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Why We Have to Talk About Bruno for Our Mental Health

How to unlock the gift of open communication.
by Pia Regalado
Jan 25, 2022
Photo/s: Encanto/Facebook

This article contains "Encanto" spoilers.

"We don't talk about Bruno," sang the magical Madrigal clan in one of the viral sections of Disney's "Encanto", a reflection of how tightly-knit families avoid discussing difficult topics, even if it meant resolving years of conflict.

The toxic atmosphere from such forced silence struck a chord with Filipinos on social media, who find catharsis on how "Encanto" deals with mental health issues in the context of family, from struggling with perfectionism to constantly struggling to prove one's worth.

Uncle Bruno was left to live in the attic with rats after his gift, seeing the future, foretold of a catastrophe that would destroy the Madrigal mansion. While separated by the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines and Colombia, where the movie is set, have a shared heritage of Spanish colonial rule that puts family above all else.

Talking about Bruno and his apocalyptic vision is too traumatic or uncomfortable for the family, clinical psychologist Joseph Marquez told reportr. However, putting up a front that "everything is fine" alienates family members who are misunderstood, as in Bruno's case, he said.

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Why families don't talk about Bruno

Some families evade conflict, valuing silence over confrontations to avoid hurting each other's feelings, psychoanalyst Allan Schwartz said. It could be too taboo to bring up, and uncomfortable to even express it, psychotherapist Jenny Lemus said.

John Leguizamo, who played Bruno, said the psychic character appealed to him, as a family black sheep. "I'm that uncle that they try to get rid of, and they do get rid of him in this movie. I relate to him because I had that bit of an issue. I was always talking too much, saying everything nobody wanted to." 

In multigenerational families where respecting the elderly is given premium, it could be difficult to discuss these topics especially if the young ones attempt to do it, Marquez said.

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"We're still traditionalists kahit papaano. We still need to show respect kahit gaano kasama na 'yung mga family members natin, kahit gaano na tayo inaasar, binu-bully. 'Yun 'yung naka-ingrain sa atin e, 'yun 'yung natutunan natin na gumalang sa matatanda."

Bruno, initially thought of as the movie's troublemaker, proved to be a misunderstood middle-aged man who hid from the family to spare them from more painful visions. He lived inside the walls while fixing the cracks, befriended rats, and prepared a table close to the dining room to be near his loved ones without them knowing.

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In the end, the family embraced Bruno back to their home, but not before the lead character Mirabel confronted her grandmother, or abuela, that her impossible expectations of the family was the reason behind their waning magic.

"'Di naman kailangan umabot pa doon if you only learn how to accept and listen doon sa mas bata sa atin kasi with the traditional belief na para sa mga matatanda ako lang 'yung tama, kahit sabihin mong mali."

Why families need to talk about Bruno

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Labeling misunderstood family members as troublemakers won't help solve conflict, Marquez said. Open communication is key, even when generational differences make it challenging, he said.

In "Encanto", the family battled the silent villain: intergenerational trauma. Abuela's fear of losing the "miracle" put pressure on the likes of Isabela, who was tired of being perfect, and Luisa, who feared losing her brute physical strength.

ALSO READ: 'Encanto' Shows Why Perfectionism is Bad for Your Mental Health

"In every family talaga, they really want their children to be successful that's why they're doing things in order to survive. So in return, they might think na utang na loob n'yo 'yan sa akin," said Marquez.

How do families stop this cycle? Humility on both sides is a must, the psychologist said.

"It's an ego thing, maybe part talaga ng tradition. If we can really talk and listen doon sa mas bata, kasi akala nila wala na matututunan sa mga bata kasi punong-puno na ng wisdom, 'alam ko na lahat 'yan, papunta ka pa lang pabalik na ako'... It can be prevented."

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He added: "Accept the fact na hindi mo alam 'yung lahat. We have to be open that other family members can bring something to the table it is not only you who can help or give something to the people."

For the Brunos of the family who are ostracized by their loved ones, should they stay or should they leave? It depends on what the misunderstood family member feels. "If they really want to address that, start by reaching out [to the family] kung kaya na nila."

Marquez said judgmental family members should learn to accept each other's differences.

"Kung hanggang saan lang ang kakayanan ng mga anak nila o kamag-anak nila, tanggapin nila 'yun at wala naman sila magagawa as long as they're not hurting anyone, not hurting themselves and they're thriving and surviving, that's okay, that's enough."

While "Encanto" highlights the importance of family, Marquez said people don't have to be related by blood to build their own family who will accept them for who they are.

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"Kung saan ka mas comfortable, to leave [home] or to be with your family or to be with your chosen family, do that. You have to remember that you don't have to force things para maging okay ka."

Clinical psychologist Joseph Marquez is based in Taytay, Rizal. His services can be accessed online. You may contact him through his page.

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