Processing Fictional Trauma: Lost in the Flood Edition

ARROW SPOILERS THROUGH EPISODE 4×22:

LOST IN THE FLOOD

This week’s penultimate episode of Arrow had it all: fight scenes, explosions, decades old arguments, hacker on hacker violence, no less than *counts on fingers* five villains, an Olicity embrace… and a revolving beer. It was nonstop, break neck, edge of the seat drama. And yet, despite all of that activity… all the nukes, electricity surges, and flying arrows, at its heart we saw a continual theme coming through from each member of Team Arrow:

Resilience.

In the world of psychology, the term resilience has been defined many ways*, but at its core, it’s basically the ability to bounce back after major stress or trauma. The last few episodes have seen both Felicity and Diggle experience almost unspeakable emotional challenges, and in this week’s episode we got to see a little bit of how each of them are dealing with the aftermath of those traumas.

Two weeks ago we saw Diggle kill his brother. While the argument could be made that it was ultimately in self-defense, as Andy had insinuated Dig’s family would never be safe from him, the actual act was done with Andy unarmed and essentially defenseless. As traumas go, I think we can agree that’s a major one.

Diggle 2

Felicity…. well, I put her recent traumas in bullet point format in last week’s article, and I’ll go ahead and do it again for this week because the hits just keep on coming for our girl. This week Felicity had to deal with:

  • Watching the news discussing the full damage from the nuclear bomb she was unable to stop and had to change the course of.
  • Finding out her teammate and almost sister-in-law was captured by HIVE.
  • Her parents’ constant arguing… over her.
  • Going up against her ex-boyfriend yet again.
  • Learning that her father didn’t actually abandon her, but that her mother took her from her father and that she’d grown up with completely false beliefs about her parents’ split.
  • Fighting to again dismantle Rubicon, which she had worked to disable the day before and was unable to completely defeat, leading to the death of tens of thousands.
  • Kidnapping by Damien Darhk, along with her mother and one of her best friends.

Felicity Horried 2.jpg

Now, I fully understand and accept that this is a television show, and so our heroes are constantly dealing with immense amounts of pressure and coming out the other side relatively unscathed. That’s what makes this fiction, and them superheroes. But I do find it interesting that when you look at the things that mental health research has shown to make us mere mortals more resilient, it also applies to our heroes.

There are five things that have been shown to deeply influence a person’s ability to be resilient: Active coping strategies, positive emotionality, cognitive reappraisal, social support, and a sense of purpose (Reich, Zautra, & Hall, 2010). So let’s break those down into layman’s terms and apply them to OTA.

1. Active coping strategies: These are things that we do that help us manage our emotions and feel better. For me this is often escaping into an awesome TV show or book, doing something outdoors, or punching something at martial arts. For Oliver and Diggle, coping very often involves training, working out, or fighting… something intensely physical, Oliver Diggle Trainingwhich is absolutely been shown to be a successful and useful coping mechanism. I hate exercise with a fiery passion, but it’s true that physical activity does help both mind and body feel better. Felicity’s coping (that we’re aware of) tends to involve ice cream and television, which I can also get behind and can certainly be helpful in moderation. Another active coping strategy, however, which all of our team excels at are problem solving and planning. Working to change your situation, and the ability to see and plan a way through is absolutely a useful coping skill, and can help manage stress. Oliver, for example, may get beaten down and defeated, but as long as he can see another way to attempt to fix the problem, he continues to cope. The only times when he seems to truly panic or despair is when he can’t see a next move.

2. Positive emotionality: This trait involves the ability to keep your sense of humor in the face of epic stress and trauma. This trait is essentially tailor made for FeFelicity I Love the Internetlicity, as her witty comebacks and one liners are constant, even through the most challenging missions. At times she may use this as a defense mechanism to avoid dealing with her real feelings, but sometimes that can actually be useful. That’s why they’re called “defense” mechanisms. They can help us make it through until we’re ready or feel safe enough to deal with those challenging issues and feelings.

3. Cognitive reappraisal: What this means is having the ability to look at a situation and see it from a completely different perspective than may be obvious. I would consider this to be another of Felicity’s superpowers. How many times has Oliver Season 2 Endand other members of the team seen things a certain way – usually with an outcome that involves reverting back to killing and death — but Felicity is able to reframe it to be something else? At the end of season 2, both Lance and Oliver very clearly believe that Oliver has to go back to killing to be able to win. Felicity sees things differently, in that the reason for all the madness was because of killing, not because he refused to. It made Oliver see the entire situation in a different light, leading to an outcome where neither Slade nor Oliver died, keeping another piece of Oliver’s soul intact (while also giving us that Olicity scene in the mansion… thankyouverymuch!)

4. Social support: This is where OTA has created a never ending supply of emotional resilience for themselves. While they all have outside loved ones that also ground and support them (Thea, Lyla, Donna, etc), Oliver, Diggle, and Felicity always have each other. If one of them falters, the other(s) step in. If one person can’t see the way through, the others help to create a different plan. When one is feeling guilty or insecure, the others help them regain their balance. They feel secure in their attachments to each other, and that allows them to continue to battle through the ridiculous amounts of stress they face – because they always have each other to lean on.

You are not alone

5. Sense of purpose: For our superheroes, and probably most superheroes, this is the one that they perhaps have the most of, and can truly help them continue to put one foot in front of the other when fighting what seems to be an impossible battle. Each person on Team Arrow is fighting this fight for their own reason, for their own purpose. It is that sense of purpose that leads them to continue to move. Felicity will not wallow in her grief over tens of thousands because she knows she has billions more to protect. Diggle will not allow himself to be consumed by what happened to Andy (yet) because he still has a fight to win against HIVE. And while Oliver may very often truly be the “Guilt Arrow,” even he continues fighting despite the guilt – because this fight gives all of the trauma and pain and horrors that he’s faced meaning.

Three of Us

While there are many other reasons that a person might be extra resilient (early childhood experiences, biological factors, the list goes on…), these five represent a good sample of things that can help us all handle stress more effectively. These five also help us see why OTA works so well together as a team, and how they manage to realistically fight against the odds they face on a weekly basis. While they may be superheroes and therefore have heightened abilities to fight, cope, and effectively deal with supernatural crazy, I believe as fans we still can learn from the way they manage things and maybe pick up a few tips and tricks on how to manage our own lives more effectively by watching them manage theirs.

With that said, while I know for a fact that I would not be able to deal with all of the things that Felicity Felicity and Family.jpghas faced the last few weeks with nearly as much calm and composure as she has, I also understand that we only see small pieces of what’s happening in their lives. FeliOlicity Hugcity is a strong female character who has inspired many of us with her ability to persevere and save the world despite all of the things she’s facing down. But in the spirit of also making sure our expectations for ourselves are realistic, remember that we saw Felicity hug both her father and Oliver, almost seemingly against her will. Remember that we saw her have talks with Curtis and with her mom. While we may not see all of it, Felicity does seem to be seeking out comfort and support to help her carry on through these nightmarish days. She seems to know (even if she hasn’t consciously thought about it) that she can’t do it all on her own.

Throughout season 4, we have seen how Felicity’s increased resilience has not only saved Oliver’s life, but has led to him learning some of those same skills from her. Now, he’s Good things in my lifeable to see things more positively when others can’t, and he is able to keep his positivity even in the face of extreme struggle, as we saw when he talked Thea back into the light in this episode. He never wavered, and he always kept the faith… in Thea, in Felicity, and in himself. Through modeling the resilient behavior, Felicity has effectively taught Oliver how to help not only himself, but hopefully also her and Diggle during these difficult days. While Felicity does seem to be managing and confronting her emotions, how Diggle will cope long term remains to be seen. He continues to work to take down HIVE, but as of now he is not being honest with Lyla, which means he’s not getting the full social support he may need to cope. Just like Oliver pointed out at the end of Season 3, coping with our own issues often means asking for help. Sometimes it’s the only way.

And that is okay.

I think Oliver has finally learned that lesson. Now we sit back and wait to see if Diggle and Felicity have fully learned it too.

OTA

 

*Examples of clinical definitions of resilience:

“The capacity of a dynamic system to withstand or recover from significant challenges that threaten its stability, viability, or development” (Masten, 2011).

“…an outcome of successful adaptation to adversity,” (Reich, Zautra, & Hall, 2010, p. 4).


References

Masten, A. S. (2011). Resilience in children threatened by extreme adversity: Frameworks for research, practice, and translational synergy. Development and Psychopathology, 23(02), 493–506. http://doi.org/10.1017/S0954579411000198

Reich, J. W., Zautra, A. J., & Hall, J. S. (2010). Handbook of adult resilience. New York, NY: Guilford Press. http://doi.org/10.1007/s13398-014-0173-7.2

 

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