How Harry Potter Can Help Those of Us Healing From Trauma
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Depictions of mental illness in film and literature can be beautifully therapeutic. We read or watch a character who faces the same struggles and hardships that we face. We realize we are not alone in our struggles and eventually accept ourselves as we are. It’s only with acceptance and self-love that we may grow. We watch as our beloved characters battle their mental illness and feel their pain and struggle as if it were our own.
J.K. Rowling battled depression as she wrote the beloved Harry Potter series. The third novel in the series, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” holds mental health references that inspire many fans to find healing. The dementors are floating, black cloaked creatures who use their powers to literally suck the happiness from those in close proximity to them. They force humans to have flashbacks of their worst memories.
Though this is upsetting to everyone, it’s emotionally devastating to Harry, who has lived through horrors others have never experienced. Harry’s mother and father died battling Voldemort, the most feared dark wizard who ever lived. Harry is forced to relive his mother’s death, hearing her screams and ultimately fainting from the dementor encounter. Harry feels humiliated for fainting in front of his peers and is teased for being so strongly affected by the dementors’ powers.
Those of us battling mental illness are often more heavily affected by negative events. We may look at those around us who do not seem to struggle as we do, questioning why we are so affected. We may even wonder if we are weaker than the others, damaging our self-esteem and self-worth. We ask ourselves what makes someone else more equipped to emotionally handle a difficult event without falling apart. Why do we emotionally fall apart in our grief when the next person may simply shed a tear and move on?
Like Harry, we may have lived through hardships that are unimaginable to others. Some of us have lived through trauma, having emotional flashbacks when triggered — like Harry’s experience when the dementors attack. Those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may have a stronger startle response as well as conflict aversion because of the intensely negative memories it triggers.
Professor Lupin reassures Harry that he is not weak, but actually incredibly strong for what he has endured. Lupin teaches Harry a patronus spell “Expecto Patronum!” that casts the dementors away. In order for the spell to work, Harry must think of his happiest memory. Harry tries focusing his mind on different happy memories in his attempts to learn the patronus spell, but these memories are not strong enough. Finally, he decides to use a memory that is strong but happy to him. He is able to cast out the dementors in their next encounter, saving himself and his friends. Harry’s patronus is strong enough to cast out the dementors because of his strong social supports. Thanks to Harry’s friends, who become more like family, he does not feel isolated in his struggles.
We learn in counseling that social supports are an essential tool when it comes to battling mental illness. Harry’s best friends Hermione and Ron — along with his close relationships with his mentors Lupin, Dumbledore and Hagrid and his godfather Sirius Black — provide Harry with the security of being loved, accepted and encouraged.
When we feel alone in our struggles, it helps to stay connected with the people in our lives who are supportive. We may talk on the phone, text, use social media, video chat or make plans to see one another if we are able. Communicating with our social supports can lift up our spirits and improve our self esteem and self worth. They remind us of our positive attributes when we feel discouraged. They remind us of happy memories that spread laughter. They embrace us when we are triggered, leaving us with a calm security. Staying connected with our social supports makes battling our own dementors far less formidable. We find the strength to press on, casting our own patronus of soul-stirring memories strong enough to remind us just how resilient and capable we are.
Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash