Have you ever watched Beauty and The Beast (1991) and related to feeling out of place? Or even feel like Elsa in Frozen (2013) and have to hide your true self? Or maybe you identified with Woody in Toy Story (1995), struggling with feeling unloved, replaceable, or inadequate.
With mental health at the forefront of the health industry, we are all seeking ways to heal ourselves. And as silly as it may seem to others, Disney movies can help with that! Let’s call it Disney psychology…or even Disney therapy.
And with the thought of mental health in mind, let’s explore toxic relationships and gaslighting trauma using Disney’s Tangled (2010).
Have you ever felt like you were “losing it” in one way or another? Someone claims you said or did something you do not remember, or someone tells you something vastly different than you remember? And then that individual, after making you question your memory, judgment, or mental sanity, uses your confusion to manipulate you? That’s gaslighting.
The official definition, according to merriam-webster is: “psychological manipulation of a person usually over an extended period of time that causes the victim to question the validity of their own thoughts, perception of reality, or memories and typically leads to confusion, loss of confidence and self-esteem, uncertainty of one’s emotional or mental stability, and a dependency on the perpetrator.”
Let’s pause here for a quick spoiler alert. I know the movie has been out for 13 years, but if you have not seen it, the remainder of this article may contain spoilers about its plot or characters.
Regarding gaslighting, there are a few examples better depicted in the film (especially Disney films) that illustrate this manipulation tactic. Mother Gothel, who is not Rapunzel’s actual mother, uses gaslighting throughout the entire movie (and Rapunzel’s entire life) to maintain her control over the princess.
Mother Gothel is not the most powerful or scary Disney villain. She doesn’t wield God-like powers like Hades or Ursula, she doesn’t have an army of followers to do her bidding like Scar or Gaston, and she isn’t a cold-blooded killer like the Evil Queen or Maleficent. But her character is arguably one of the most terrifying because her MO involves kidnapping children and psychologically abusing them while forcing them into isolation.
She uses multiple methods to manipulate Rapunzel, but gaslighting her “daughter” is the number one tool in her arsenal. This is most evident in her song “Mother Know’s Best.”
The lyrics she sings including blatant lies, which is a tell tail sign of gaslighting. As Rapunzel’s only real source of information or connection to the outside world, Gothel paints the world as a terrible, unsafe, and dangerous place that Rapunzel could not survive.
“Mother knows best, listen to your mother
It’s a scary world out there
Mother knows best; one way or another
Something will go wrong, I swear
Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand
Cannibals and snakes
Attacks on Self-Esteem
Another element of gaslighting on display from Mother Gothel is using what is tearing down their confidence. To further keep Rapunzel under her thumb, Gothel sings insults that take digs at Rapunzel’s looks, character, and intelligence.
“Mother knows best, take it from your mumsy
On your own, you won’t survive
Sloppy, underdressed, immature, clumsy
Please, they’ll eat you up alive
Gullible, naïve, positively grubby
Ditzy and a bit, well, hmm, vague
Plus, I believe, gettin’ kinda chubby.”
Although the Disney movie delivers it lightheartedly, the signs of Rapunzel’s mental trauma are fully displayed when she first leaves the tower. She undergoes a roller coaster of emotions due to her feelings of freedom constantly hampered by fear, guilt, and anxiety over things Mother Gothel has told her.
Questioning Validity and Reality
Another element Gothel utilizes to control Rapunzel is trying to make her think there’s something wrong with her. When Gothel meets back up with Rapunzel later in the movie, she tries to convince Rapunzel that Flynn Rider has no feelings for her and it’s all in her head.
This, again, is illustrated through song during the reprise of “Mother Knows Best.”
“Likes you? Please, Rapunzel, that’s demented
This is why you never should have left
Dear, this whole romance that you’ve invented
Just proves you’re too naive to be here
Why would he like you? Come on now – really!
Look at you – you think that he’s impressed?
Don’t be a dummy
Come with mummy.”
Gaslighting in Real Life
Unfortunately, many people in the world may use gaslighting tactics to gain control over someone. This can be a romantic partner, spouse, parents, co-worker, or friend. It’s usually a clear sign of a toxic relationship – and once you notice it – you may always see it. And in cases such as those, it’s essential to ask yourself how best to navigate and keep that relationship.
Is it repairable? Is it toxic? Do you need time away to reassess the value of that relationship or friendship? Do you need to set boundaries? It’s always important to remember to do what’s best for you.
For more information on gaslighting: Gaslighting: Know It, Identify It, and Protect Yourself – Stephanie Sarkis PhD