SPOILER ALERT: the following article may contain spoilers for Stranger Things Volume 4
Just like millions of other people around the world, I have spent a lot of time recently glued to my TV bingeing the newest season of Stranger Things. Although I have been a fan of the show since the beginning, I was pleasantly surprised to see how the story has grown and matured along with its characters.
The Hawkins kids have been through a lot over the past few years. Previous seasons had seen characters suffer abuse from family members, cope with loss and anxiety, all while fighting interdimensional monsters and keeping up with schoolwork.
After all their struggles, it seems only natural that their many adventures have taken a toll on them. Volume 4 brought the reality of PTSD to the forefront, making the emotional journeys of characters such as Max, Chrissy and Nancy into important storylines.
Even though much of the show takes place in an outlandish sci-fi world, the season still contained some very down to earth lessons about the journey of suffering and healing that we thought were worth discussing further.
- Age does not invalidate your suffering
This season didn’t pull its punches when showing what a devastating effect trauma can have on young people. The season’s primary antagonist, Vecna, served as a terrifying metaphor for the dangers of living with trauma.
Max suffered trauma from not only the loss but the abuse of her older brother and as a response, withdrew from her friends and her schoolwork. Chrissy suffered verbal abuse from her mother about her weight and developed an eating disorder.
People can suffer from trauma from a variety of reasons. Many psychological issues people find themselves dealing with later in life often stem from traumatic events in their youth. Young people can find their pain being invalidated by themselves and others, so it was refreshing to see Volume 4 treating their struggles with the seriousness that they deserve.
- The Freeze Response
When Vecna targets his victims, they experience being physically frozen and lifted off the ground. Apart from being suspended in mid-air, this portrayal is reminiscent of the physical symptoms of a freeze response that a person suffering from PTSD can experience. When people experience a traumatic event there are three main responses that the body performs: fight, light and freeze. The freeze response is a crucial and necessary part of our human survival strategy. Many people struggling with PTSD find that in times of stress, they return to the survival response that helped them successfully survive during the traumatic event. For example, if the freeze response was part of your trauma survival strategy, it is possible to find themselves feeling “stuck” in freeze even once the traumatic threat has ended. With the freeze response, this can often leave people feeling stuck, or low energy, lethargy and even depression.
If you are suffering from PTSD you may find these survival impulses can become trapped in your bodies and cannot be fully released from talk therapy alone. Our practice specializes in helping patients deal with the trauma on a physical level, using embodied therapies, allowing them to feel more secure in their bodies and their minds.
- Isolation is not the Answer
A common tendency with people suffering from PTSD is to isolate themselves. While it is important to take time for yourself, the time you spend with others can be a healthy way to move forward in a happy and supportive environment.
In episode 1 we see Chrissy attempt to buy drugs from Eddie in order to self-medicate the symptoms of her PTSD. After a few minutes with him we see her go from being paranoid and anxious to calm and happy, finding comfort in laughing at his stories and jokes.
Stranger Things has always had a strong emphasis on the power of love and friendship. Time and time again throughout the season, we see how characters are helped and saved by those who they have formed meaningful, healthy bonds with. When Max escapes from Vecna, she sees a vision of her friends in front of her giving her something to run towards. Isolating during periods of anxiety or depression can feel like a natural thing to do, but when it is taken too far it can have a negative effect on our healing journeys. A healthy support network can be vital to healing from past experiences.
- Music can be a path towards safety and healing
Throughout the season we see Max constantly glued to her Walkman and her tape of Kate Bush, the only thing that keeps her safe from Vecna.
The same way we make bonds with people based on our need for safety, we can also make bonds with certain songs or even shows or movies as a method for finding comfort during times of uncertainty. In therapy we often refer to these as ‘resources’ or ‘resourcing’. In addition to music being a comfort during times of stress and depression, it can also be an invaluable tool for moving forward from traumatic events. Music has been proven to reduce cortisol levels (a key indicator of stress) and increase dopamine levels, both of which are essential to encouraging posttraumatic growth as they alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD such as anxiety and trouble sleeping.
Despite being a show about interdimensional monsters and superpowered teenagers, Stranger Things has shown itself to be incredibly grounded and honest portrayal of living through trauma. By accurately and responsibly depicting not only the devastating effects of PTSD but also the paths towards healing, the show has made major steps forward in the representation of mental health and wellness in the media.
Remember, trauma resolution is not about achieving a perfect outcome but rather inviting choice on how to move forward. If you or a loved one is struggling with PTSD, don’t hesitate to contact us for a free consultation. We have several therapists available that specialize in trauma recovery using our expertise with embodied modalities such as somatic experiencing, dance/movement therapy and developmental transformations.
By Katie Bohn, LPC, SEP, BC-DMT