Disney’s latest animated blockbuster, Frozen, occupies a major role in my house right now. I took my four-year-old daughter to see this film just before Christmas, and it has become a bit of an obsession for her. We have near-nightly reenactments of the movie, and since purchasing the soundtrack, she regularly engages in passionate, heart-felt performances of Frozen’s Oscar-winning signature song, “Let it Go.”
But my daughter isn’t the only one who loves this movie. When she is acting it out, and especially when we are listening to “Let it Go,” I often have a strong emotional reaction. At first I thought it was just the sweet memory of sharing the experience of watching it together, our first father-daughter big screen movie, or the preciousness of her exuberant, uninhibited joy in the story and its music. But the truth is, I find myself choking up over the song itself, whether my girl is singing along or not. And now I think I know why.
I have determined that Elsa, one of Frozen’s two main protagonists, is likely a Type One on the Enneagram– the same as me, and “Let it Go” is an explosive look into the tortured heart of the Ennea-type One. Elsa’s character, and especially the place of this song in her story, provides great into insight into common themes for the One, and signals how Ones can experience greater integration and healing of their deepest fears.
Elsa, princess of Arandelle, has a terrible secret. Since childhood she has had the power to unleash ice and snow from her very fingertips. Frightened that she might hurt the people she loves, and on the command of her worried parents the king and queen, Elsa hides herself away in the castle, cutting herself off from all human contact for their protection. This requires an especially painful separation from her younger sister Anna, who does not know Elsa’s secret or understand her self-imposed isolation.
But Elsa’s secret is revealed when her parents are lost at sea and she must be crowned queen. In a disagreement with Anna following the coronation, Elsa loses her carefully-maintained composure and her powers are unleashed, terrifying the castle guests and plunging the kingdom into perpetual winter. Elsa flees to the mountains, where she intends to abdicate the throne and live in complete solitude – but also where she can throw off her lifelong fear of making a mistake.
It is in this scene that Elsa sings “Let it Go,” revealing first the burden of her life lived in fear, and then the relief she feels now that she doesn’t have to control herself anymore. The song’s lyrics are at first a lament about the pressure of holding in her secret, the pressure to be a “good girl,” and then the release that her flaws are revealed and she can now relish in the truth of who she really is, no matter how frightening that truth may be.
These are themes that resonate for an Enneagram Type One, a personality most characterized by a powerful drive toward perfection, and its corresponding fear of making a mistake. Ones operate with an innate sense that if they don’t personally do the right thing – however they define it –the world will somehow suffer, that other people will be hurt, and that above all they will be revealed as the flawed, broken, imperfect people they secretly know themselves to be.
Ones know the burden of being “the good girl [or boy] you always have to be.” As part of the “instinctive” or “gut” triad, Ones struggle with their instincts. They fear and distrust their own intuition and their powerful emotions, and create detailed, complex structures of rules they must follow in order tame and control their unruly inner world. Thus, Ones abide with a secret fear that if they really let themselves go, terrible things would happen.
Elsa experiences the immense liberation of casting off her self-control and letting her inner world rush forth, manifest in both her physical transformation (her hair comes down and her carefully-tailored royal garments become a shimmering gown) and in her creation of a magnificent ice castle, a beautiful, creative expression of her deep, artistic heart. She basks in the mystery of what it would mean to finally live without rules and just be herself.
And yet, there is a terrible irony here. Elsa’s liberation is, in fact, another form of self-imprisonment. In her ice castle she is utterly alone, having abandoned both her duty to her kingdom and her deep longing for connection with her sister, the only family she has left. She has exchanged one form of self-control for another.
Elsa must eventually leave her ice castle to save both her kingdom and her sister, and while she doesn’t initially go willingly, it is actually the One’s deep sense of duty and her longing to love and – above all – to receive love in return, that brings her to a place of genuine healing. (I also suspect that Elsa may be a One-to-One instinctual variant, though I may just be projecting since that is also my sub-type).
“Let it Go” is, in fact, a kind of pseudo-healing, not the real thing. It is perhaps a necessary catharsis for the Type One to allow herself to let go and unleash her messy, inner world. But in the end, like an integrated One, Elsa learns that real healing comes from neither perfectionism nor unrestrained expressions of self that abandon a sense of relationship and responsibility to others.
Rather, Ones are healed when they accept that they are loved, whole, and good exactly as they are, with all their flaws and fears and scary feelings. From this place of loving trust they are able to view their powers as gifts rather than be enslaved by them.
Because as we learn from Elsa and Anna, “Only love can melt a frozen heart.”
Gary Houchens, PhD, is associate professor in the Department of Educational Administration, Leadership, and Research at Western Kentucky University. A former teacher and school administrator, Gary is also co-founder of Contemplative Learning Solutions which uses the Enneagram as a tool for leadership and personal development in school and business contexts.