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If you’re like me, you love the emotional, romantic and tear-inducing NBC show This is Us. All my therapist friends, those who love a good cry and sad stories can’t get enough of this show. Every time my husband sees me cry as I’m watching this show, he asks me, “why do you always watch this show if it makes you sad and cry?”
“Because, this is all of us!” (Read about the show here or check out on amazon here). Yes, I get very dramatic while watching this show. And it’s because it’s triggered a lot of memories, highlighted some core beliefs of mine, and really given me all the feels about certain topics (oh so many topics). I can definitely say that I’ve been able to identify with each character in some way.
But enough about me.
I’d like to highlight 10 different reasons This is Us is All of us and captures the essence of being a human being and how mental health is like the air we breathe.
- We all experience grief. I almost titled this article, “This is us = This is Grief.” The life-affirming show at it’s core is about grief and loss in it’s more basic sense. We all grieve for different reasons. We’ve all experienced loss and I don’t mean only by death. The Grief Recovery Institute defines grief as: 1) the normal and natural reaction to significant emotional loss of any kind; 2) the conflicting feelings caused by the end of, or change in, a familiar pattern of behavior; 3) the feeling of reaching out for someone who has always been there, only to find when you need them again, they are no longer there. I really like this last definition because it is all encompassing of what it means to lose a significant relationship or pattern, along with the normal and complicated feelings that arise from that loss. Lastly, grief feels like, oh so many things. I’ve been asking people to complete the sentence, “Grief so feels like ______.” The results are below and ‘This is Us’ exemplifies just this.
- Grieving the death of a loved one. After last night’s “Super Bowl” episode and knowing all the details, we are all grieving Jack’s death. Throughout the show, we watch (and for some of us, even experience with the characters) the effect of losing a father. We actually experience it twice with them, as Randall also loses his biological father in Season 1. Actually, we see it three times – I almost forgot about when Rebecca is there to experience Jack’s father during his last days as well. We see how hard and different the grief was for each of the siblings. And although, we don’t get to see it too much (until after the Super Bowl episode), we can imagine how difficult it was for Rebecca to grieve a spouse. We get a glimpse of it during the family therapy session when she says that Randall was the only child who “didn’t leave me alone when his father died” and how unhappy she had been for several years before dating Miguel. And Miguel, oh, poor guy. We finally hear from him about his love, respect and admiration for his dear friend, Jack. We don’t focus enough about the death of a significant friend. Thank you “This is Us” writers for also shedding light on the immense pain that comes with experiencing miscarriages or stillborn children. As a society, we don’t talk too much about the grief that comes with these losses. Through these stories, our hearts ache because we can relate to their pain, can imagine what it must have felt like, or it forces us to face our deepest fears about losing a loved one.
- Grieving a relationship with a parent. A lot of people don’t talk about the grief or void that’s experienced due to not having the relationship we want with a person who we feel we’re supposed to have one with. For example, it is expected that we all have a warm and fuzzy bond with our parents. I’ve heard of the father-daughter bond – which Kate and Jack have obviously perfected. Oh man, this one triggers all the feels for people who never had their father look at them adoringly with Jack’s oh so proud eyes *insert wailing emoticon here*. In This is Us we also see Jack’s amazing father-son bond with Randall – which is the source of Kevin’s grief. Kevin always felt as though he was left out, he was the difficult to engage son, we see his resentment from a very young age and the roots of unlovability form and play out. It’s heartbreaking. And Randall, ugh. I love Randall. Although everyone’s (including the Pearson sibs) pretty much established, that he’s everyone’s favorite, this child has grieved his whole life the loss of biological parents. Does he love his Pearson parents? Obviously yes, and this doesn’t take away from the void of having his bio-parent’s love as a child. Now, Kate and Rebecca. Oh how Rebecca looks at Kate and grieves the relationship she wishes she had with her only daughter. Rebecca still shows up for her and let’s Kate decide when she wants her support. My heart totally skipped a beat when Rebecca shows up at Kate’s doorstep with open arms after the miscarriage. Kate let’s her mother hold her and they’re able to have a little moment of repair as they bond over the grief of losing a child in utero. Lastly, the Kevin-Jack-Rebecca relationship. In the family therapy session, Kevin unfolds and reveals never having “a thing” with Rebecca. Never feeling as though they have something special they bonded over. Rebecca tries to tell him that she feels it in her bones (we all know she deeply loves her children) and while this is her truth, that void with both parents is Kevin’s truth. Parent-child relationships can be complicated. We see this family try to navigate theirs and we also see the grief that they each carry with them about their idealized relationships. We all do too in some way, shape or form.
- Body Image/Dieting. I don’t know a single person who’s never had a negative thought about their appearance or body. Kate is the obvious example here, but so is Kevin. He works out excessively to fit in to the role Hollywood has prescribed for him. It’s easy for any of us to fall into the trap of negative body image and even struggling to maintain. For Kate, her early body image issues came from Rebecca who has always been thin and beautiful and embedded restricted eating for Kate. It was jaw-droping when Kate admitted to her that she will always be a trigger to her just for being her thin and beautiful self. To me that statement summarized the double-sided coin of thin-beautiful privilege and discrimination. In terms of dieting, the show sheds light on how incredibly hard it can be to count calories, exercise, and have no impact on the scale. We see Kate in her support group and the connections and disconnections she makes (i.e. Madison). And again, we see the duality in how tormented even a skinny person can be as the reality of bulimia and anorexia is exposed. I thought it was super relatable when we see young Kate fit in to her dream size and realize that losing the weight didn’t make her happier and in fact, needed to feel too big in an even smaller size dress. Sometimes we find comfort in being self-deprecating. This scene made me sad because it’s such an accurate depiction of the teenage girl self-esteem. It made me sad because I know too many girls and women (myself included) who struggle with body image vulnerabilities. My girlfriends and I always look at old pictures of ourselves in high school, college, etc and laugh, “Oh man, I look so great in this picture. And this is when I thought I was fat.” I really feel like This is All of US who struggle with body image and weight loss.
- Identity. At the root of the Pearson siblings struggles (and ours too!), is the issue of identity. Since childhood, they’ve all compared themselves to each other and measured their shortcomings against the others’ strengths. A lot of us do this. We compare the worse of ourselves with someone else’s best. That’s never fair. Each of the characters are inherently different with a unique genetic make-up. Kevin’s always been social and physically inclined, while hating academics. Kate has an amazing singing voice, is kind, has always struggled with being physically active and weight. And Randall, oh Randall — I did say he’s my favorite, right? Randall is African American, scientifically enthusiastic, a perfectionist and shy. Each of the siblings have a different reality even they grew up in the same home with the same parents. They also each hold a different kind of privilege. Skinny & Attractive Privilege; Middle Class Privilege; White Privilege; and Parent Bonding Privilege (I think I just made this up, but because I strongly believe there is privilege in feeling safe and secure with your caregiver). Then we have the other side of the coin where our lack of privilege in any of these areas, or even our intersectionality, like we see with Deja – and even her biological mother (race, class, gender) is what can make life harder for us. In season 1, Randall talks to William about choosing to “let go every single day of my life” of racism and we can hear the effect of his self-defined “complacency.” Flashbacks have also given us insight to Randall’s early need for connection to other Black kids (at the pool) and continued into young adulthood (when he attended a historically Black College). It meant a lot for him to fit in, as it does for many of us.
- Addiction. In the bombshell family therapy session a few episodes ago Kevin called out how his pain meds addiction is almost the same as Kate’s food addiction. He was right. Drug addiction research has taught us that addiction is a brain disease and how drugs change the brain structure, making it difficult to stop one one’s own. Some people have the genes that increase the risk of addiction, just like other chronic health issues, like high blood pressure, diabetes, and some cancers. While drugs and alcohol are what we think of when he imagine addiction, people also struggle with food, gambling, shopping and like Randall shows, us working.
- Helping Professionals. I need to give a huge shout out to the social worker who worked with Deja on the show. Yes, I’m biased because I am one and also, because this when she said “My job isn’t a perfect science!” my heart skipped a beat due to the validation, and also to grieve not having the power to save all who need it. And OMG, when we find out that Tess becomes a social worker, well, come on!? All helping professionals choose their field because they’ve been personally impacted by a situation in their lives and have an intense calling to help. While it’s super rewarding, it can also be super stressful. I often tell the helping professionals I work with that the job itself and the feelings that arise are an occupational hazard. Click on the links read more about Helping Professionals and Burnout.
- Forgiveness does not have to mean reconciliation. I really hope that Sophie doesn’t get back with Kevin. Not because I don’t like him, but because he’s hurt her so many times. And yes, he’s hurt her because he was hurting. I understand that, and at the same time, it’s not ok. I loved that despite their history, Sophie still said good-bye to him when he came to make amends. She forgave him and walked away. Many unhealthy relationships can benefit from ending. Will there be pain? Of course. Will it be hard? Yes. Can you forgive and still say good-bye? Absolutely!
- Baggage and Compassion. What can I say? We all have baggage! I really loved when Kate was with Audio at the shelter and right before she left she said to him, “You come with a lot of baggage that isn’t your fault. I’m sorry!” I really believe that line is for all of us to embrace and even tell ourselves during our darkest moments. It validates the intergenerational transmission of trauma that we get from our ancestors to grandparents, parents, and then to us. Then with a compassionate “I’m sorry” we can reverse the wheels of self-hatred. It reminds me of DBT developer Marsha Linehan’s quote about validating the past to heal thy self, “You didn’t cause all of your problems, but it’s now your job to fix them.”
- Love. Resilience. Repair. My last favorite and strength of ‘This is Us’ is it’s accurate portrayal of the love in a family unit. It also speaks to the incredible resilience that humans, and children in particular, encompass. Much like our own families, the Pearson clan have said or done hurtful things to one another. And like we all know, among family you can sometimes say the most awful things to each other and still find ways to love each other and mend relationships. Kate and Rebecca have a difficult relationship since Kate was young. A lot of it stemmed from Kate’s early food struggles and Rebecca’s unsuccessful attempts at being supportive. She’s still there for her though. When she showed up at Kate’s doorstep to hug her and be there for her after the miscarriage, is how their repair started. Rebecca finally found how to relate to her daughter — through their common grief of losing a child. Of great importance was that Kate let Rebecca be there for her. She let her mom hold her. Randall and Kevin have also done a lot of repairing. Kevin was so mean to Randall since he resented him so much. During his panic attack, Randall lets Kevin be there for him. And that’s how their relationship started to repair. In this last season, Kevin is making amends with all his loved ones, in an attempt to repair. Kevin and Rebecca also work on their relationship to find “their thing” together and we see their inherent love for one another. Now, Rebecca and Randall – I almost forgot the short time that Randall was upset and didn’t talk to his beloved mother. Had you all forgotten that she didn’t tell him about finding William when when Randall was little? I sure had, until I started to re-watch older episodes. Lastly, I can’t leave out William and Randall’s blossoming love and relationship repair moments. If you’ve ever experienced abandon by a parent, this moment makes the heart ache and smile at the same time. Seriously, Randall’s strength of empathy moves me every single time. He’s the epitome of resilience to me.
I really wanted to say so much more and almost forced myself to write less. But there you have it, 10 reasons ‘This is Us’ is All of us!
Do you have any favorite or relatable moments on the show? Leave me the comment. Let’s keep talking and maybe there’ll be a parts 2, 3, 4, 5!
Thank you for reading!
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like these:
Grieving on ‘Happy Mother’s Day’
Grieving After an Affair
I’m not Bad
#thisisus = #thisisgrief
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