Life crises: lessons from Disney’s Frozen 2

Although we may be familiar with the idea of a mid-life crisis — and perhaps even a quarter-life crisis — the truth is that a life crisis can happen at any stage of adult life. 


This article is about recognising some typical stages of a life crisis. 

Recognising what we’re thinking, feeling, and sensing — in the context of life crises and more generally — allows us to choose how to respond to what is happening. When we’re not aware, we don’t have that choice: we might feel overwhelmed, or like we’ve lost control. We might do things, but not understand why we did them.

If we can recognise a life crisis, we may even be able to choose to look at it as an opportunity. We can commit to staying with — and working through — the pain, discomfort or stuckness, with the ultimate aim of bringing about growth and change.

Stories as sources of wisdom 

Stories can tell us much about what it means to be human. Long before psychotherapy and counselling, there were stories. Recognising ourselves and our struggles in a story often brings comfort, and may even be healing. 

This is particularly true of stories that use archetypes: universal images, themes and patterns which recur in stories throughout time, seemingly regardless of geography. They include the hero, the wise man or woman, the journey, and countless others. Our unconscious minds speak the language of such images. This is why our dreams — a product of our unconscious — are rarely straightforward, but often have a symbolic meaning, personal to us.

Stories which contain archetypes — fairytales, folk stories, myths and others — may be understood and heal at both conscious and unconscious levels. They work upon the whole of who we are and perhaps remind us that we are connected to something timeless and greater than ourselves. 

This article uses Disney’s Frozen 2 — which draws upon a number of archetypes — to look at life crises. 

Initial signs of life crises

At the beginning of the film, Queen Elsa and her friends have established a status quo in the kingdom of Arendelle. For the friends, this appears to be a happy state of affairs. But the same is not quite true for Elsa. She has started hearing a voice that speaks only to her, and it appears to be calling her away from the life she has built.

This may feel familiar. Many of us go through education, create a career, perhaps find a partner, and buy a house. We meet certain externally-facing life goals, becoming the queen or king of our own domains. These achievements can bring us great satisfaction, joy, connection, learning and growth. But, at some point, we may look at our lives and feel that something is missing. We may feel disconnected from our achievements. It may not be clear how we got to where we have done, or where we go from here.  

Some life crises can be all-consuming and may look similar to a breakdown. But some life crises aren’t so overwhelming. The voice Elsa hears is compelling and becomes increasingly distracting. When she doesn’t listen to the voice, it starts demanding to be heard. We see Elsa distracted from her duties as queen, unable to fully connect with her family, and struggling to sleep. We could see these as signs of an approaching life crisis. 

These signs will be particular to each individual and their specific circumstances, but they may also include:

  • Anxiety.
  • A sense of emptiness, or a loss of purpose and meaning.
  • A sense that we’re living the wrong life, or that we’ve outgrown the one that we’re in. 
  • An inability to function in the world as we used to, for example, being unable to concentrate or muster energy like we could before. 
  • Changes in our opinions, or how we present ourselves.
  • Some life crises are triggered by major life events, such as divorce, bereavement or redundancy

This stage can be confusing and painful. It may be difficult to understand what is happening. It may feel as though there is no meaning to it at all.

I can hear you - but I won’t 

But if we stay with the pain and discomfort — and sometimes we have no choice but to — a new stage may arise. Life crises often feature a conflict between two parts of ourselves: the part that fears the voice of change, and the part that is curious about it.

The part of Elsa that fears change draws upon her defences — strategies she has created to protect herself — to provide reasons for ignoring the voice. In the song Into the Unknown, Elsa says that there are “a thousand reasons I should go about my day” rather than listen to the voice. She has responsibilities to her kingdom and her friends; why, she seems to be asking, should she put her own needs in front of others? Perhaps this is one way that Elsa, like many of us, has learned to protect herself. 

There are countless other possible examples. Perhaps we fear that if we change, we’ll be rejected by the people we love. Or that if we follow the thing that we most desire, we will lose our financial stability or status. Part of us may hope the voice goes away, taking its difficult questions and potentially risky changes with it. 

The other side of the conflict is the part of us that might be curious about change. Towards the end of Into the Unknown, Elsa wonders “Are you someone […] who knows deep down I’m not where I’m meant to be?” The song reaches a climax when she admits that there’s part of her that “longs to go into the unknown.” 

This sense of yearning for something, even if we can’t identify what the something is exactly, is associated with our true selves. It’s another way in which our true nature demands our attention. These two parts may be in conflict for some time, marked by a back-and-forth between fear and longing. 

When all is lost, then all is found

In the film, Arendelle has to evacuate when elemental spirits — awoken by Elsa engaging with the voice — take over. The wind disturbs objects; lights go out; water stops flowing; and the ground rises and falls.

Elsa is left with no choice but to engage with, and find the source of, the voice. With her friends, she travels to an enchanted forest from which there may be no return. Searching for the voice that is calling to her, she encounters creatures representing air, fire, water and earth. She befriends each in turn, symbolically integrating each of the elements which disrupted her kingdom.  

The voice leads her to the bottom of a chasm, where she experiences a form of death. But she also discovers there a hidden truth about her family and learns who she really is. The voice has brought her back to herself.

There is often a point in a life crisis when there’s nowhere left to hide. We have no choice but to face the thing we fear: we are required to set out on a journey into the unknown. Along the way there will be challenges, but, in overcoming them, we might meet and befriend new parts of ourselves. 

Most life crises will also have a “bottom of the chasm” moment. This is the lowest point and can be terrifying. But perhaps this serves an essential function: sometimes something about our old life or way of being needs to die in order for something to be re-born: to find out who we really are, buried deep within us. The song All is Found sums this up neatly: When all is lost, then all is found.

How can therapy help? 

If you’re facing a life crisis, psychotherapy may be able to help.  

A therapist can help you hold and understand the difficult and painful feelings which may arise. They can walk alongside you when you feel lost, and help you find meaning in the challenges.  They can hold the hope for you when it seems that there is none. And they can support you in incorporating changes into your life. 

If you’d like to talk about any of this or are interested in psychotherapy, you are very welcome to get in touch with me.   

Finally, Frozen 2 is available to stream on Disney +. All lyrics copyright 2019 Walt Disney Records.  

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London, Greater London, W2
Written by Laura Evans, Psychotherapist, UKCP and MBACP
London, Greater London, W2

I am a UKCP and BACP registered psychotherapist working online.

I work with people who seek help for a variety of reasons, including anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, workplace issues, life crises, absence of purpose and meaning, and feelings of being lost or stuck.

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