Traci Powell experienced a personal epiphany while watching the Disney movie Frozen.
A nurse practitioner from Florida, Powell had long struggled to keep memories of her childhood abuse at bay. As a way to cope, she organized her life so that she never had to develop intimate relationships: She conceived her children via an anonymous donor and padded her schedule with nonstop work, further graduate school, and volunteering. But it didn’t help.
Powell was increasingly plagued by flashbacks, and began having panic attacks. When on a tram entering the park at Disney World with her best friend, she was seated next to a man who reeked of beer and stale cigarettes, an aroma that reminded her of her abuser; the smell so unnerved her that her heart began racing, and she had to leap off the train at the park’s entrance and collect herself. She was so triggered by her teenage daughter’s deadbeat boyfriend — he had been caught doing drugs, which reminded her of the unstable environment in her childhood home — that she began screaming and cursing at the young lovers one day when she caught them on the phone, only to look up and see the tear-stained face of her terrified younger son. “I realized I was parenting them from the place of a frightened child,” she told me.
She assumed something was wrong with her. “I thought I had some genetic defect,” she says. But it was the movie Frozen, which features a heroine forced to hide a magical power (“Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know…”), that made Powell realize what was happening: The trauma she had tried to bury for decades was negatively impacting every aspect of her life.
Not long after viewing the movie, Powell visited an internet forum for sexual abuse survivors. The other users encouraged her to find a therapist who specialized in trauma. Some suggested she specifically look into Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy, or EMDR, which involves therapist-led eye movements to help…