There is a terrific article at The Science of Relationships on what Disney’s Frozen can teach us about a common relationship problem and how it can negatively impact even our physical health!
While the Disney animated film “Frozen” is most famous for its lovable characters and award-winning song “Let it Go”, this kids’ movie can teach us a thing or two about attachment styles in close relationships and the important interplay between partners’ preferences for intimacy versus independence. In “Frozen,” the relationship difficulties that occur when these preferences clash are most evident between the two protagonists, sisters Elsa and Anna.
Anxious Anna and Avoidant Elsa: Attachment in “Frozen”
Attachment style describes the degree to which we perceive our relationships (usually romantic partnerships) as being secure, capable of meeting our needs, and a source of comfort in times of distress. People who are securely attached are comfortable depending on others as well as having others depend on them. Some people, however, have negative expectations in relationships, leading to insecure attachment styles. For example, individuals with an anxious attachment style fear rejection and abandonment, yet their cravings for closeness may inadvertently drive others away. In “Frozen”, Anna is anxiously attached. Her parents’ death and her sister’s abandonment leave her alone and desperate for love – so desperate, in fact, that she almost married a man she just met (Prince Hans). Whenever Elsa seeks distance in the movie, Anna continues to pursue her and ends up getting hurt in the process. Anxiously attached people may engage in behavior like this because they over-rely on their attachment figures for reassurance.
On the other hand, avoidant attachment is characterized by feeling uncomfortable with closeness in relationships and a desire to maintain emotional distance. A person high in avoidant attachment would find it difficult to depend on others. In “Frozen”, Elsa exemplifies avoidant attachment. As a child, she was encouraged to “conceal, don’t feel” after her magical ability to create snow and ice accidentally injures Anna. From that moment on, Elsa increasingly pulls away from her sister both physically and emotionally. When Anna finally confronts Elsa about her habit of shutting everyone out, Elsa responds by lashing out with her powers and running away (self-protective strategies, such as defensiveness and withdrawal, are how avoidantly-attached people typically respond to relationship stressors).1 People high in avoidance also tend to underestimate others’ care and support for them. For instance, even after Anna communicates her desire to help Elsa, Elsa rejects her sister’s support and insists on being alone.
It’s easy to see how an anxious-avoidant pairing could snowball into relationship dysfunction: in the face of an attachment threat, such as an argument or confrontation, anxious individuals are likely to pursue their attachment figures in an attempt to reestablish feelings of closeness, just as Anna did when she ventured out into the blizzard to chase after Elsa. When the avoidant partner responds by pulling away – as Elsa did when she told Anna her intention of never returning home – the anxious person’s fears are reinforced and the relationship is likely to suffer (i.e., Anna feels abandoned yet clings to her hope of reconnecting with her sister; Elsa feels overwhelmed and inadvertently strikes her sister with a nearly-fatal blast of ice).
Attachment and Physical Health
“Frozen” conveyed the disastrous consequences of attachment style mismatch when Anna was physically injured after continually provoking Elsa. But what are the effects of anxious-avoidant pairings in relationships in the real world? Can being with a romantic partner who has conflicting attachment goals actually harm you? A number of studies have found evidence that yes, insecure attachment styles are associated with physiological stress responses and lifestyle behaviors that put people at risk for health problems….CONTINUE READING.