Family Therapy


“Tangled” shows need for Family Therapy

Disney’s latest animated movie, “Tangled”, illustrates traits consistent of bad parenting and the need for family therapy. The witch-mother, Gothel, kidnaps Rapunzel and rears her for the selfish reason that Rapunzel has the magic to keep Gothel young and beautiful ignoring Rapunzel’s individual needs.

Rapunzel isn’t allowed to travel outside of the tower. She exists only for her mother’s gratification. Stifled as a prisoner in the castle tower Ranpunzel sings: “I could go running, and racing… And finally feeling now’s when my life begins.”

These emotions are typical of teenagers as they begin to pull away from parental influence.

Tangled illustrates the worst possible scenario in this developmental stage, Gothel sees only her own needs. A narcissistic Gothel stands with Rapunzel in front of a full length mirror, and says, “Look in that mirror. I see a strong confidant young lady. Oh and look, you’re here too!”

Separation and Individualization Is Normal

Another example where Gothel has a hard time recognizing her daughter’s ability to separate and leave home, Gothel sings, “Mother knows best….on your own you won’t survive…. They’ll eat you up alive.”

Parents can be confused by their own feelings about their child maturing resulting in mixed messages. Often this plays out as a compliment and a criticism. In Tangled, Rapunzel pulls Gothel up the tower. Gothel states, “How do you manage to do that every single day?” Rapunzel responds, “Oh, it’s nothing.” Gothel replies, “Then I don’t know why it takes so long.”

A double-level message keeps the child feeling confused

Gothel is sarcastic with under lining unkindness. “Rapunzel, please stop with the mumbling……it’s very annoying! I am just teasing, you are adorable.” Gothel is sending a confusing message which leaves Rapunzel full of self doubt.  To a professional observer, the mother is trying to keep control of the child in an unhealthy manner.

 Validate, Validate, Validate

Dr. Marsha Linehan is well-known for her work with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Simply stated BPD describes a person who is flaky or too emotionally reactive. Linehan states that borderlines are often formed in childhood as a result of an “invalidating environment” where the personal experiences of the child are disqualified or invalidated by their parents.

Without a positive validation from a healthy caretaker or family therapist, the child begins to feel inadequate. The child also believes their feelings are inaccurate. If the child’s perceptions make them feel incapable, they may grow up and act incompetent.

Check Your Ego

Is Rapunzel a fairy tale or are there real life components? Are there daughters and sons who exist merely to reflect their parent’s vanity? Remember the “Texas-Cheerleader-Mom who hired a hit man to murder the mother of her daughter’s competition? “ Mama drama” isn’t only confined to moms. Ever see a dad scream at an umpire who rules against their child? Often a parent’s ego will over ride their common sense.

So what is a parent to do with a child whom they secretly hope will be everything they never were? Unfortunately living your life dreams through your child is harmful.  Children need to be seen as the individuals they are. Parents sometimes blur the boundaries between themselves and the child believing the child’s feelings are the same as theirs. Have you ever made your child wear a coat when you were cold or haul your child around in order for them to have endless lessons regardless of their wants?

Healthy Environment Includes

Often it takes family therapy to coach parents. In family therapy parents learn to create a “validating environment.” One tool advocated by Dr. Jane Nelson, author of Positive Discipline, suggests asking “Curiosity Questions.” Some examples,

“How do you feel about what happened?

What did you learn from it?

What ideas do you have to take care of the problem?

Removing our ego from the child’s experience allows the child to feel capable and responsible

Can you imagine if Gothel would had family therapy? Possibly she then would have allowed Rapunzel to live the princess life for which she was meant; she could have self esteem despite her crazy mother. It wouldn’t have been a good plot line, but the “living happily ever after” would have happened earlier.

Camille Curtis Foster

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