Sunday, January 19, 2014

Saving Mr. Banks Revisited

Moved by the psychological lessons in Saving Mr. Banks, my husband and I schlepped off to see the movie again on a frigid Chicago night.  Generally, one viewing per movie is my limit. I schlepped off to see the movie a second time because I thought I had more to learn from it.

This movie is about PL Travers, the author of Mary Poppins and her relationship with Walt Disney.  PL Travers had an alcoholic father who died when she was 7 and a depressed, suicidal mother. Interestingly enough, Walt Disney,too, had a difficult childhood with a father who could be characterized as emotionally abusive.  it is not uncommon to find married couples who each have had painful childhoods fraught with trauma.

What stood out to me in my second viewing were the personality traits of Mrs. Travers that are characteristic of adults who have grown up in an alcoholic family.  To say that Mrs. Travers had profound difficulty with flexibility and trust would be an understatement.  From the moment that she steps on the plane to the US, she it totally unable to accept help from anyone for something as simple as stowing her baggage in the overhead compartment.  Repeatedly her chilly response to anyone kindly offering her assistance is, "No thank you. I'm perfectly capable myself."  

Being forced to assume super-human amounts of responsibility as children, ACOAs develop a shell of pseudo independence that is tough to penetrate, and I might add, to love. A peek into the childhood of PL Travers reveals heartbreaking scenes. Ultimately, she feels that she is responsible for the survival of both parents.  That is a load to heavy for any child to bear.  Mrs. Travers inability to accept warmth and help and her controlling nature have evolved from her childhood experience where life was totally out of control.
There were no big people around to shoulder the horrific emotional blows and losses that Mrs. Travers experienced as a child.  

If you understand Mrs. Travers in the context of her childhood,it is much easier to have compassion and understanding for her.  Although it may be a very sanctified picture of Walt Disney in this flick, he does a terrific job of getting Mrs. Travers and relating to her in a productive and gently confronting way.

Whether you are a Mrs. Travers yourself or married to one, understanding yourself or your spouse in the context of the pain that either they or you grew up in will always help. Don't psychoanalyze your spouse or pepper them with interpretations about their childhood.  That is an understandable impulse but a terrible idea. Trust me, it never works.  But seeing yourself or your spouse through eyes of understanding and empathy will always help. It's a tall order but it works.

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