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The Circle of Life and Trauma

Updated: Feb 14

The Circle of Life and Trauma

Unfortunately, life isn't always fair, and trauma is often a part of it. But for those who have experienced trauma, life can still be full of hope and love. The Lion King is an excellent example of what self-love, discovery, and recovery from trauma can look like. It's also a reminder that good parenting doesn't prevent trauma from happening—but it can help us to heal afterward.

"Life's not fair, is it?"

The starting line of the beginning of the film serves as our reminder of this fact of life and is relayed to us from the voice of Scar. The Lion King manages to display this fact without hiding from the darkness and instead shares a way to make sense of life's difficulties rather than censoring them.


The universal rite of passage of learning that life isn't fair is woven throughout the story. Scar is angry by the social hierarchy that puts him behind his nephew Simba in line to lead the Pride Lands. Watching through the eyes of Simba growing up as the kid who has everything to lose in the center of his universe, as his beloved father dies a horrible death right before his eyes; the name of the heir that Scar covets is hardly seen as a virtue.


The Lion King swiftly and harshly breaks it to kids that, sometimes, life sucks. Not only do you have to reckon with where you fall on the food chain, but even if you do get to be King, you're not exempt from the suffering and loss inherent to our mortal existence. The circle of life is just as much a circle of death - for you to grow up and become an independent adult, your parents must get older and eventually pass away. And darkness is woven into everything that's light. So, what actually made the Lion King so vivid and life-changing for 90’s kids is that it's not afraid to go to some dark places.


Good parenting doesn't prevent it.

Mufasa checks all the boxes for good parenting. Remember the scene in the elephant graveyard? Mufasa sets healthy boundaries for Simba and even reinforces them without shaming his child - check. He teaches responsibility, philosophy, and respect - checking all the healthy boxes. Yet, after watching his father's death and being convinced he's to blame, the trauma response that follows is only natural. The key takeaway here is there wasn't anything Mufasa could have done differently or better. Mufasa has not failed as a father or parent. In fact, those healthy parenting efforts would likely lessen the chance of severe symptoms and ultimately set Simba up for success in battling his trauma which he's later able to overcome through his self-realization and the aid of his support system.


Perhaps the most traumatic event for Simba was when he saw his father's lifeless body after the stampede. As he approaches Mufasa, Simba calls out for him. Despite witnessing his father fall from a great height and get trampled, his trauma response at this moment is denial.


His denial moves into a morbid acceptance as he proceeds to try and lay with his father but is interrupted by Uncle Scar, who then gaslights Simba into believing that all of this is his own doing and that he got his father killed. Simba is told to run away, triggering his flight response to the stressful and traumatic event.


His coping response to his trauma at that moment was to keep going and run away until he couldn't go any further and once again reached the hypo-arousal phase leaving him feeling hopeless. As Timone and Pumba find him nearly being eaten by vultures, he seems hopeless and doesn't even care about the vultures, but more so ashamed and shut down.


Hakuna Matata as a tool not a lifeline

The friendship between Timone, Pumba, and Simba is a heartwarming tale of companionship that generations have cherished. These three characters demonstrate how important it is to have supportive friends during difficult times. After Simba suffers the loss of his father, Mufasa, he turns to Timone and Pumba for guidance. Together they teach him about the "Hakuna Matata" no worries lifestyle. This connection with his new friends helps him find an escape from his pain as well as provides him with valuable life lessons.


One of the most important things that Timone and Pumba teach Simba is how to look at life in a whole different way than what he was accustomed to living in the pride lands. Finding Timone and Pumba allows Simba an escape and a lifeline from his pain. Yet here, we can also be cautioned to live with the awareness of the potential downside the avoidance of our feelings can lead to.


You can be fine (for a while) without treatment.

In Simba's new life, he finds that he enjoys living by the "Hakuna Matata" mentality, living his life free of responsibility, with his pain and trauma almost all but forgotten. Simba's carefree lifestyle involves no stress or pressure and provides him with everything he needs. It may seem like this kind of lifestyle would be difficult to maintain, but Simba has made it into something that works for him. The lack of responsibility means Simba can take time away from worrying about the future and instead focus on enjoying himself in the present moment.


When Nala suddenly appears in Simba's life, it triggers a cascade of emotions, ultimately leading to him breaking out of his numbing. Before she arrives, Simba has been in a state of complacency, not feeling any motivation to take action on the many aspects of his life that have fallen apart after the death of Mufasa. But when he sees Nala again for the first time since childhood, all those feelings come flooding back, and he is reminded of who he once was - who he still could be if only given a chance.


Simba is filled with anger at himself for allowing so much time to pass without making any effort to take back what was rightfully his - but even more powerful than this rage is a sense of hope, optimism that maybe with her help, they can put their lives and kingdom back together again.


Healing Trauma with Connection

Simba, the beloved lion king of Pride Rock, has been through a great deal during his lifetime. Experiencing tremendous loss and feeling defeated, Simba needs guidance to help him restore his sense of self. Fortunately, with the aid of Rafiki, he can rediscover his true identity and plot out what must be done to bring balance back into his life.


Rafiki's expertise helps give Simba perspective on how far he has come in his journey and insight into what needs to be done next. Through connections with his support system from his newfound friends and Nala, Simba discovers that he does have the strength within himself to make things right again.


It is not the event that creates a traumatic reaction; it's the meaning the belief of the event. Even if the belief makes no sense, Simba's belief of his traumatic event is scripted nicely for us by Scar "if it weren't for you [Mufasa] would still be alive… What will your mother think, a son who causes his father's death… run away and never return." If Simba were to sit on my couch, we would note the possible truth and falsity in these statements. We would also look at the belief of "hakuna matata" and how it has served and limited him. Then, we'd build new constructive beliefs, a sort of new set of morals to his life story.

 

A self-described geek, Maria Laquerre-Diego is a CEO and Owner who is committed to increasing access to mental health services and breaking down the stigma surrounding therapy services. As a therapist turned CEO, Maria has developed a unique perspective when it comes to mental health and the barriers surrounding mental health treatment. Influenced by her time at New Mexico State University in the Family and Consumer Science department, and University of New Hampshire’s Marriage and Family Therapy department, Maria has turned her dedication to giving back and supporting future generations of therapists. In addition to supporting mental health providers, Maria takes an active role in addressing the continued stigma of mental health services through the use of pop culture – everything from movies and television shows to superheroes and Disney characters. Maria has spoken about mental health at several local events, has served as an officer on professional boards and has provided training to clinicians all over the country while maintaining her and her family’s roots as Aggies! Outside of the office, Maria can be found spending time with her family and loved ones, exploring the world through travel, and creating cosplays for herself, her husband and their two little ones. Maria is always happy to talk about Star Wars, Marvel and mental health and can be contacted through her practice website www.anewhopetc.org



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