Couch Coaching: Self care lessons for trauma recovery from Luckiest Girl Alive

This week, we’re looking at some of the self care coaching lessons this painful but powerful new Netflix film can offer for sexual assault and other trauma survivors and victims…

While billed as ‘Ani’s perfect life crumbles when a new documentary about her past threatens her future’, it’s obvious from early on that this ‘perfect life’ sounds exhausting, lonely and completely unsustainable.

Unprocessed trauma has an impact every day

Luckiest Girl Alive stars the ever fab Mila Kunis as adult Ani while Cruel Summer’s (which handled the complex topic of grooming beautifully) Chiara Aurelia stars as Younger Her, Tiffani.

SPOILER ALERT (hopefully done in a way that it won’t actually spoil it):

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Luckiest Girl Alive includes a young girl being gang raped by boys she had believed to be friends and a school shooting.

Navigating others’ reactions is hard

Tiffani’s mother (Connie Britton) may mean well but has been compounding the mixed messages about being a young woman in a patriarchal society.

Young Tiffani is repeatedly body shamed while also being encouraged to use her looks to attract the kind of boy then man her mother hopes she’ll ultimately marry.

Tiffani clearly has no control over her body’s growth and – like all women and girls – and boys and men – should have been taught that predatory responses to her body are NOT HER FAULT.

Instead, she’s constantly both shamed and praised.

At no point do we see her being encouraged to explore what SHE wants or what feels good for her. She’s blamed for having had fun.

Her friends are also traumatised and judge her for not having the same reaction to things that they would want her to have. She has no one to help her explore her complex feelings safely.

It’s totally normal to shut down after surviving a trauma

She’s survived an enormous amount! She had to shut down to survive.

Her initial courage in attempting to report it was thwarted not just by the institution that should have helped her but by the rejection (at all but a surface level, paying for legal costs) by her mother.

A grown man taught her that because she’d screamed and fought but had not, as far as she remembered, explicitly, said ‘no’, the boys couldn’t be faulted for not knowing what they were doing.

Another grown man put fear about his own reputation above her safety and wellbeing and didn’t report it in spite of his legal obligation to do so.

We need others in order to heal

Her classmates were all traumatised by the massacre but Ani had the additional trauma from the rape and the horror of being exiled by her peers instead of being able to access the support they all needed and deserved.

Co-regulation is essential and Tiffani learned quickly that pretending to be OK, pretending to be PERFECT, was the only way to appease her mother.

She had nowhere to safely simply be herself.

The body remembers trauma but the body remembers joy, too

Ani’s job is writing about sex. Her boss (Jennifer Beals) appreciates her but it’s another sign that she’s disconnected from her own pleasure.

When she seems happily connected with her fiancé, he shames her for initiating what she wants and says he wants to do it ‘the nice way’.

He is seemingly oblivious to how triggering this is likely to be for her after her teenage experience and she, again, spirals into shame.

Want what you want

Tiffani learned at an early age that what she wanted didn’t matter.

She did use her voice. She fought back as hard as she could. But they continued to rape her.

It’s no wonder that adult Ani is so out of touch with her own wants and needs and instead takes pride in being able to live life as an emotional chameleon.

There’s a scene early on where, having said that her fiancé knows everything, she devours extra pizza ‘like an animal’ when he goes to the toilet then acts like it had nothing to do with her.

Use your voice

Ani has become a successful writer but her fiancé doesn’t value it because he earns so much more as well as coming from a wealthy family.

Most of the headlines we see of her work are about how to pleasure men and while we get a glimpse of her desire to write about things that mean more to her, we don’t see her following through on that.

Ani is incredibly strong, a real survivor, but it’s a brittle shell of a life until she allows herself to be vulnerable and speak up and share her truth.

She was conditioned to NOT be vulnerable

Her friend is furious with her afterwards instead of being able to regulate his own emotions and see what she needs, he acts out in a horrific way.

When she confronts him about his misplaced anger at her, he says, ‘I want you to act like you have a smidge of dignity. Just a microscopic smidge.’

This is when she’s already been incredibly courageous in reporting what happened to a few adults. They should have supported her.

She was heroic in trying again and again.

We need to accept our WHOLE selves in order to feel whole again

Ultimately Ani starts to heal when she owns the fact that she was a victim too. In psychosynthesis terms, she identifies with her victim subpersonality.

She is able to start integrating it, emerging more whole.

Ambitious, she finally decides to write her own story but decades of conditioning to be palatable leave her boss feeling disconnected from it.

In advice that’s good for all writers, Jennifer Beals’ character (who, while disappointed that it hadn’t gone deeper had been moved enough to disclose her own rape from 38 years earlier) says, ‘Take another swing at it. Write it like no one will ever read it. Not Luke [her fiancé], not your musty in-laws, definitely not your parents. THAT is how you write something worth reading.’

Let go of those who don’t accept the whole you

Luke is too much a product of his own conditioning (oblivious about rape culture even when Ani is extremely triggered and begs him to turn off some music by a well known sexual predator) and appearances to appreciate his fiancée’s courage.

She has a friend who accepts and supports her but seems to feel she has to act to be to please everyone else (with occasional resentful, vitriolic leaks).

Own what you want

Beals’ character, like all of them, is complex. She hasn’t come to terms with her own trauma history.

But she not only helps Ani find her voice but also to learn to want what she wants: ‘I’ll make it very simple for you. Just say what you want. Not what everyone wants. And then you do THAT.’

And even though she was so brutally treated after saying what she didn’t want all those years earlier, Ani finally learns to put herself first.

To speak out even when everyone wants her to go along with something and to liberate herself.

I think she’s going to be just fine (and really hope this fictional character and all the real life survivors find good trauma therapists).

Let it out

I saw a lovely meme on social media the other day:

Ani’s writing helped her as a teenager and she made a career of it. She then goes deeper and it helps her – and her readers – heal.

You might play music, paint or do anything else to get it out of yourself and into the world.

Working somatically is also a wonderful way to begin and continue the trauma recovery process (and any kind of stress and anxiety relief) – let your body want what it wants. Run, dance, rage, tantrum, move and let yourself come into more wholeness as you remember that your body has survived. Your body is your friend.

What did you take from the film?

What are you going to give yourself permission to want?

Feel free to email eve@selfcarecoaching.net

And feel free to share this post on your social media etc so others who may find it helpful can read it.

With love,

Eve Menezes Cunningham self care coach therapist supervisor

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