Precious: a study in trauma

I finally saw the film Precious, and it’s been sticking with me ever since.  If you don’t know this film, Precious is the story of an inner-city teenage girl who suffers horrific physical, sexual, and emotional abuse from the time she’s a small child.  She has one child by her father and is pregnant with the second as the film begins. (Spoiler alert – there’s more about the film in this post.) 

On the outside, Precious displays little affect: her facial expression is still, and she moves through her days saying as little as possible. On the inside, however, she’s on high alert, continually scanning for the attacks that could come without warning at any minute.

We’re wired to survive trauma by going into fight or flight mode, or if we can’t escape, we freeze. Because fighting back would have brought more abuse, and because as a child she didn’t see a way to flee, Precious froze. And when the attacks came, she survived them by dissociating.

What really struck me as I watched this film was the fabulous imaginary world of fame and love that Precious creates for herself. The over-the-top grandiosity of her fantasies is a testimony to the intensity and cruelty of the unrelenting abuse she suffers. In this beautiful world, Precious models glamorous clothes and happily signs autographs for her fans, a crowd that includes a gorgeous, attentive, loving boyfriend.    It’s a world that’s safe and filled with love, a world that’s everything her “real” world is not. In this world, no one can hurt her. In this world, she’s beautiful and free.

No matter what her abusers did to her, they couldn’t destroy the part of Precious that created these fantasies, the part of her that knows love, and kindness, and respect.  She locked these things deep into her psyche where no one could access them, creating an inner safe room to which she could flee at a moment’s notice. This awareness that we can keep our spirit alive by putting it into deep storage takes my breath away every time I encounter it.

At the end of the film, Precious does get away, and in the safety of her new home, a real home she creates for herself with the support and care of good people, she begins to unpack all her goodness and bring it out into the light of day.  It’s a hopeful message, and a true one.  We have the capacity to heal from trauma; it’s in our very nature and it’s never too late to begin the work of healing.



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