Pressure, Perfection and Purpose: Encanto’s Lessons about Anxiety and Honoring Your Gifts
Encanto is quickly becoming my favorite Disney movie of all time. First, it touches on Hispanic representation for the first time in Disney movie history. Yes, Elena was the first Spanish princess … but unfortunately she never graced the big screen. Secondly, Encanto has some BANGERS in terms of music. I honestly can’t pick a favorite. Not only that but their songs mirror that of the Colombian culture. The music is very traditional and it honestly brings me back to my roots. Lastly, Encanto showcases traditional family dynamics that in a lot of ways exist today.
These traditional family dynamics is what causes anxiety for most people these days. More than we like to acknowledge, but again, if Encanto has taught us anything, not speaking about it can cause tension within our family.
Now, as with many family dynamics, not everyone experiences anxiety the same and in some cases not everyone experiences family pressures. Not to discredit most of la familia Madrigal, but Bruno, Isabel, Luisa and Maribel are the focus on this particular blog. Each of them were given a signature song because they experience the stressors of family pressure more than anyone.
- QUICK SIDE NOTE: As mentioned not everyone experiences family pressure and anxiety. For example, Dolores, Antonio and Camilo have pretty good adjustment with their gifts. I am curious if they are able to adjust so well because their mom (Tia Pepa) shoulders most of that anxiety. It is something to think about and consider, but there is also not a lot of context since they aren't shown very often. Now on to the normal scheduled programming.
Through this blog, I will highlight how family pressure causes anxiety, how you can see it highlighted in the main three sisters, plus an added bonus of breaking down Bruno (so YES I will be talking about Bruno LOL).
Luisa’s signature song is BY FAR the best signature song sung by its character. If you haven’t listened to Surface Pressure … I give you permission to stop reading to listen to it. You simply have to.
Her lyrics are super relatable to anyone who feels that they carry more burden and responsibility than humanly possibly. Even if we know that it is too much, we don’t let on to how we are feeling on the inside. We take it all in stride out of fear of what others will think of us.
As Luisa mentions “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service,” and my heart simply breaks for her. Her taking on too much has become her role in the family and she hasn’t been given room to become herself outside of the burdens given to her.
She questions that if she:
“could shake the crushing weight of expectations, would that free some room up for joy or relaxation or simple pleasure?”
All I want to tell her is that IT WILL. She simply needs to start creating more of a balance for herself. As well, as boundaries with others.
I consider Luisa to be, what I like to call, a “helper.” This is classified as someone who does for others without taking the time to think about themselves. Ultimately their heart is in the right place, however, it doesn’t leave much room for their mental and physical well-being to last over a long period of time. You can see that happening with Luisa, as she is the first person to lose her powers. Her physical well-being shifts. She is no longer strong and that effects her mental well-being. Not only because it feels like a GIANT shift in who she is, but it impacts her ability to see herself in any other capacity. If she isn’t the strong one, then who is she in the family? What is her purpose?
Even after losing her powers, she doesn’t let on. She doesn’t ask for help, which is very common for a “helper” type. They will continue to move on, further than they should reasonably allow, because they don’t know any better.
Again very well intentioned, but not something that is going to work long-term. So what would my suggestion be for Luisa? Well first, create boundaries. Take on less tasks. Allow the townspeople and her family to learn how to fend for themselves from time to time. They will be ok. They will manage. It is important to allow people to step up for themselves so that they don’t fully depend on you to pick up the pieces.
The hardest thing about boundaries is not creating them, but maintaining them. That may be the hardest part for Luisa.
My next tip for Luisa is to create time for herself. It may be good to explore other parts of herself that she didn’t give herself time for. Who knows, maybe she would like to cook like her mom? Or maybe take up gardening with her sister? Or maybe starting a hobby that is just hers? Hopefully it doesn’t involve donkeys LOL.
Isabela is the next person in my list of la familia Madrigal that I want to explore because I see it very often. We all have issues with perfectionism from time to time, but Isabela takes it to a whole new level. She places herself in this box of being the “perfect” Madrigal in order to appease her family, specifically her Abuela. She went so far to do what is expected of her that she was willing to marry a man that she was not interested in. That is DEEP.
While I think Isabela has been placed in this box of perfection, I believe that she has always wanted to find a way out but was fearful of what other people would think. She limited her potential for so long, out of fear. Again another struggle for those who struggle with perfectionism. This idea that if we stray or color outside the lines, it can have drastic effects, but on the contrary it can open up more opportunities than we can even imagine.
With her signature song of “What Else Can I Do” she is finally able to see that she has a lot more to her than just perfect roses. I think it is interesting that Maribel was the person to bring that out of her. Maribel (which I will go in depth more later) was the only Madrigal to not fulfill the family potential of receiving a gift. Something that Isabela looked down on her for, not realizing that Maribel’s potential is outside of the magic that the casita provides.
In her song, she is working through being in the moment and allowing herself to create without second thought.
"What could I do if I just grew what I was feeling in the moment? What could I do if I just knew it didn’t need to be perfect? It just needed to be? And they let me be?"
Here she is acknowledging out loud that she simply wants to be allowed to be herself. Without having to overanalyze or worry about other people’s expectations. I am sure that feeling is a struggle for many people reading this as well.
So how can Isabela manage her issues with perfection? Well luckily for Isabel, she has already started that process. She is allowing herself to be in the moment and create without a purpose.
Simply create to just create.
Be in the moment and allow it to be.
As easy as I make it sound, it can be very hard for those who are working against people’s expectations. Therefore, it is important to think about whether these expectations are realistic. Most often than not they aren’t.
Perfection is BULLSHIT. No one can be 100% all the time. Not only that, but by trying to maintain perfection, you aren’t allowing yourself to fully live. Because life is filled with mistakes. It is how we learn and evolve. It is how to begin to trust ourselves and trust those around us. It gives us room to breathe and simply just be.
Isabela feels more like herself after the song. In contrast to Luisa. Isabela is accepting the change that she needs, she doesn’t lose her powers immediately. She maintains them. I truly believe it is because Isabela is willing to adjust to be more true to herself, whereas Luisa is still burdened by the expectations of others. It may explain why Luisa was the first and only Madrigal to lose her powers before the casita started breaking apart.
Now on to the main character of Mirabel. Being the youngest, which has its own set of issues, and the only one that wasn't given a gift like her siblings has caused her to be in the background of the AMAZING familia Madrigal. For most younger children, they are often at the bottom of the totem pole and this is the case for Mirabel. Older children tend to get more devoted attention as there is more energy to give. Parents devote more time to the older children simply because it is easier to delegate. While you do see that Mirabel’s relationship is strong with her parents, which kinda contradicts my previous note. It may be possible that her parent’s feel sympathy for Mirabel since she wasn’t given a gift like everyone else. As you see in flashbacks, Mirabel was closer to her Abuela. Which is very common for traditional hispanic households (and probably for other cultures as well). Obviously things changed as Mirabel wasn’t given a gift.
Even without a gift, Mirabel continues to work hard to get acknowledgement from her Abuela, as she most likely feels abandoned by her. Her grandmother has devoted more time to her other grandkids and have provided them each a role, while not providing much attention to Mirabel. Therefore, Mirabel struggles to find her purpose in the home.
She wants to feel included and struggles to find her place. Especially with her Abuela and even with her sisters. Her sisters feel the burden of taking care of the town, very similar to her mother. Something that Mirabel doesn’t relate to because she hasn’t been given a gift. However, she does appear to have a greater connection with her cousins who don’t experience that same pressure to care for the town. They have more room to experience joy, which provides some relief to Mirabel. She feels more understood by them.
However, when the family comes together to celebrate Antonio’s gift, she again feels like an outcast. She has no purpose. She continues to “wait on a miracle” to show her what she needs.
In her signature song, she compares herself to her family members, which is a normal response... we all do it. But this comparison holds her back from seeing her own purpose. She is waiting on an outside factor to show her who she is and what her role is. She doesn’t realize that she has the potential within herself because she is seeking validation from others.
Her purpose, and what brings the family back together after Casita crumbles (SPOILER ALERT), is her ability to bring her family together. To see her family's potential outside of the “gifts” that was given to them. Essentially seeing them at the core and not for what they can provide. That is a gift that not many people possess. The ability to see people at the lowest, to see their vulnerability, and to be there for them regardless. To be unconditional.
Lets Talk about Bruno
Before I go on my rant about Bruno … let’s acknowledge that while he isn’t singing in his signature song, it is truly an incredible musical number. It will get stuck in your head and you won't be mad at it.
Moving on … Bruno is my extra little bonus when talking about Encanto because he is truly the misunderstood one. He is essentially the family member that is unfortunately disregarded because his gift was not good enough. Abuela and his sisters didn’t appreciate his gift because it gave the truth that no one else wanted to see. While his visions weren’t 100% clear, you have to respect that when you ask a question, you are given the answer. Even if the answer wasn’t something you didn’t want to hear.
The only person who understood that was Dolores. She says
“It’s a heavy lift with a gift so humbling. Always left Abuela and the family fumbling. Grappling with prophecies they couldn’t understand”
It makes sense that she understood how he felt because he was always “fumbling and mumbling,” which is most likely because he didn’t feel confident enough to express himself fully but kept it to himself (or what he thought was himself but Dolores heard).
My point is that it is simply unfair to punish Bruno for something that was asked of him. Not only that, but to paint him as a villainous monster when he simply only wanted to do what is best for the family is messed up.
That is what bonded him and Mirabel together. The feeling of being misunderstood when all they both wanted was to be the best they could be for the family.
If anything, Bruno represented what Mirabel would become if her family didn’t accept her for who she was. She would have probably found space with Bruno and his rats if the house didn’t break down completely. They understood that their struggles were similar and only wanted to be appreciated at the core.
The hardest part for Bruno moving forward would be how to manage his gift and the repercussions of his visions. He unfortunately can’t control how people react to his visions, he can only control how he manages his response. He could choose to not engage with his gift and create that boundary. He could choose to find ways to not carry the weight of people’s feelings, which is honestly hard. Or what would be the better, ideal option is to have people advocate for him as well. I believe, if he felt supported by his family and felt that they would have his back, that would help him feel more confident to be himself.
The bigger issue (and probably one that won't be established) is working through some of the resentment of being casted off so fast by his family. That has to hurt. So Bruno … I am here if you want to talk because I love talking about Bruno! (Plus, I think Pepa could definitely use some sessions to help manage her anxiety thunderstorms if you want to give her my number).
If you haven’t watched Encanto, you are truly missing out. It is a great movie for the whole family and I truly believe you will enjoy the soundtrack because it won’t get old. It has replaced the Frozen II soundtrack in my home and I can’t tell you how happy I am to let THAT go LOL.
Additionally, for anyone who has grown up in a household with very traditional families, I am sure you will see yourself in one of the characters … or maybe more than one.
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.