Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Are you married to an ACOA or are one yourself? You gotta see Saving Mr. Banks...

 Saving Mr. Banks is a powerful and poignant portrait of PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins. Flashbacks to the childhood of this formal and crotchety British author provide  profound insight into the inflexible and rigid  Mrs. Travers.  Her alcoholic father was alternately warm, generous,loving and vicious and cruel. Her mother wears the weary mask of the wife of an alcoholic. In a scene that takes your breath away, she walks into the lake in a suicide attempt. Fortunately PL Travers' mother is rescued by her hyper -vigilant daughter.

The movie flows gracefully between the past and the present.  Mrs. Travers struggles with the songwriters as they attempt to transform Mary Poppins to a Disney movie.  Having grown up in trauma, loss and chaos she does not surrender control easily if at all.  Control struggles and an unyielding sense of always being right are pretty typical symptoms of adults whose childhood was more or less out of control.

Walt Disney who discloses to Mrs. Travers about his own painful childhood astutely intuits what Mrs. Travers needs.  Although she vigorously protests, a day in Disney World is precisely the find of fun and leisure that Mrs. Travers sorely lacked as a child.  ACOA's often do not do well with fun and leisure and like Mrs. Travers have to be dragged kicking and screaming.

My favorite line in the movie is by Walt Disney.  Our stories are redemptive, he says. That's what we story tellers do. We restore order with imagination.  We instill hope again and again and again. Both P.L.Travers and Walt Disney found redemption and healing for their childhood pain through telling their stories through the magical lenses of their characters.  

What does all this have to do with marriage therapy, you may be scratching your head and asking yourself.  Saving Mr. Banks is a wonderful lesson in empathy.  If you are married to someone like P.L.Travers  or recognize a bit of her in yourself try seeing your spouse or yourself through the lens of their childhood trauma.

Underneath the brittle exterior is often a frightened child who is terrified of change.  If, like Walt Disney, you can avoid control battles with the adult child of an alcoholic and comfort the frightened child who is cowering within that exterior of control you can go a long way towards making a connection.    


  1. I just found your blog and am going through your posts. Could you please consider offering more information on ACOA's and how to communicate with a spouse who is one? I was interested in the movie, but am now going to see it for sure as your post indicates it may very well be enlightening on this subject. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I will definitely do my best to comment more on marriage to an ACOA. Would love to hear further comments.