Movies and books not only touch our hearts but can also teach us about what it is like to be a human. We can all relate to myths and tales on some level, as they are made of archetypes— the universal patterns, symbols or characters deeply embedded within our culture and psyche. The story characters represent different parts of us, and their stories reflect facets of our life paths (For a classic example, see Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey). By looking into these archetypal patterns, we can find the truth about our lives and explore their infinite possibilities.
The late Disney movie Frozen is based loosely on Han Christian Anderson’s fable The Ice Queen. The story centres around Elsa, who possesses a special power that turns everything into ice, and her sister Anna. At the beginning of Frozen, Elsa accidentally injured Anna while they were playing with Elsa’s magic power. In the name of protection, her parents taught Elsa to hide what she is capable of, in order to stay safe. Not only that, they erased Anna’s memory, pretending that Elsa’s power did not exist. They shut her off from the world and told her to “conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show.” Since then, Elsa shut down to herself and others, and no longer laughed and played with a carefree spirit. She was ashamed of who she was, and she believed that if she allowed her true self to be seen, she would either be rejected or that she would hurt someone.
This is a tale that many highly empathic, emotionally intense, sensitive, and gifted people can relate to. Like Elsa, they have learned to become frightened of their gifts and of their true nature. From an early age, emotionally intense individuals are naturally trusting, loving and giving; however, their wholeheartedness is often misunderstood and misused, and not often received or reciprocated. In their natural states, they are extremely perceptive, and their intolerance for lies and phoniness means they often expose the most inconvenient truth in any given situation. This often set them up to be the ‘scapegoat’ of the group, including their own families. They have the tendency to experience and express love and passion fiercely and intensely, often before they have learned to manage their own energies; Yet their openness can almost seem intimidating to others. As a result, many incur reactions from others that cause them to shut down or to hideout.
When Anna reached out to Elsa, Elsa revealed the deepest belief that has pained and isolated her all these years— that she needed to be on her own in order to be safe. She told her loved sister to ‘just stay away and you will be safe from me’. This is not uncommon for a wounded, banished emotionally gifted person. To avoid being seen as too weird or different, and to fit in better with others, they have learned to stifle their unusual emotional and intuitive abilities. Elsa went through many ‘dark nights of the soul’ where she was afraid of what was within her; her story touches us because she reminded us of the isolation and fear we feel when we reject part of ourselves. ‘Frozen’ was actually a story of ‘un-freezing’, where the heroine learned to accept her true self and to manifest her true power.
Archetypally, Elsa and Anna represent different parts of us. Anna, being the wildly spontaneous and playful child, represents the innocence in all of us. Despite her sister’s rejection, Anna was convinced of Elsa’s love for her. Perhaps at some point in our lives, we were ALL able to love that fiercely, unconditionally, and wholeheartedly, before our innocence was tainted by heartbreaks, tactics, calculation, or what society told us to do. Rather than feeling the fear of rejection and disappointment that complicates most adult relationships, we were able to love without holding back. It would appear that Anna lives with the total conviction that Life loves her; her spirit was a stark contrast to that of Elsa’s, who was guarded and frightened of herself and others. Anna represents not just emotionally intense individuals, but what all human beings are like before we freeze our hearts to avoid pain, or wear armour to brace ourselves. Deep down, we long to fully engage in life, to feel completely safe in the presence of others, and to love without holding back, as that is the call from our nature.
One of the most famous and memorable scenes of Frozen was when Elsa sang ‘Let it Go’ on the mountain top. As Elsa stomped her feet on the ground, she fully manifested her power for the first time in years. We were empowered as we heard her sing ‘I am never going back… Its time to see what I can do. Here I am, and here I stay!’. People who know the sorrow of freezing will be touched by this scene because it echoes our ultimate yearning as human beings to be seen, heard, and accepted for the full extent of who we are.
Embedded in Frozen is an important message for all exceptional individuals who do not fit nicely into society’s mould:
You do not have to sacrifice the truth of who you are, in order to be loved.
Hiding your true self in order to fit in will only make you feel more alone and separated from the rest of the world.
By playing small you are depriving the world of your gifts, and that serves absolutely no one.
Find the place where your gifts are celebrated, rather than tolerated, and learn that you do not have to play it down, play it safe, in order to be accepted.
Ultimately, you do not have to choose between power and love, or between freedom and connection. You can have both.
Our ultimate yearning as human beings is to be seen, heard, and accepted for who we really are.
Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive and international experience in mental health and psychotherapy. Her books Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity and The Gift of Intensity are available worldwide and in multiple languages. Imi has two Master’s degrees; one in Mental Health and one in Buddhist Studies. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism.