Lessons From ‘Mamma Mia’

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Who doesn’t like the fun, energetic Mamma Mia Broadway show?  I was so excited to see the Laguna Playhouse put on their own rendition of Mamma Mia. I was impressed from beginning to end. We are so fortunate to have such an amazing theatre in our back yard.

Even though this is a fun, high energy and enjoyable performance, it also has a serious side. The one of relationships. Underlying the wonderful songs of ABBA, which, growing up in that era, I sang along to each of the songs, probably to the dismay of the people around me. Yet, it seemed I was not the only one doing so.

Back to being more serious. Lets talk about Mamma Mia and relationships. In the performance, 20-year-old Sophie is getting ready to be married. She had grown up with her mother who never married Sophie’s father. In fact, Donna, Sophie’s mom, was unsure who the father was. Sophie through reading her mom’s journal invites three possible fathers to the wedding without her mom’s knowledge.

When Donna finds out all three men were invited to the wedding, she reflects on that time of her life. Not only is Donna faced with dealing with her past, but also her relationships with her two best friends. Throughout the performance you can see how each decision Donna made has influenced where she was at in her life today and how each of these men had influenced her life today.

Relationships have a powerful impact in our lives yet we so often dismiss the reverberations in our lives. Each relationship we have then shapes the next one. Obviously this starts with when we are born and how we formed attachment with our mother and father. Depending on how attentive our parents were with us, will then depend how we will manage relationships with our peers as we go to school and then with intimate relationships as we get older.

Studies show people who form healthy and meaningful attachments have longer, healthier, and happier lives. We are able to bounce back from tough times in our lives when we receive support from our friends and family. This is due to being able to internalize these people and cope in a way that allows us to heal faster.

This is even true as a child, when we are sick or experience loss, if we have a supportive family that we have internalized, their support will allow us to recover quicker.

What happens is when we are a child and able to take in the love and support of our parents, that gives us strength to go out into the world and explore and feel we have what we need inside of us to survive and thrive. If we are not able to internalize our parents due to parent’s illness, lack of emotional availability, mental illness, drug or alcohol abuse, the child learns they cannot trust others and struggles to allow trust of others to help.

Lessons from “Mamma Mia” the musical

We also tend to live in a society that is all about individualism. Yet in reality, we are not built that way. Focusing on individualism tends to leave us with depression, anxiety, and lack of sense of well-being.

There are also two sides to relationships. One, that we be aware of how we treat others. There is no neutral in relationships, we are either building them or tearing them apart. We get to decide.  The other side is that we allow others to be there for us. I see so often in my practice people guarding themselves against allowing others in as they do not want to get hurt. It is sad, as not allowing others in is more painful than being hurt by someone. The key here is to have good boundaries and know who to give to and who to allow in.

We all deserve and need good relationships. They are worth their investment. Just like investing in stock, there is a risk, but we all can do our homework and make sure we are making good decisions. This is played out well in Mamma Mia. If you have time this week, it is well worth seeing.

As Dave Willis said: “A healthy relationship shouldn’t change either person, but it should always bring out the best in them both.”

Contact Dr. Shelly Zavala at DrZavala.com or [email protected].

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