Our families can be the best or worst thing in our lives. Depending on your circumstances, your family can be an irreplaceable beacon of support or, simply put, a nightmare. But sometimes, even the families who get along and have the best of intentions can make each other upset.
That said, we tend to be more lenient with our family members than with anyone else. This can be out of necessity sometimes since we live with them or depend on them somehow. Other times, it can be because we don’t want to risk upsetting them and throwing off an entire dynamic between us.
Still, though hard, it’s important to set boundaries with family members before everyone just gets used to a dynamic that, at its core, isn’t very healthy. This dynamic is often born of generational trauma. Encanto, the Disney movie released late last year, heavily centers around the concept of generational trauma and familial bonds.
What is generational trauma?
Just like the term says, generational trauma is trauma passed down from generation to generation within a family. This trauma can be obvious, but it can also be subtle and unintentionally passed on.
For example, physically abusing children was more commonly accepted as a form of discipline back when our grandparents–and maybe even our parents–were children. Nowadays, there’s more awareness about how even spanking isn’t a good idea, but plenty of families still use more severe methods to physically punish their children.
Though this was traumatic for our parents who came before us, they might still have done the same to us because that’s how their parents punished them, and so on and so forth.
How Encanto tells a story with generational trauma?
Encanto’s generational trauma doesn’t come from something as blatant as physical abuse. But if you haven’t watched the movie (which you should because it’s quite good), it’s all about the Madrigal family, which includes parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and grandparents. The matriarch of the family is the grandmother, Alma.
One of Encanto’s first scenes literally shows the trauma Alma had to deal with as a young mother, having lost her home and husband suddenly. The movie is set years after that when all her children are grown up and have children of their own.
For much of the movie, we see how the Madrigal family gets along and how loving and tight-knit they are. But Encanto doesn’t shy away from showing us the other side of the coin. Each member born a Madrigal has a unique power, except for the main character, Maribel. It’s never explained why she never got a “gift,” as they call it, but there are multiple points in the movie where she feels insecure and inadequate about it.
Her family doesn’t ever make her feel like she’s less than them for not having a gift–at least, not intentionally. But Maribel still feels insufficient, especially because Alma puts a lot of stock and emphasis on helping others with the Madrigals’ powers. Later, we learn that those with powers also feel like they’d be completely useless without their powers or that they have to hide who they are to keep everyone happy.
This is generational trauma because Alma’s trauma of losing her husband and fleeing her home birthed the “miracle” that gave her descendants these powers. But, though unintentionally, she was so focused on keeping this miracle alive that she ended up seeing her family as what they could do rather than who they were as people. These family members realized that and internalized it for the longest time because they were afraid to disappoint her or anyone else.
The moral of the story
Many fans argue over whether or not Alma is a bad or abusive person for what she did. Personally, I don’t see her in a bad light. In my opinion, she did genuinely love her family, but she was so afraid of losing them or anything else important to her that she ironically pushed them away.
Even though our well-meaning family members sometimes think they know what’s best for us, they can be wrong. That’s when we should communicate with them and set boundaries to preserve healthy relationships, rather than only putting on a pretense of a healthy relationship. It’s not always easy, especially with older family members set in their ways, but it’s better to try than potentially continue the cycle of trauma.
I’m sure Encanto’s family storytelling resonated with many people. It sure did with me. It’s a good reminder that not everything is black and white and that good intentions don’t necessarily end in good impact.