Monthly Archives: March 2016

Processing Fictional Trauma: Broken Hearts Edition



There are episodes of television that make us weep with joy. There are those that enrage us, or those that irritate us. There are those that leave us ambivalent. And then there are those that break our hearts, and even have the title to prove it.

For those who love Olicity (a term that is now officially canon I might add), last night’s episode of Arrow was emotionally brutal. The episode was 100% centered around Olicity angst and grief, with a baddie tailor made to twist the knife. And many of the reactions I saw on social media indicate that the heart shaped arrows certainly hit their emotional marks. People’s reRobinactions ranged from outrage in all caps, to pure desolation. I saw tweets of people asking for hugs, posting every crying related gif Twitter has in their database, and of course the screaming, because emotions were intense. (You can see actual footage of me watching the episode in the gif to the left). And yet, with an episode so chalk full of heart break, an interesting theme emerged within the fandom:


While the pre-hiatus episodes of Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow left us with precious little hope, this episode, while stunningly heartbreaking, gave us hope for the future and for our couple once we got past the initial emotional responses. The theme of light versus dark has been strong in this season, and this episode especially seemed to bring in the essence of hope versus hopelessness as a part of that light/dark balance. I’m not an English scholar, and so I don’t pretend to be very good at picking apart the storylines and the intricacies of the plot. But when looking at why individuals may have loved this episode, and why they may want to watch it repeatedly, despite the heart ache, I think that hope may be the primary reason.

In the field of mental health, hope is huge. It is seen by many as one of the firsLOTR Hopet steps to recovery of trauma or mental illness, because if you can’t see hope for the future, why would you even want to recover? What’s the point? Lack of hope means lack of meaning. It means lack of movement, and lack of motivation. There’s no point, so why bother? Hope is, therefore, one of the primary building blocks of happiness, and we are lost without it.

For Oliver, Felicity has always served as his beacon of hope. He had very little when he came back from the island, which is why he pursued his father’s list with such single minded focus… because it was the only meaning he could make from his existence. Felicity pulled him out of that, and showed him that there was so much more. That there Olicity Lights My Waycould be so much more. And that he deserved it. For Oliver, finding hope was completely life changing, as it can be for any of us who have experienced trauma or had our world’s emotionally rocked. But what this episode showed is that Oliver is not the only one who needs a light, and who needs hope. While Felicity’s snark and negativity this week was hard to watch and seemed uncharacteristic, it was also, in my opinion, completely believable. Felicity has dealt with so much, and has done so with grace and with a smile. No matter how bad things got, she always forgives and she always sees the best in Oliver. But even – and perhaps especially – those people with intense amounts of kindness have issues, and have limits. Their ability to forgive cannot be taken for granted.

Which brings us back to why people may be drawn back to this episode.

While we may not all be at Felicity’s level of tolerance and positivity on a day to day basis (because let’s face it, seeing the good in people is every bit as much of a superpower for her as her tech game is), I think that every one of us has felt taken for granted, or pushed too far. All of us have felt ourselves snap, and our ability to cope disintegrate. We have felt Felicity Breakup Croppedwronged by those we love, and have felt the need to protect ourselves. With Olicity, it’s always Felicity dragging Oliver back and restoring his hope. This time it’ll be Oliver that has to do the dragging, and despite my undying love for him, he deserves to have to. And isn’t that what we all want, when we’re faced with feeling wronged? That the person who hurt us will step up and try to earn our trust back, showing us that our faith in them was not misplaced?

Despite the angst, despite the breakup, and despite the snark, what we saw in this episode repeatedly was that Oliver and Felicity love each other, and will continue to no matter what, by their own admission. We see them struggle, and we see them screw up. We see the issues that they struggle with individually, from Oliver’s time on the “island” to Felicity’s abandonment issues, and how those issues collide in their relationship. We look at all of these issues, and all of the drama, and we see… hope. We see that all relationships Olicity Sunsetare messy, and while some of us may be lucky enough to ride off into the sunset, the fact is, you still have to get up the next morning in the relationship and keep going. There can be amazing moments, like first kisses and engagements and even weddings, but the real challenge in a relationship is managing those day to day issues and the randomness that life throws at you. The reality of any relationship is that even the best of us screw up, and everyone has issues that flare. No relationship is perfect, and without difficulty. But where there is love, there is hope.

After processing for a while last night, and into today, the fandom reaction to this episode I found to be beautiful. The ending of this episode was dark, it was bleak, and it seemed rather final. And yet, those who love Olicity believe that this dark time in their Olicity Wedding First Glancerelationship has meaning and will be for the greater good. The fandom pulled together, not to console each other or to debate as it has in the past, but to find meaning in the darkness. The fandom focused on the vows that Oliver said to Felicity, even typing them out to share online almost immediately. We focused on Felicity’s words to Cupid, which show that despite all of the hurt, Felicity does still believe in love, and she does still readily acknowledge the incredibly positive impact Oliver has had on her life. We went back to find beautiful, loving words that Olicity has said to each otheimg_5190r in the past, and we reminded each other that nothing worthwhile ever comes easy. We encouraged each other to keep the faith, and even trended today that “Olicity Is Our Always,” to come together as a community to support each other and the fictional couple we all love. The fandom has worked hard to band together and helpimg_5193 each other see that Olicity will be better for having gone through these challenges, and will be more solid than ever once they come out the other side. We give meaning to their suffering, which in turn may help us find meaning in our own. If these trials and tribulations can mean there’s hope for a better relationship for Olicity, then maybe our own struggles mean there’s hope for a better us too?

For Olicity fans, and for all of us who are struggling with our own crises of faith, I leave you with what I believe to be very applicable sage advice, given by one of my favorite authors, Karen Marie Moning:

Hope Strengthens. Fear Kills.

Stay strong, Arrow fandom. It’s always darkest before the dawn.




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Processing Fictional Trauma: March Hiatus Edition




I posted my first article on fictional trauma back in December after the Fl/Arrow crossover. It was the first time I’d really seen fictional trauma grab hold of fandom in real time, and I was really blown away by not only the emotional impact of the episode on the fans, but how the fandom itself pulled together to process. That article was described by someone as a love letter to the fandom, because we had all pulled together in the face of fictional trauma and helped each other to heal.

This article… is not a love letter.

Last week’s episodes of Arrow (4×15) and Legends of Tomorrow (1×06) caused reactions in the fandom that were every bit as powerful as what happened in Arrow 4×08 (if not more so), but my observation of the reactions of the fandom were quite different.

ARROW 4×08 and 4×15 SPOILERS:

In 4×08, I think we could all agree that Oliver made a bad call. Perhaps an understandable one, but ultimately a bad one. We were shocked. We were angry. We were frustrated. We were hurt. But we primarily agreed.

This week the big reveal happened. We heard Oliver’s side. We heard Samantha’s side. We heard Diggle’s thoughts. We heard Vixen’s experiences. And most importantly, we finally heard from Felicity.

And suddenly, the fandom could agree on very, very little.

On my own Twitter timeline I saw opinions ranging from solid support of Oliver to solid support of Felicity. None of which I necessarily had a problem with, because I understand and support them both. But when I branched out a bit, opinions started getting a bit more forceful, up to and including people calling Felicity a selfish bitch (which Mr. Amell didn’t take too kindly to) or Oliver a lying asshole who doesn’t deserve Felicity. I didn’t see support groups so much as I saw debates, going from those that were lively and good natured all the way up to hurling profanity at each other. It was a little jarring, if I’m honest, as I (naively) thought that now that everyone had put all their cards on the table, the fandom would now feel a bit more understanding about where everyone was coming from. But that was not the case.

So the question I’ve been pondering this week is: why?

After talking with my usual groups of post-game fandom friends to process the episode (some of which led to some of those good natured debates I was talking about), I think I have a sneaking suspicion as to why this episode was so divisive and caused such an This is about heartemotional stir which made it difficult for us to turn to each other. This episode, based on the issues with Olicity, tapped hard into experiences many of us have had with trust in relationships… and it’s likely that we’ve been on one side or another (or both) of the Olicity argument ourselves, and were experiencing high levels of stress and hurt at the time. In psychology terms, one of Freud’s defense mechanisms is called transference, which is where we “transfer” negative feelings we have about one person (in this case perhaps a previous relationship) to another person that may have similar qualities (Oliver or Felicity). Maybe that’s what caused so many of us to lash out about their actions?

From my own personal experience, I can tell you that I totally get where Felicity was coming from. As a matter of fact, her speech about how she understood Oliver’s Felicity Breakup Croppeddecisions but just wanted to be a part of the conversation? I’ve given that speech word for word multiple times, being a step-mother myself for more thanOliver Breakup a decade now. But even though I thought I’d made peace with most of those issues, when my husband sided with Oliver in the argument, my hackles went up and we had a spirited  conversation that ran just shy of an argument… over an episode of Arrow. Which is 100% because of our own issues.

But if my husband and I can relate to the Olicity argument, and have it invoke things in us and our own relationship that bring about those kinds of strong feelings and conversations, I guess that means the writers were pretty damn authentic, even if it was painful to watch.

With episode 4×08, most of the anger at Oliver had dissipated by the next day, and people were working their way towards acceptance, even if they were still sad and frustrated. They were starting to see a way through for Olicity, even if they knew it was going to be difficult. But there was a striking difference between the circumstances in that episode, and those of 4×15, in that this episode was followed up by Legends of Tomorrow, the combination of which ended up being the 1-2 punch for Olicity fans.



In episode 1×06 of LoT, the day after seeing the Olicity break up, we are shown Star City in 2046… in a future where Star City has gone completely to hell. Diggle is dead, Oliver is down an arm (but up a goatee), and Olicity is not together. Basically, we are shown what will happen if Olicity doesn’t make it. And it is rife with sorrow, anger, and pure desolation.

What we are left with, going into hiatus, is a complete lack of hope for the future.

Cant Deal With This Shit Gif

Because the fandom was still reeling from the Olicity break up, and all of the emotions, both fictional and personal that it stirred up, seeing this dark, dismal future seemed to stoke those emotional fires even more. The stakes were shown. Now being on the right side of the debate isn’t just about whether Olicity gets back together, or resolves this one specific argument. It’s literally the fate of the ENTIRE WORLD. Which is obviously one of the primary ways that television differs from real life, but then again… when it’s our emotions, doesn’t it feel like in these pivotal relationship moments that the fate of the entire world is at stake, even if it’s just OUR world? Being right, and being acknowledged as being right, becomes a need that’s almost desperate in nature. In the case of the CW DC universe, whatever side of the Olicity debate you’re on, you NEED to be right or the world will end.

And so back to debating the fandom went.

It’s been a week today since LoT aired, and I semi-purposefully waited this long to post this because I was curious to see how the fandom would resolve this issue, especially when we are staring a month long hiatus in the face. I think… that it’s been a struggle. At the time of my posting this, my current thoughts about the fandom is that we’ve moved on from the Olicity debate (because it’s too painful, or just because we’ve talked Ship Warsit to death? Hard to say…), but are now focused on who’s in the box. Maybe because it’s a potentially happier thought for some (which doesn’t that just sum up this fandom in a nutshell? LOL), though obviously potentially devastating for others. This has led to more negative expressions of emotion between certain factions in the fandom, but of a far less personal nature, I’d say. The debate over who Oliver should love is a topic that we can talk about without getting nearly as close to our own real traumas as discussing the Olicity break up does. It might be a true over-dramatization, but it’s possible that the Olicity/Lauriver debate is as negative as it is right now, just because people are still struggling with the negative feelings, fears, and hurt left over from last week’s episodes and so they’re coming out in other fandom activities/discussions (a defense mechanism known as displacement). Or maybe people are just nervous about the rest of the season. Or maybe it’s a combination of both. Or maybe I’m totally off base. It’s been known to happen occasionally. 😉

One thing I can say is this: Dr. Travis Langley, who has been a big source of professional inspiration for me, teaches college psychology by using fictional characters and their situations. He says that when we look at trauma in the real world, it can be hard to get past the horror to delve into studying the true psychology of it. But when we, say, look at Batman, suddenly talking about how a child may react to seeing their parents murdered becomes a whole lot easier. In processing Arrow this week, I was fully aware that I was projecting many of my feelings onto Olicity, but something that snuck up on me was the fact that I haven’t been mad at Oliver throughout this story line, just a bit disappointed. I knew he was trying to do his best, even though he really could’ve made some better choices. I was able to give him the benefit of the doubt, because I feel that as a man (albeit fictional), he’d earned it. And then I had that moment of clarity… that maybe I didn’t always give my husband the benefit of the doubt that he, too, had earned.

I encourage everyone who responded strongly to Arrow this week (or any show, really, ever) to do some introspection as to why you may have had the reaction you did. Talk to support people about it. Journal about it. The results (and the positive therapeutic benefits of watching TV) might just surprise you.

Author’s Note: Fandom — especially fandom as huge as Arrow — is a far reaching and highly complex beast, and as one person I can only see the parts of it that I can see. If you have a different perspective on this topic, or saw/have seen different things, I welcome your feedback and discussion!

If you want to reach out, you can find me through the comments here, or on Twitter as @drfangirlphd or @Chrisha_DWGrrl.




Filed under Fangirling, Mental Health