Thoughts on “Tangled”
The movie "Tangled" resonated with former ATI students on a level that had never been felt before. It was as if the feelings and thoughts we've had throughout the months and years of struggling to find balance and Grace, were finally put into a visual and word form that we could both identify with and share with others. This article was written shortly after the movie came out on DVD.
My wife and I watched the movie Tangled last night. For months now, we’d heard from other former ATI students that the movie was a great analogy for spiritual abuse and the journey out of a legalistic system of thought. It’s even been referenced a number of times here on Recovering Grace. (see last Thursday’s re-post)
After watching it, I couldn’t agree more.
For those that haven’t seen it, I’ll try not to spoil it for you by giving away too much. The basic premise of the story is that the princess, Rapunzel, has magical hair which glows with healing powers when she sings. She was kidnapped at birth by Mother Gothel, who simply wanted to use Rapunzel’s gift to maintain her own youth and vitality. She locked Rupunzel in a tower and kept her there through fear of the outside world. Tangled is the story of how Rapunzel finds her freedom.
While I know that Disney had no intentions other than crafting another typical princess fable, I just thought I’d share with you a few poignant analogies that I found in the film.
- Misplaced authority. Throughout the film, Rapunzel assumes that Gothel is her mother, never realizing until the end that she has a true mother and father. Likewise, children brought up in Gothard’s system are taught to believe that their parents are their primary authority, and that God will only speak to them through that authority. The truth is that they have a loving heavenly Father who desperately longs to have a personal relationship with them. Certainly there is a very important role for parents in the nurturing and raising of children. But their goal should be that their children will grow to have a personal relationship with God. Too many ATI parents demand that their children always obey them, even into adulthood, marriage, and beyond. Even when God is leading them to do something contrary.
- Fear-based protection. In the movie, Mother Gothel keeps Rapunzel in the tower not through physical restraints, but through emotional ones. She refers to the outside world as dangerous, and warns Rapunzel of the hurt that will occur if she ever dares leave the tower. This is one of the key ways that spiritually abusive organizations operate. They tell their followers that if they leave, they’ll fall into worldliness, sin, and worst of all, damnation. Gothard’s teachings to parents often utilize horrible anecdotes of what might happen if their child rebels. Likewise, ATI parents often give a wrong impression of the “outside world” to their children in order to keep them from rebelling. Sure, the world is full of sin, and there is much that can harm. But parents need to teach their children how to deal with “the world” as it is, not as some exaggerated myth.
- Emotional trauma upon leaving. When Rapunzel first leaves the tower, she goes through an emotional crisis. She swings back and forth between incredible joy and incredible fear, liberation and guilt, laughter and tears. Much in the same way, former ATI students who have “left the system” go through a long process of emotional healing. The same feelings Rapunzel expresses in the movie are dealt with on a long-term basis.
- The need for a guide. Rapunzel leans heavily upon her “friend” Flynn Rider as she leaves the tower. Although he (at the time) is not the most noble of characters, he helps Rapunzel acclimate to a world which she is experiencing for the first time. In the same way, those of us who have left ATI tend to lean heavily on others for support and guidance as we find our way in the real world. This is why there has been an explosion of online support groups for former students, and this is one of the main reasons Recovering Grace exists. The need for spiritual, emotional, and physical guidance cannot be overstated.
- An ever-patient Father. I think the thing I love the most about Tangled is that even though she didn’t know it for eighteen years, the King never stopped hoping that she’d come home. To him, she never stopped being a princess, and he never stopped being her father. Isn’t that just like how our heavenly Father is with us? Children raised in a legalistic system of behavior have a hard time understanding that there is a loving Father out there who is seeking a personal relationship with them. Still, their Father patiently seeks them out, waiting for them to come home and longing to show them His love.
So, what do I take away from “Tangled?” Well, for one, it was a great movie! But even more, I found a strong reminder that there are many more “Rapunzels” locked in emotional and spiritual towers, not knowing that there is a King who wants nothing more than to wrap his loving arms around them. I pray that you would look for them in your sphere of influence, that you would take it upon yourself to guide them to the King, and that you would show them the love that they so desperately need.
All articles on this site reflect the views of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of other Recovering Grace contributors or the leadership of the site. Students who have survived Gothardism tend to end up at a wide variety of places on the spiritual and theological spectrum, thus the diversity of opinions expressed on this website reflects that. For our official statement of beliefs, click here.