Imagine Frozen, but without Elsa’s powers:
After a traumatic incident in which her younger sister almost dies, a little girl becomes afraid and shuts herself away from the world. Her parents don’t allow her to talk about what happened, and instead tell her to shut her feelings away. Although she tries, her fear becomes more pervasive, and she starts shouting and even lashing out when pressed to do anything outside her comfort zone. And then, when it seems things couldn’t get any worse, her parents die suddenly and she is left to deal with her grief alone, in an isolation created for her by her parents. For years she is still too afraid to speak to her own sister, in case something bad happens again. Once she reaches adulthood, she is forced to go out in public, and tries to stay calm using the mantra her parents taught her so many years ago; “conceal it, don’t feel it”. And then, when she can’t cope, her sister – the only person she had left, snaps at her. “What are you so afraid of?” And it is too much. And she runs away.
Once she is alone, she feels free and safe, like all her problems are far away – because they literally are. She no longer has to control or hide her feelings, and for the first time since she was a little girl, is able to accept herself for who she is. The one problem, though, is that as soon as her sister reappears, so does her fear. “We can fix this,” her sister insists, blithely, as though it’s that easy. She still doesn’t understand. Elsa panics and forces her sister to leave.
But then people come and kidnap her, and lock her away, claiming that she is dangerous. This enforces everything she has felt and makes her weak and afraid, until she realises that her sister is in danger. And in a way, there is a redemption story to be found here. Because she is able to save her sister, she feels that she has redeemed herself of what happened when they were children. She is able to accept herself as she is and to have faith in others to do so as well, and as a result they do.
Elsa is lucky – she is able to break free of the toxic cycle her parents taught her, of hiding and trying to shut down her emotions. But for a lot of people, that part doesn’t happen. They remain the little girl who shuts herself away, the teenager who lashes out in fear, the woman who can only feel free and safe by running away from everything. And all the while, the people they love frustratedly ask them “what are you so afraid of?”. And it does not help.