Emotional First Aid: The gifts of cultural and cinematic cushioning

A few months ago I watched a really interesting TED talk. It was called Why we all need to practice some emotional first aid. So, Guy Winch, if you’re reading this, thanks for the title. You have quite a way with words.In his talk, Winch discusses how we all need to learn to heal ourselves when faced with emotional and mental issues, in the same way that we arm ourselves with floods of Lemsip and aspirin when flu season hits.

One of his points is to not beat yourself up when you’re feeling down, to accept grief and to work with it to heal. We have a tendency to linger and to revisit mistakes and painful situations – I can’t be the only one replaying the argument with my best friend, or the times I got friend-zoned again and again. It’s easy, it hurts. Holding onto painful memories is sometimes an inevitable step on the path to recovery. Although we should initiate a more generous approach to dealing with these things, it does sometimes feel good to feel bad.

So this marks the point where I offer to meet you half way, Guy. How about considering film as part of that emotional first aid we all need so badly? One of the problems with dwelling on painful situations is that it often involves offloading all of your woes onto someone else.

“How are you doing?” They ask.

You become that parasitical presence, spreading negative energy because you don’t have anything else to give. It’s a matter of lying, or staying silent to avoid the “literal word vomit” coming out. So you keep schtum.We are told to pick ourselves back up, to think about good things and plan for the future… and yet there is a massive red cross in front of the Notebook DVD case and The Fault in Our Stars is padlocked. But why? When giving advice, one will always be told to steer clear of romantic films which will break your heart even further.

Well, entire world, I disagree with you. There is nothing wrong with healing yourself with a bit of cinematic cushioning.The rom-com employs an array of devices set to make you fall in love and break your heart, showing you fictional situations which, apparently, could happen. Every love story we encounter in life will at one point or another be compared to one that we saw on screen. Every scenario has been played over time and time again, just with a different Hollywood pairing.The reason we are told to shy away from sad films is that it’ll only make the pain rawer, showing us what true love really is. Excuse me while I chuckle.

The truth is, these films are indeed fictional – and even if they are based on true stories, they by no means are in direct correlation with the situations that we are experiencing. Spending an evening with Ansel Elgort or even Michael Fassbender doesn’t mean we’re going to cry even more because they don’t love us either. It’ll for that moment make us forget about the things that actually did make us cry. I’m a firm believer in the power beheld by these fictional beauties to act as a comfortable cushion, upon which we can rest our sniffly unhappy heads for a bit.

Film in situations like these can act as a refuge, a place in which you can share your troubles with two-dimensional people who *apparently* are going through the same things, while still being worlds away and too fictional to say “I told you so”.

You don’t need to talk to anyone else, inflict your (probably) over the top worries on your friends or moan down the phone to your mum. And yet, you know that you’ll get the answers you were looking for, with the faces that you were hoping to see. Films give you the company that you want while giving you the space you need.

(500) Days of Summer might give you the answers you were looking for as to why it didn’t work out, Shame will remind you that you’re not that bad, while Titanic is just always a remedy for something or other. Sometimes fiction can help reality. And no one in the real world even needs to know at all.

It’s true that it is poisonous to dwell, and this is by no means a long term solution for intense unhappiness. But for a matter of self-preservation and a sense of immediate comfortable first aid – I don’t see how Love Actually has ever caused anyone any form of unhappiness.

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