Spoiler Alert! If you have not seen WandaVision, this post contains spoilers.
Marvel’s WandaVision is a creative and complex illustration of grief and trauma. The series begins with what seems like a strange remake of an old-school sitcom but ends with an action-packed resolution of a hostage situation. As the series unfolds, we learn that Wanda Maximoff has used her superpowers to create a hexagonal forcefield around the town of Westview, New Jersey.
The forcefield is the setting in which Wanda creates an alternate reality for herself, modeled after and broadcasted as a vintage sitcom. This alternate reality allows Wanda to live as though her partner, Vision who died in Marvel’s Endgame movie, is still alive. In addition to denial, the most unfortunate part of this alternate reality is that actual residents of Westview are held hostage in the hexagonal force field as the actor’s in Wanda’s sitcoms. Not only are they held against their will but they also experience Wanda’s pain and grief as their own.
One of my favorite things about WandaVision is the character Monica. Monica is a powerful black woman in the series. It is empowering to see her as a leader at SWORD and to see her emerge as a hero as the season concludes. She also has beautiful natural hair and impeccable intellect and empathy.
In addition to black girl magic on display in WandaVision, I also enjoyed the takeaways regarding grief and trauma. In a time when the COVID-19 pandemic and racial trauma continue to persist, trauma and grief are ongoing experiences for many of us. This post explores how WandaVision’s depiction of grief and trauma can be used to promote healing.
1. The healing power of creating a cohesive trauma narrative.
We watch Wanda revisit her past traumas through spell induced flashbacks. Agnes, who reveals herself as a witch named Agatha, uses her powers to walk Wanda through defining moments from her past in hopes of manipulating Wanda into relinquishing her superpowers to her. We learn that Wanda has endured unthinkable traumas throughout her life to include watching her parents tragically die from an explosion during the Cold War, surviving violent experiments that resulted in her gaining superpowers, witnessing her brother’s murder and watching her beloved Vision’s body be de-constructed after his death.
Although Agatha forces Wanda to relive her past in hopes of stealing Wanda’s powers, we see that processing her past traumas and forming a cohesive narrative helps Wanda to better cope with her grief and ultimately decide to set free the Westview residents that she has held captive to help her cope with her grief.
Wanda’s spell induced flashbacks are a similar yet opposite experience to trauma therapy. In trauma therapy, your therapist will create a healthy and supportive therapeutic environment in which you feel safe discussing and revisiting your past traumas – the opposite of a spell or manipulation. Once you feel safe revisiting your trauma, your therapist will ask you to establish anchors. Anchors represent the beginning and end point to the traumatic experience. Your therapist will ask you to describe when the trauma began and ended. These anchors can help your brain understand that the trauma has ended.
Once anchors have been established, your therapist will ask you to replay the traumatic experience in your mind. It can be helpful to imagine that you are watching a movie. This promotes an observer perspective of your trauma, just as Wanda observed her younger self during her flashbacks. The observer position helps us understand that the trauma has ended and provides an opportunity for us to comfort our past selves. For example, you may tell the past version of yourself that it is going to be ok. Your therapist may also offer validation and affirmations as you replay that trauma, not snarky remarks to push you to your breaking point as Agatha did with Wanda.
As you are replaying or observing your past traumas, your therapist may use techniques like Progressive Counting or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) while you replay the memory. Both techniques stimulate both hemispheres of your brain, thus helping the brain integrate the traumatic experiences in a way that is less distressing to your overall functioning.
Collectively, these processes help you develop a cohesive trauma narrative, with endpoints, from which you can move forward with less distress. A cohesive trauma narrative can also help you better understand your current behavior or ways of being. After revisiting her past traumas, Wanda comes to understand why her alternate reality takes place in the context of sitcoms and why Vision’s death is so difficult for her.
2. The power of embracing your pain or grief as your truth.
Monica, a SWORD agent and protagonist in the series, accepts her grief as a result of her mother’s passing as her truth in many ways. Monica sees her work with SWORD as a way to continue her mother’s legacy with the organization. We also watch Monica use her grief to empathize with Wanda’s grief. Throughout the series, Monica emphasizes the importance of finding ways to collaborate with Wanda, not antagonize her, as SWORD and the FBI work together to resolve the hostage situation Wanda has created as a function of her grief. Unfortunately the FBI is slow to adopt Monica’s advice, which prolongs the hostage situation.
At the end of the series, Monica encourages Wanda to accept Vision’s death as her truth, instead of denying the fact that Vision is dead by using her superpowers to keep him alive in her
alternate reality. This helps Wanda ultimately decide to release the people she’s held captive by letting go of the alternate reality she’s created.
The idea of accepting grief as your truth and facing past traumas to better process and understand them represent a common theme in WandaVision – the importance of facing your pain in order to heal.
From a Stages of Grief perspective, denial is stage 1 of 7. By moving past denial, Wanda can face feelings of pain, anger, and depression regarding Vision’s death (stages 2-5). After facing these painful emotions, Wanda is then able to move to stages 5-7 which are defined by moving towards calm, reconstruction, acceptance, and hope. Although grief is not always a neat or linear process, it is still important to acknowledge the reality of the loss to move forward.
3. Meaning Making in Grief
Even if you have not seen WandaVision, you have probably seen this quote from the WandaVision series floating around: “But what is grief if not love persevering?” Vision says this Wanda while she is grieving the death of her brother Pietro. Wanda seemed to resonate with this quote during this touching moment with Vision. This quote beautifully highlights the power of meaning-making in grief.
Finding a way to conceptualize and understand your grief can help you cope with it. Values to include your spiritual values or core beliefs about life, may come in handy here. Perhaps you believe that your loved one is in a better place or they are enjoying a form of life after death. Or maybe you feel that your loved one’s spirit lives on in some capacity.
The purpose of meaning making is to help us rediscover hope in times of peril. This sense of hope promotes healing and empowers us to find ways to positively preserve the memory and legacy of our loved ones. The exploration of the accumulation of positive experiences further illustrates this point.
4. Accumulation of Positive Experiences
This coping skill comes from Dialectical and Behavioral Theory (DBT). As Wanda faces her past, she remembers that quality time with her nuclear family involved watching old school sitcoms like Bewitched. We see this infused into Wanda’s coping skills throughout her lifespan. We witness Wanda watching sitcoms after surviving a violent experiment and after her brother’s death in the same scene that Vision makes his poignant statement about grief. In this scene, Wanda’s sorrow seems to lift as she and Vision laugh at the sitcom.
Positive experiences or memories are great for boosting mental health and coping with grief, when used in a healthy manner (aka not forcing people to be characters in your sitcom against their will). Positive experiences activate positive emotions that can be used to replace difficult emotions or to help us deal with difficult emotions.
Above all, WandaVision shows us that trauma and grief are difficult. Period. Even if you have superpowers, grief and trauma are hard to cope with. Give yourself grace if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one or healing from a traumatic experience. Remember that there is healing power in facing your pain in a way that feels safe and authentic to you. There are also resources like trauma therapy, to help you face and heal from your pain.