Last year’s Disney film Encanto was a powerful and endearing musical. It did a fantastic job of addressing how intergenerational trauma can lead to dysfunctional family roles.
Of course, the song that most resonated with me was the one sang by the oldest sister, Luisa, “Surface Pressure.” Like her, I was seen as the strong one who could handle all the pressures and difficult tasks in the family.
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote these lyrics with profound awareness:
“Under the surface
I’m pretty sure I’m worthless
If I can’t be of service.”
This is exactly how I felt for most of my life. Even after I left my family of origin, I’d try to help everyone around me. I felt guilty about leaving my siblings behind.
Through therapy and studying, I’ve learned that this is a sign of codependence. I never developed a personality rooted in my unique individuality. There is much more to say about that, because the tension between individuality and interdependency is complex. My view of myself was warped by my family dynamics, so that my sense of worth was wrapped up in my acts of service.
I was doing the childcare, keeping the housework moving, and carrying the emotional burdens of the family behind a fake smile. It was exhausting.
In the film, Luisa loses her strength and must learn how to relax. I’ve had to do the same.
Rest is still difficult.
As I practice mindfulness, my mind fights for distraction with what seems more important and urgent.
I’m learning that doing nothing is important. My body needs it. My mind needs to cease its hypervigilance.
It is unfamiliar, but it gets more familiar with each day, and I am learning to create new habits. I am meditating, resting, and focusing on one thing at a time.
It doesn’t feel okay yet, or like everything will be okay, or like everything is or ever was okay. Nevertheless, I am realizing that my worth is not attached to my ability to make things okay. I can rest.