I’m sitting here with my daughter and partner watching Tangled for the 83rd time since it came out. I’m not complaining. This has now become my favourite Disney movie, beating out The Lion King (my favourite since I was 3). This movie resonates with me on so many levels. It wasn’t until the second time I watched it that I noticed quite a few similarities in the relationship between Mother Gothel and Rapunzel, and the relationship I have with my own mother. Specifically when listening to the lyrics of “Mother Knows Best”. Rapunzel’s mother is a shining example of NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) which can have tremendously horrible repercussions on the children they raise.
Mother Gothel keeping Rapunzel isolated from society is an example of one of the many ways she abuses her daughter emotionally. Although I was never locked in a tower, I was however never allowed to have any sort of freedom unless I skipped school. The room I had when I lived with my mother was an unfinished box the size of a storage closet, where I spent most of my time. I wasn’t allowed to go to my friend’s houses or have friends come over. Forming bonds and relationships was a threat to her due to the fact that I could be easily influenced by individuals other than herself. Developing opinions and views on my own could disrupt her ability to control me.
Another form of control used by Mother Gothel was fear. In the song ‘Mother Knows Best’ she describes the world outside of the tower in such a distorted way in an attempt to dissuade her from ever leaving. My own Mother would push post secondary on me as if it were the only way to succeed using similar tactics.
“Do you want to spend your life working at a gas station for $8 an hour?”
To her, those that didn’t complete college or university were doomed to a life of failure, which would, in turn, equate to a life of unhappiness. To me, I could never justify thousands of dollars on a program I may not actually enjoy.
In an attempt to make me resent my father, my mother would give me false information about him, much like when Mother Gothel would talk about how Flynn would let Rapunzel down or break her heart.
In addition to this, Mother Gothel would play the martyr, claiming that she was sacrificing herself for Rapunzel’s sake.
“I only bathed, and changed, and nursed you. Go ahead and leave me, I deserve it. Let me die alone here, be my guest!”
She implies that because Rapunzel wants to go off and experience the world for herself, that all the ‘sacrifices’ she’s made for her are in vain. The sacrifices being basic human necessities that a child needs when they can’t fend for themselves.
When my own mother would lecture me if I stepped outside the confines of her expectations, she often said things like
“I carried you for 9 months and didn’t smoke (she did), didn’t dye my hair, didn’t walk into rooms where there was fresh paint. Now you’re covered in tattoos and dying your hair crazy colours.”
What’s hilariously baffling about this is that I didn’t ask to be born. This wasn’t a favour I begged her for. Just because she made the decision to have a child, does not mean I owe her for the entirety of my life. This is what narcissistic parents do though. They manipulate you and control you into thinking that you live your life for them. I believed it too. For a significant amount of time.
I spent nine years feeling guilt and seeking approval from my mom after ‘leaving the tower’. Rapunzel’s inner battle following the freedom is something I experienced often in those nine years. She had groomed me into thinking that her opinion of me was more important than how I felt about myself. That if I was doing something that made me happy but that she didn’t like, I should feel guilty.
Mother Gothel plays the role of the ‘Perfect Parent’. She acts as though everything she does is for the sake of her ‘daughter’. When in reality she lies to her, mocks her, puts her down, isolates her and only allows her select literature that she has approved. According to anyone that had spoke to my mom, she was the perfect parent raising the perfect child. She failed to mention the sometimes unattainable expectations she would set for me or how she would continuously move the goalposts. When I told my mom I was getting married, I asked if she would be interested in contributing at all. She said she would on the condition that I go to college or university. When I continued on to get married despite her lack of help, she spent the majority of the wedding complaining about guests, the size of the wedding, etc. This life choice didn’t follow the path she had laid out for me therefore she made it about herself.
Her children’s happiness and actual wants and needs are never important to her. Much like how Mother Gothel treats Rapunzel’s hair, the only interest my mother has with her kids is what they can provide for her. What sort of bragging rights can she use in order to attain validation from her family and peers. When she lost control of my life and I began following my own dreams, I was no longer valuable to her. She had nothing left to brag about. The path I had chosen was not the one she had selected therefore, she had no interest in even acknowledging my existence. If you ask her now, she has 2 kids, not 3. She has no idea what type of person I am, what I like, what I dislike; nor does she care. My choices are sometimes unconventional and she wants nothing to do with that.
Tangled is one of those triggers for me. A reminder of how emotionally destroyed I was for so long. It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, I always break down at the end. She escapes the crushing, controlling grip that Mother Gothel has on her life and is finally happy. Free to live her life how she wants, with who she wants. It’s difficult to cut ties with a narcissistic parent, however you can’t begin healing in the environment where you got sick. It took me years and I’m still recovering from it. In fact, I’ll probably be recovering from it for the rest of my life.
Despite all that, I’m happier than I’ve ever been. And like Rapunzel says: