People who know me know that I’m a little bit obsessed with Lin Manuel Miranda … OK, a lot obsessed. So, when I heard that he was developing a new movie and writing the music, I was excited!
However, after learning that it would take place in Colombia and highlight the joys and tribulations of family systems, I knew I had to see it. Did I forget to mention that I’m a first-generation American whose parents are both from Colombia and who just happens to be a clinical psychologist? The story is filled with many psychology-related themes that are important to explore.
We are all members of some family system that shapes who we become, how we perceive the world, and how we view ourselves. In Encanto, we are welcomed into the Madrigal family. Although each Madrigal family member comes from the same family, we see them each struggle with their own fears and insecurities.
Abuela seems like the overprotective matriarch of the family, and she is, but this is largely shaped by her experience witnessing the killing of her husband, a loss that leaves her scarred and distrustful of others. She wants to be strong for her family but, in the process, internalizes her emotions and demands perfection from her family members. Those emotions continue to dwell in the family system, and it is her daughter, Pepa, who manifests them. She is seen as the “emotional one” who can change the weather by her capricious moods. She relies on her husband to help regulate her mood and keep her balanced.
We also meet Isabela. Although some may long to be Isabela (she can do no wrong), she herself wrestles with maintaining an image that is impossible to maintain — essentially be something for others when it doesn’t resonate with how she views herself.
Luisa is another character in the movie. Her story has resonated with many — the pressure to do it all and emotionally (and physically) carry the burden of the family. She doesn’t want to disappoint others but in the process is feeling overwhelmed.
We also have Bruno. Wait! We don’t talk about Bruno. But we do! We all have a Bruno in our family — someone who holds a lot of emotional space in the family even if they are not physically present.
Lastly, we have Mirabel who pretends she is okay with not having a secret gift even if she really feels unworthy of being part of the family. What does she contribute? It turns out her gift is the most powerful of all — helping all the family members feel their worth and true connection as a family.
Encanto (from the verb encantar, to love) is a movie that is resonating with many people. As therapists, we love the normalizing of a less-than-perfect family. It is important to realize that family systems are units and the actions of a part of that unit affect the other parts of that same unit. One of the most beautiful parts of Encanto is when the family starts communicating about what is under the surface. Isabela shares about the burden of being perfect, Luisa about feeling the pressure and Bruno about feeling blamed and partially responsible. Although initially the cracks in the house begin to show, ultimately, the house is built back so much stronger.
As a family, creating a space for vulnerability and honesty is so important for the members of the family. As a society, strong families are very impactful on communities. All of this is covered in Encanto. People see themselves in the characters, sing to the catchy tunes and recognize that we all bring something to our family units. The goal is to understand what we bring and how we make our families stronger.
OK, now I think I’m craving an arepa con queso!
Note: This content originally appeared on Mind Matters from Menninger, our blog on PsychologyToday.com.