Elsa: The Anxiety Queen
This may be a bit random for some people, but I do believe that there are lessons to be learned from our favorite Disney movies. Lion King teaches us about complicated grief and toxic family members. Inside Out talks about honoring all types of emotions other than joy, because they can teach us something about ourselves. Up is a cute movie about the loss of a loved one (again grief). With all the options out there, there is one movie that I think a lot of people can connect to, and that is Frozen and Frozen II. Specifically, when it comes to Elsa. Anna is a blog for another day.
Most people know Elsa as the Ice Queen, but to me, she is the Anxiety Queen. She can teach us a lot about anxiety, how it affects us and how liberating it can be once we learn how to manage it. I must warn you that there are spoilers, so if you haven’t watched Frozen or Frozen II, you might want to skip this blog.
Let us start our journey with Frozen. We learn early on that Elsa is born with the extraordinary powers of shooting snow/ice from her hands (and feet at times). Initially she is tickled by her uniqueness and seems very happy. It isn’t until an unfortunate accident and very harsh explanation that she beings to worry and develop anxiety.
I want to spend some time talking about the scene with the trolls, because it is very important to talk about how our anxiety originates, and this is that moment for Elsa.
As I mentioned, Elsa was a happy child. Her differences didn’t become a problem, until someone told her it was a problem. This is how anxiety is formed for some. They are told that their differences are a problem and never told how their differences can be beneficial. "The head can be persuaded" is a line that the trolls use to talk about how they can heal Anna, but not how this moment is persuading Elsa to view her powers as dangerous. The trolls BRIEFLY mention that her powers are a thing of beauty, but then end with how they are a GREAT danger. A child is going to focus more on the danger part because when we think about needs of children (sorry for the psychobabble) safety is priority. When a child doesn't feel safe, they don't feel happy.
The trolls had an opportunity to expand upon their predictions, but for some reason didn’t. Remember, Elsa is a CHILD … she needs to understand things at her level. Telling her that fear will be her enemy, doesn’t necessarily help the situation. It only furthers her level of ... FEAR. Secondly, they advise that Elsa must learn to control it. Ok … how?
Her parents’ decision to only further isolate Elsa is not learning how to control her powers, it is teaching her how to become avoidant. Avoidance is what most individuals who have anxiety do. They feel by avoiding their emotions that they are in control. Well, NEWS FLASH, that’s not how to control anxiety. Ultimately what will happen is that anxiety will come out in unexpected ways. You see this happening with Elsa in the “Want to Build a Snowman” montage. Her powers become too strong no matter how she tries to avoid it.
Her parents give her gloves with the instructions “conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show”. As well intentioned her parents are, they were not helping Elsa or Anna for that matter. (Remember that Anna is also suffering from Elsa’s isolation. Just like when we isolate from family and friends because of our anxiety, they too suffer). Her gloves represent, the mask that people wear to make it appear that things are ok, when that is further from the truth.
During coronation day, you see the depths of how Elsa feels her powers are dangerous to her and others. She feels that she always must be a “good girl” and “put on a show,” which adds on a level of perfectionism that many people with anxiety have. This idea that we can’t make mistakes, we must be constantly “on”, be something we aren’t, are narratives that only put her at a deeper level of anxiety.
However, she moves on and puts on a show. She is successful in becoming queen, until change happens and her boundaries aren’t respected. In the ballroom scene (after "Love is an Open Door") Anna doesn't understand Elsa’s boundaries, because they were never communicated due to their isolation. Anna continues to push to understand Elsa (at the wrong time) which causes Elsa to reveal her powers unintentionally.
I am going to use this moment to talk about communication of boundaries, because they are important when dealing with anxiety. Isolating from others can only further create more anxiety. Sometimes we isolate to avoid conflict because we feel or think differently from others. However, communicating our boundaries is a part of advocating for our needs, which is an essential step in managing our anxiety. People don’t need to know all the intimate details of our anxiety, but they do need to know that we have needs and boundaries. While everyone might not like it, we need to stick to it. If they are unable to respect your boundaries, then they don’t deserve to be a part of your life. Not saying that Anna falls into that category (even though she is a bit problematic in Frozen II), but had she known anything, things could have been handled differently.
This scene leads into “Let it go,” which some believe to be Elsa’s way of saying “F off” to everyone but let me break it down into a more therapeutic statement. “Let it Go” is Elsa letting go of the expectations that others have of her. She is breaking down the narratives that have been given to her and creating a new narrative that works for her. By doing so, she is going back to honoring her powers and acknowledging her truth. She is no longer that “perfect girl” but her true self (well sort of … I will get to that later).
If you notice, there is a key difference on how her powers are shown. When she is consumed by fear and anxiety, her ice comes out as daggers to represent the hurt she is experiencing on the inside. However, once she works WITH her powers (like in the "Letting Go" scene), they are more curved and not dangerous.
So, she lives alone in her ice castle … only to come back up when Anna finds her. Let's be honest, even if she is living her truth, she is still avoiding people because her thoughts are forever haunted by a mistake from her past. You see her still pushing Anna way when she is reminded of her childhood memory. So, her anxiety has improved, but her thoughts continue.
That is because her work with anxiety is still a continuous process. One song doesn’t simply solve the problem, just like one session of therapy doesn’t solve it either. It’s a continual journey to learn the necessary tools to manage anxiety.
Another point that this scene shows is that we may have people who are willing to be supportive and help, but we isolate thinking that they are better off without us. The snow building up in the “First Time in Forever Reprise” you see how her thoughts are clouding her mind and only worsens as fear escalates. Panic starts to come up and she ends up doing something she doesn’t intend to because of her distorted thinking. Her ice powers again become daggers. When the soldiers (or whatever they are) come to the castle, her daggers become more dangerous.
Granted, they could of left her alone, but to me this represents toxic people who don’t need to be present in our lives but continue to show up. Unfortunately, people only tend to see what they want to see to further their narrative and agenda. For Elsa, people only see that she is dangerous, not acknowledging that she has the right to privacy, and they didn’t respect her boundaries.
She gets arrested, which for any person, would increase her anxiety, so you see more ice clouds come up … especially when Hans is about to murder her (which again anxiety would increase for anyone who is about to be killed). Luckily, she is saved by her sister and Elsa learns more her powers and how to control them. She states that the solution is “love,” which is the Disney way to end a movie, but not much of a solution. … UNLESS … they mean that love is a way to accept ourselves for who we are, take the time to learn more about what we need from others and being open to changes. If that’s the case, then good!
Now, you might be thinking “well if her anxiety is gone, then what is there to learn from Frozen II,” well luckily for Disney fans … her anxiety is BACK! Sounds rude, but Frozen II teaches us that anxiety comes up as a way to teach us something that we are reluctant to see.
We can see that with “Into the Unknown,” which brings many points on how anxiety comes up. Anxiety (which in this case is good type) is trying to get her attention. She associates this anxiety as a bad thing, so she tries to push it aside. She believes by acknowledging this anxiety (which again is positive anxiety versus her previous negative anxiety) she will risk everything that she built and her loved ones around her. This song acknowledges how anxiety impacts our sleep, our focus, our ability to make decisions and how we can question ourselves. However, this feeling inside her is pushing her to learn more about herself and her potential.
As the story evolves, we learn the history of her family and how that has impacted where she is today. Through this we acknowledge that sometimes we need to delve into the past to make positive changes for our future. I acknowledge that this could open up unhealed wounds (like finding out the truth about your parent’s death), but it is important in order to create lasting changes for your future to find ways to heal.
For Elsa, she uses this painful revelation as motivation to keep moving forward to learn more about herself. Which brings us to “Show Yourself,” which for me is the moment when Elsa becomes her true self (so suck on that “Let it Go” LOL). As the song begins, it talks about the nervous feeling that one gets when they are close to realizing their potential but still fearful at the same time. Like a short of nervous/excited feeling.
She talks about her journey of being isolated and closed off within this verse, “I have always been a fortress, cold secrets deep inside.” Doesn’t take a genius to realize that she has been talking about the journey from Frozen I. She realizes how her isolation has plagued her in the past. As she continues the song, she realizes that this anxiety is here for a reason to show her something … she states she is “ready to learn” and is here “for a reason.”
I can go on and on about the lyrics within in this song and how it is so connected to her journey with anxiety and how this is her moment to finally show herself … her true self, but maybe its best for you to see it for yourself!
As she transforms into her true self, she does still go deep to learn the truth. Her journey never ends, because what never changes (because some things do change, Anna) is the fact that we are always changing. Therefore, we need to acknowledge all the parts that make us who we are; past and present.
The movie goes on to … you know … save Arendelle and give Elsa the freedom of living her life without it being under the structure of queen … but that really doesn’t have any tie into my blog and doesn’t refute anything either. So if you haven’t watch the movie you can be relieved that I won’t spoil the rest of it (even though I kind of already did).
Regardless, Elsa will forever be my Anxiety Queen. The queen of Disney who shows us that anxiety can have both a negative AND positive impact on our life. So don't conceal it, instead feel it and let it show (in healthy ways of course)!
Hmm… this blog was longer than I thought. I wonder what other Disney movie I can break down. Well while I ponder that thought and scroll through Disney+, I hope you can take a minute to think about how you want to work with your anxiety so that you can start your journey to SHOW YOURSELF!
Written by: Jessica Jefferson, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified Perinatal Mental Health Counselor and Owner of Cloud Nine Therapeutic Services. My passion is helping individuals through heartbreak, whether that is heartbreak with others or heartbreak within themselves. My goal is to be their guide on their journey to their self-discovery so that they can build the life and relationship they want. I am here for when you want to start your journey.