Meet Elsa and Anna from the movie Frozen. They are sisters and their parents are the king and Queen of Arendelle. Elsa possesses magical powers that allow her to create and control ice and snow. Anna is the exuberant one who delights in her sister’s magical powers and in the winter wonderlands Elsa creates in the great hall of the family castle. It is while engaging in their favorite past-times — ice skating, playing with Olaf, the snowman, and Anna jumping from one snow hill to another as Elsa simultaneously creates them — that the story takes a turn and a new chapter begins.
When Elsa accidentally hits Anna in the head with her magical powers while Anna is in midair, knocking her unconscious their parents and Pabbie, the troll from whom they seek help, respond to the crisis situation. Motivated by love and the desire to protect, their responses prove helpful in several ways and unhelpful in others as resulting circumstances perpetuate fear and further injury over time.
From this place, we look at a portion of Elsa’s story.
In an effort to keep Elsa from harming Anna and others or being harmed, the King and Queen confine Elsa to her bedroom, close the doors of the palace and shut the city gates. Each door a barrier, minimizing Elsa’s connection with others and trapping her in her own mind.
Isolated and with time to think, I imagine she felt guilty as she ruminated on the unfortunate moments surrounding the incident. Replaying the picture of Anna lying still on the snow. Reliving the mad dash in the middle of the night to get help. Rehearsing the words of caution spoken to her by Pabbie about her magical powers and fear being her greatest enemy. Rehearsing thoughts like, “Why am I so different? Why can’t I just be normal like everyone else? I don’t like this part of me. Am I bad?” Days on end gazing at the gloves covering her hands and repeating the vow she had made to, “conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show,” while fear and shame overtook her heart until it became frozen.
The beauty of Elsa’s uniqueness became overshadowed by a moment in time when innocent play with Anna led to guilt, shame, and isolation.
Guilt and Shame
Guilt and shame are emotions that are closely connected. Underlying the emotions of guilt and shame is the issue of responsibility and the question of what and whose rules and standards have been violated and whether we really did something wrong or not.
Research professor, Brené Brown, defines guilt as, “holding something we’ve done or failed to do up against our values and feeling psychological discomfort,” and views guilt as, “adaptive and helpful.” Stated another way, guilt is the emotion that results from a behavior that is wrong or perceived to be wrong based on violation of the rules or standards by which we live. Thoughts associated with guilt usually start with words like, “I should have done…” or, “it’s my fault.”
Brown defines shame as, “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging – something we’ve experienced, done, or failed to do makes us unworthy of connection.” Shame results from allowing what we have done wrong, whether real or perceived, to negatively impact our view of ourselves and causes us to hide parts of ourselves from others. Believing that we are flawed and feeling unworthy of love and belonging can make it difficult to receive forgiveness for what we have actually done or let go of perceived wrongs.
Unresolved guilt and shame get in the way of relationships and ultimately leads to isolation and loneliness. While she was initially separated from Anna by her parents to prevent further harm, Elsa’s beliefs about herself and the choices she made in subsequent years impacted her ability to connect and be in relationships. These choices resulted in Elsa being isolated physically and emotionally once again.
Letting go of guilt, shame and isolation, and moving towards real connection and relationship begins with:
- Acknowledging what we are feeling.
- Being willing to lean into the pain and discomfort of confronting the situations about which we are experiencing these emotions.
- Being willing to take responsibility for what belongs to us.
- Seeking to ask for or extend forgiveness where necessary.
- Letting go of the past and moving towards renewed and/or new relationships.
If you are struggling with guilt, shame or feelings of isolation, and are ready to start or continue the journey of letting go, give us a call. We are here to help you take the next step.