The Things of Which We Do Not Speak

by Jennifer M. Ryan, M.Ed.

in Anxiety and Stress Management, Depression

I often like to use movies I’ve seen to drive home a point I’m making in my therapy sessions. Four movies come up again and again, and for specific reasons.

(WARNING: The movie descriptions below MIGHT be spoilers, AND some clips are rated R! Proceed with caution.)

They are:

The Ring

This is a scary movie, no doubt about it. But it’s not scary just because there’s a dead zombie girl haunting innocent people when they “activate” her by watching a VHS tape. The girl was hoisted into a well as a young girl and left there to die by her abusive mother. I’m not sure why she’s so mad at the WORLD (instead of say, just her mother), but she is out for blood – literally!

What’s also scary about this movie is the parallel between seeing her at the bottom of the well, trying to dig herself out, and depression. There’s nothing to grip onto, the walls of the well are muddy, wet and rocky. And, it’s deep. Really deep. So that you can see a light at the veeerrrry top of the well, but you’re so far down no one can hear your crying screams. You can’t climb your way out because there is nothing to grab onto. When you try, your nails chip and break away from your fingers, and you slide ride back down into the black hole once again, silent, alone, cold, and no one to hear you scream for help.

Check it out:

Many people don’t know I suffered with extreme depression for many years. In my darkest hours, this is how it felt…being at the bottom of a well, screaming for help, but having no voice. Seeing a light, you want to go toward it, but your body won’t let you. You can’t move. You are rendered helpless. Feeling one day as if you’ve made it to the top, only be to pushed back down again, drowning in your own self-loathing and anger. You want to die, but you don’t.

Depression is like being at the bottom of that well, desperately trying to get out. Except, you can’t, no matter what you do.

Which brings me to my next favorite example of a movie:

Bang Bang, You’re Dead

Check out this video clip. Fast forward to the 5:59 mark to hear the EXACT phrase I love. Or, watch the whole clip to get the jest of what’s happening. I LOVE this one…

The movie, if you haven’t seen it, is about a kid that gets bullied relentlessly at school. There are many, MANY lessons to learn from this movie, but my favorite is when Tom Cavanaugh, the school counselor says in a meeting, “I think, when you label a kid ‘at-risk’, you’ve just created a kid ‘at-risk’.” 

This quote is far-reaching, and holds true for many of life’s struggles.

When we CREATE the issue (in our heads, through our own stories), we’ve just created an issue.

Depression is another good example. If you’re labeled as “a depressed person,” it now gives the person permission to BE that. To wear that label like a badge. To, in essence, have an excuse for behaving in ways that are otherwise unacceptable.

I will be the first to admit that the label I was given years ago as “depressed” provided me a PLETHORA of ways I could use to scapegoat my issues onto an outside excuse. When I didn’t clean my house, it was because I was too sleepy and had low motivation to do it. When I didn’t finish a project, it was because I lost my motivation. When I cancelled last minute with friends, it was because my anxiety was particularly bad. When I just zoned out to the television all day, it was because I needed something to slow my rambling thoughts.

This issue strikes a bit of a chord with some, I know. What I’m saying is that we have to take responsibility of our own “stuff”, including symptoms of mental illness. When you label a person as depression, you’ve just created a depressed person. That label gives us JUST enough fuel to, and excuse, to not perform at our optimal level.

The Entity

If you haven’t seen this horror film gem, you’re missing out! Circa 1983, this movie is the true story of a Texas woman who claims to be haunted by an unseen thing – and entity. Whether it’s really a true story or not, I’ll leave you to your own opinion. But what makes this movie such a great example as a therapist is how the entity very closely resembles the life a large emotion like anxiety takes on for us.

If you or someone you know has lived with the sting of negative emotion for any length of time, such as anxiety, shame, loneliness or guilt, you will understand the parallel of this gigantic, unseen, powerful force that is ever-present, breathing down your neck.

Take a look at this clip:

I think I saw this movie when it was released in the 80s (which would mean I was not even in the double digits in age), and it has stuck with me. Particularly the last scene of the movie where the entity is “caught”. That this thing has taken over this woman’s life, and she has no control over whether it is present or not present, is much like the feeling of anxiety and other negative emotions we experience.

Our negative emotions are there, ever-present, and when we try to ignore they exist they get bigger and bigger!  The entity (the anxiety, for example) stares at us, glares at us, pokes our shoulder, and whispers in our ear to make it’s presence known. It’s an enormous force we give power to – it feels like the entity.

The Village

Spectacular movie, this one!  M. Night Shayamalan tells the story of “the things of which we do not speak.” It is an exciting, gripping story of a thing that haunts a village and it’s people.  Take a look at this clip:

“The things of which we do not speak” is a phrase the Villagers pinned on this thing that haunts them, because they believe by giving it a name – by speaking of it and giving it life – it makes the thing real. And because they don’t want the thing haunting them, they merely say, “the thing of which we do not speak.”

Often there are unspoken things in a therapy session. Even more so, there are things of which we do not speak of in our homes – unspoken rules that we live by. The unspoken rules still shape our lives, whether we decide to speak of them or not. In other words, ignoring an issue does not make it go away. Nor does dwelling, but instead, honoring the “thing” (of which you normally do not speak) allows you to have more control over it’s presence – to take back your power.

Therapy is real life, and movies are in our lives, often portraying scenes which give us lessons to learn, subjects to ponder, and insight we didn’t have before. I love using movies as examples to big lessons within my sessions.

Can you think of any other movies that would offer examples for real life?

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