If the Madrigals, from the movie Encanto, came to therapy...
If Isabelle were my client, I would be getting the collage materials out every session. I wouldn’t let her cut with scissors. No precise lines or smooth edges. I would say, here, let’s rip the pages and see what happens. What do you draw with your left hand? What about with your eyes closed? We would tear things up and then put them back together, and make meaning out of the ragged edged beauty. We would write bad poetry on the back of receipts and junk mail, and read them aloud in over the top dramatic voices before feeding little bits of paper to a fire. I wouldn’t let her edit a thing. We would practice writing crossword answers in permanent markers. We would leave the paintbrushes in their packaging and only use our hands. I would ask her to tell me how it felt in different parts of her body. Was there something loosening that used to feel tight? What happens if it all ends up a mess? We would draw flowers with charcoal and then smear our hands across the page, practicing taking deep breaths through the anxiety of imperfection, through the generations of expectations.
If Luisa were my client I would ask her how old she felt, every time Abuela walked beside her. I would ask how young she was the first time someone asked her to lift a house. Who was the first person she bested in an arm wrestling match and did their relationship change after that? We would talk about adding to the portrait of her identity. I would trace her outline on butcher paper and ask her to draw what she feels like on the inside. I would offer tea and a quiet room, sit with her while she tastes her tears, and finds a way to stitch her insides and outsides into one congruent place. I would hold up a mirror and say, look, tears and you’re still strong. Add more to the story. It all can be true.
If Bruno were my client, I would ask - what would happen if everything turned out okay? Tell me about your sisters and if you ever tried to have visions of the past about your dad? I know you see the worst that can happen - but that’s only part of the narrative. Let’s add richness to the story. For every fish that died, how many days of life did you predict? For every change, how many moments of calm and peacefulness did you discount and brush away? You have the ability to make an impact, but other people have choice too.
If Camilo were my client, I would say, your mother’s mood was lightning bright and storm cloud heavy. It makes sense that you learned to change and adapt. It makes sense that you learned how to change your face to charm and make her laugh. If you have to be able to dodge hail and tornadoes the second you walk into a room, it makes sense that you might lose yourself a little in the process. It makes sense. It also makes you compassionate, aware, and understanding, because you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Use it, if you want to, but be conscious that it’s your choice.
If Dolores were my client we would be talking a lot about tools. Ear plugs are cheap, and you get to decide what you let in and what you don’t. We would talk about the burden of knowledge and paying attention, or the dual desire to have a few moments alone and the pull of being the one with the information. How to compartmentalize an onslaught of thoughts and feelings. When something is your responsibility and when it isn’t. How to call in professionals when someone else needs supporting.
If Pepa and Felix sat down in my office, the frost in the air would sparkle while Felix’s sunshine laughter tries to shake it away. I would ask him to sit, for a minute, in the cold and tell his wife what it feels like to be all the way steeped in her feelings. Before you do the song and dance to make the clouds go away, hold her hand and remind her that part of what you love about her is that no matter how hard the wind blows, she’s never blown away. Remind her that you love rain along with the sun. Remind her that she doesn’t need to earn your affection through a pleasant disposition.
I'm Roya Dedeaux, licensed narrative therapist. One of my very favorite things to do is to wayyyy overthink characters and relationships in tv. We learn so much about ourselves from this kind of interpretation! If you want to do more of this - book a session!