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Pixar Film 'Turning Red' May Seem Familiar to Those Working Through Trauma

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Recently, Disney and Pixar released a new animation called “Turning Red.” I’ll be honest, I don’t keep up with new movie releases and only heard of this briefly from my students and in news articles that I saw the headlines of. I heard that the movie was about a girl of Asian descent living in North America struggling with her identity, the battle to embrace who you are while also being obedient to your parents’ wishes.

This story hit close to home as I am that girl. I immigrated with my Asian parents to North America (California, to be specific), where I worked to please my parents. I specifically worked to please my dad, the one person who was always hard on me. He expected perfection, so I strove for that. I did what he wanted, I obeyed everything he asked of me, and I made sure that I was always doing everything and anything to make him happy.

From what I know about the movie “Turning Red,” this is similar to the experience of the main character Mei, the teenage girl. The girl in the movie struggled with making sure she did what her mom wanted while trying to navigate simply being a teenager. I don’t know the entire story line because if I’m being honest, with the little I know about the movie, I am terrified of watching it for fear of triggering my own trauma and facing some of the experiences that I have yet to work through myself.

What I do know is that with the trauma we experience as children, we often fail to go through the stages of childhood and development that are necessary for healthy growth and development. In the years of therapy I have had, the people I met who had trauma in their childhood struggled as a young adult (or older adult) to heal those old wounds, to heal the inner child and move forward in life.

For me, the trauma I experienced surrounded not feeling loved and validated, not being nurtured and allowed to feel vulnerable. I know for me and my experience, the trauma I lived through stems from the generational trauma that my parents carried with them. The trauma they had growing up shaped them in a way that was passed on to me and my experience growing up as an immigrant in a new country. That trauma my parents carried led to my experience and ultimately the trauma I carry and the struggle I face trying to heal the inner child in me.

As the oldest daughter of immigrants, I had no idea how to be a child. I was sent on an international flight at barely 8 years old, just past my 8th birthday actually. I was given my documents, my ticket, and sent on a 12 hour flight across the pacific to spend the summers with my relatives. I felt discarded, I felt unwanted. The reasoning I was told as a little girl was that I needed to practice my native language.

As I got older, I learned it was because my parents chose my newborn sister over me. This didn’t help the feeling of being unwanted, like I was wrong and a mistake. In growing up and learning to focus on pleasing my parents, I suppressed the needs of the little girl in me. I did what I needed to make sure my parents were not worried about me – grades, where I was, my behavior, etc. – so they could focus on their work and raising my sister. I always felt that if I did everything my parents asked me to do, they would finally love me and be proud of me.

I could not have been further from the truth. Growing up, I never once heard my parents say “I love you” to me. I never once heard my parents say “I’m proud of you.” While it is true that my dad was saving the newspaper clippings of my varsity softball statistics and compiling clips to give to me as a high school graduation gift, what I needed in the moment was the affirmation that I was doing something right, that I was making my parents proud. Instead, in the moment, I was told that I didn’t do XYZ well enough, that I could have done ABC better. Try harder, I was told. Be better, I was told.

While there isn’t anything wrong, I don’t think, in asking your children to try harder and keep improving, I think the message could be delivered in a different manner. I know for myself, not getting the affirmation and the love that the little girl in me needed has affected me into my adult years. I never feel good enough. No matter how many degrees I have, no matter how many awards and accolades I have, I still don’t feel like I am enough. I still feel like a failure.

This all goes back to healing the little girl in me. I wish I knew how to because in truth, I don’t know how to heal the little girl. I don’t know how to love myself and give myself the love that I never received growing up. Even if I have come to accept that my experiences were not intentional and that my parents did what they could, given the circumstances and tools they had as immigrants too, healing the little girl in me has and will continue to remain a battle for me every day. How do you teach an adult to love herself when growing up, she wasn’t ever told she was loved?

One of the biggest challenges I have faced and continue to face in my battle with trauma and depression is healing the little girl in me. The little girl in me was not loved the way she needed. The adult in me struggles to move forward and heal the little girl in me.

Image via “Turning Red” official Facebook

Originally published: March 18, 2022
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