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"Don't let anyone make you disappear, Charlie..."

A "corrective emotional experience"...

If you've talked to me lately you've heard me go on and on about Heartstopper. I never watch YA or British shows but something about this told me to click on it and I'm obsessed. It's the most wholesome, realistic, and magical romance between Queer teens ever. A stark contrast to the way Queerness is often portrayed in the media, especially when I was growing up. This is something they allude to in the show, Brokeback Mountain, Boys don't Cry, Rent, Jeffrey. My generation of Queer media was focused on the trauma. Something I realized I'm so used to that I had to watch this show twice because I was too anxious watching it the first time expecting the worst but when it turned out to be a beautiful romance I watched it again just so I could enjoy it.

But this is not about the beauty of Queer Magic. Instead, this is about the power of literature and relationships to heal. In the pink hued romance of the show I also felt intense sadness hovering over me-realizing how different it was from my teen life. Often when I feel sad at the things I never had I turn it into a question of what is wrong with me-the ways my protective responses held me back. Or I dismiss my experiences by thinking of all the ways it could have been worse. On the third viewing-a memory came back to me-I remembered being 13 in the 7th grade and a friend was telling us about her 20something boyfriend who would buy her lingerie from Fredricks of Hollywood. We were impressed-to us this meant she had made it. Grown up me said out loud- we never had a chance did we? Truth is to our 13 yrs old selves-this girl had someone taking care of her (we thought)-something none of us really had-in our world it needed to be a man who would take care of us and our job was to make sure we got one-even at a cost to ourselves. There was no idea how harmful this all really was. Instead-she was life goals. My story was never going to set me up to have the experiences these teens have. I have been grieving my story hard. I felt grief for the generations of us who's lives will never be like this show. None of the Heartstopper kids are taking care of their siblings, or working, or worrying about money. They don't have violence or drugs in their lives-they don't even vape. Most of their parents are there and love them and offer them kind advice. I grieved harder and harder until under all that grief a tiny spark emerged in the form of another thought-none of us deserved that, including me. I have never truly felt that in my bones before.

A corrective emotional experience are the psychology words for healing when our nervous system shifts to feel something different. We can't just think our way through relational trauma we have to not only have a different experience but our system has to feel it to process it. That's why you can't just tell someone they're loved for them to feel it. Ideally, in therapy we're creating a corrective emotional experience-but it's so unique to each person (it's why I prefer relational therapy to behavioral). What feels healing to one person won't to the other and it shifts all the time. We also need the right conditions for our system to take in new information and not be flooded thinking this is just the same trauma experience as before. In Heartstopper one of the most beautiful examples of a corrective emotional experience is when Nick doesn't let Charlie say I'm sorry for things that aren't his fault. Eventually there's a scene where Charlie doesn't say I'm sorry for being grounded (kinda his fault by his choices-but homework can't compare to love) he deletes the text and types that he is so angry. He struggles to tell people how he's feeling and in that moment he actually says how he's feeling. It made my therapist heart sing. It's a start... My healing experience wasn't just watching this show of perfect bubble gum milkshake teens-quite the opposite-they do struggle and deal with hard life things. It's the way joy and magic is chosen-that they are written to love openly-to speak their feelings, risk even when none of them have reason to. I come from a world where hardness is the only protection-even now my peers speak critiques very easily. In order to feel this story I needed to grieve first. I don't want to sell that we just have to be brave and we'll magically heal all our relational trauma. We have to find the conditions to have the corrective emotional experience and grief is an important part of joy-when we grieve it allows us to truly let go of what we need to in order to invite in joy. If we go too far, too fast in grief-before we're ready-or worse we go alone we may end up stuck in it. (Side note-none of that grieving was done alone-I had my therapist holding me while I grieved). It's the bravery of the characters that leads to the healing experiences-to the joy, the magic of love, the power of relationship, and the beauty of authenticity. This piece is what my heart keeps coming back to-my heart is curious what made the characters so brave (besides it being fiction) that they could invite in love and have these healing experiences? Even when others discourage Charlie to protect him he follows his intuition to love...

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