Encanto: What Does Luisa’s Song Teach Us About Mental Health?

(A guest post from my good friend Lydia Gibson…)

I’m sure many, like me, can really relate to the character Luisa in Encanto. Her song has been going round and round in my head for days now (mostly because my 9-year-old is obsessed with the film at the moment!) I have been really struck by the words and can totally relate to the character and the mental health issues that underline the song.

Don’t get me wrong, its great that Disney have finally put in a strong female character (something that was fought hard for apparently) to a film, but her song says a lot about the pressures that can come with being strong. Strength is not just something that’s physical, but emotional and mental too.

Growing up, my family (my mum, my brother and me) went through some pretty tough times, and as the oldest child I was expected to be the strong one. From the outside it appeared to everyone that I could cope with this and for many years, somehow, I did. But all that ‘surface pressure’ eventually gets too much for anyone to cope with and a large part of my adulthood has been spent getting rid of the weight and rediscovering who I am if I’m not the strong one.

Let’s take a look at the lyrics of the song ‘Surface Pressure’ (sorry in advance that this will now be in your head for days, there’s a link to the video at the end of this post):

I’m the strong one, I’m not nervous

I’m as tough as the crust of the earth is

I move mountains, I move churches

And I glow, ‘cause I know what my worth is

I don’t ask how hard the work is

Got a rough, indestructible surface

Diamonds and platinum, I find ‘em, I flatten ‘em

I take what I’m handed, I break what’s demanded, but…

So, this is totally how I felt when I was younger, I knew who I was, I knew my place in the family, I knew my purpose. It didn’t matter what life threw at me, I was the strong one, I could cope, and I would look after everyone around me.

Under the surface

I feel berserk as a tightrope walker in a three-ring circus

Under the surface

Was Hercules ever like, “Yo, I don’t wanna fight Cerberus”?

Under the surface

I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service…

Then it starts to get too much, but everyone needed me, they needed me to be strong, so a bit like a duck all the paddling to stay afloat is going on under the surface. And I started to question, if I’m not the strong one then who are I, where is my identity outside of this place?

A flaw or a crack, the straw in the stack

That breaks the camel’s back

What breaks the camel’s back? It’s

Pressure like a drip, drip, drip, that’ll never stop, whoa-oh

Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, whoa-oh-oh-oh

Give it to your sister, your sister’s older

Give her all the heavy things we can’t shoulder

Who am I if I can’t run with the ball?

If I fall too

Pressure like a grip, grip, grip, and it won’t let go, whoa-oh

Pressure like a tick, tick, tick ’til it’s ready to blow, whoa-oh-oh-oh

Give it to your sister, your sister’s stronger

See if she can hang on a little longer

Who am I if I can’t carry it all?

If I falter…

I don’t really think I need to say much about this part of the song, it says it all so well.

Under the surface

I hide my nerves and it worsens; I worry somethin’ is gonna hurt us

Under the surface

The ship doesn’t swerve, has it heard how big the iceberg is?

Under the surface

I think about my purpose, can I somehow preserve this?

Line up the dominoes, a light wind blows

You try to stop it topplin’, but on and on it goes…

Then I worry, what will happen to my family if I can’t hold on? How can I stay strong for them? It then doesn’t take much for me to fall, by then I have held on to it all for too long…

But wait, if I could shake, the crushing weight

Of expectations, would that free some room up for joy

Or relaxation, or simple pleasure?…

One day many years later and after a lot of pain, prayer, and healing, I realised I didn’t need to be the strong one anymore. The expectations on me had gone and I had room to rediscover and reinvent a new identity for myself.

Instead, we measure this growing pressure (pressure)

Keeps growing (pressure), keep going (pressure), ’cause all we know is

Pressure like a drip, drip, drip that’ll never stop, whoa-oh

Pressure that’ll tip, tip, tip ’til you just go pop, whoa-oh-oh-oh…

Don’t get me wrong, it is still really easy to slip back into that role and I often do, but times like this I stop, reflect, check myself and change course.

Give it to your sister, it doesn’t hurt and

See if she can handle every family burden

Watch as she buckles and bends but never breaks

No mistakes, just

Pressure like a grip, grip, grip, and it won’t let go, whoa-oh

Pressure like a tick, tick, tick ’til it’s ready to blow, whoa-oh-oh-oh

Give it to your sister and never wonder

If the same pressure would’ve pulled you under

Who am I if I don’t have what it takes?

No cracks, no breaks

No mistakes!

No pressure!

This part of the song also addresses the important point that other people can easily put things onto you that they are not willing to deal with themselves, and even when you show or tell them not to rely on you in that way anymore, they can slip back into old habits too.

I didn’t write this to be a pity party, poor me. I wrote it as I could relate so much with how the character is feeling at this point, and the journey she is on, and I wanted to say to anyone else out there who is somewhere on this journey too, you are not alone. You are not weak for saying you cannot cope, you are strong. And you can change who people perceive you to be, you can choose not to be the strong one for everyone else and be the strong one for you. Make strong choices to stop carrying others’ weight; put it all down and experience joy. It’s not easy, you will always be tempted to pick it all back up, but you can do it. And, actually, others will learn to carry their own things if you stop carrying them for them.

Mental health is complicated, everyone is on their own journey, but it is so important that we talk about it and help each other.

Lydia Gibson

p.s. if you can’t resist listening to the song again, here’s the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQwVKr8rCYw


Text (except song lyrics) © Lydia Gibson/The Additional Needs Blogfather. Song lyrics and images © Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

See also:
Just Keep Swimming: Disabled Characters In Disney Pixar Films
https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.com/2020/05/21/disney/

Why Disney Pixar’s New Animated Short ‘Float’ Is About Autism
https://theadditionalneedsblogfather.com/2019/11/19/float/

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