4 Reasons Why Frozen’s Elsa’s Problem is so Relatable to Chronic Pain

Jennie Shulkin, Override Co-Founder

During my third viewing of Disney's Frozen, I couldn't help but notice the striking parallels between Elsa's journey and the daily struggles of chronic pain. 

In this analysis, we'll explore how Elsa's story aligns with the experiences of those navigating chronic pain, drawing insights that echo beyond the animated world.

The Basic Plot 

If you haven’t seen the movie or need a refresher, Frozen follows Princess Elsa of Arendelle, soon-to-be Queen, blessed (or cursed) with magical powers capable of inadvertently freezing her surroundings. After an accidental injury to her sister, Anna, Elsa grappled with the challenge of mastering her unpredictable abilities.

Her attempts were futile. Without the ability to control it, and fearing she would hurt others and reveal her secret, she resigned herself to a miserable, isolating existence where she shut out the world. The castle gates were closed, and Elsa refused to spend any time with Anna (or anyone) thereafter. 

The castle gates finally reopened for one day only: Elsa’s coronation. Despite her best efforts, her secret was accidentally revealed in front of everyone, and out of fear, she ended up unintentionally freezing the entire village in an everlasting winter. Accused of sorcery, Elsa fled Arendelle, wishing to be permanently alone where she could be who she was and not do any harm to anyone around her. 

Anna embarked on an epic journey to the North Mountain to find Elsa and bring her back to unfreeze Arendelle.

I found myself thinking that this could have been a movie about chronic pain. This was just in more kid friendly storytelling with magical powers being the central issue instead of debilitating discomfort. Here are the key parallels illuminated throughout the movie:

1. Intense Fear and Lack of Control

One early scene showed Elsa and her father working on controlling her powers. Rhythmically, he instructed, “Conceal it.” Elsa picked up the thread that followed, “Don't feel it.” Together, they continued: “Don't let it show.” (These words later fed into Elsa’s famous song, “Let It Go.”) 

In a subsequent scene, teenage Elsa cried to her parents that she couldn’t control her curse. “It’s getting stronger!” she exclaimed in fear. Her father tried to calm her down, advising her that she knew that the powers only got more out of control when she was upset.  

My own mother and I have played out this exact interaction countless times. I tell her I can’t control my symptoms and fear they are getting worse, and she says something like, “you know that fear and agitation will only increase your pain” -- as though it is simple to stop being scared of something so terrifying.  

Not being able to reverse something malicious (whether it is chronic pain or a magical curse that freezes things around you) is incredibly hard to deal with. It becomes even more daunting when there is an expectation that it should be reversible.

After Elsa froze Arendale and fled to the North Mountain to self-isolate, Anna went after her to beg her to reverse the spell. Anna thought reversal would be simple. She told Elsa, “You can just unfreeze it.” To Anna’s shock, Elsa exclaimed, ““No I can’t, I don’t know how!” Anna kept pushing. Elsa replied in song, “There’s so much fear. You’re not safe here.” Anna continued to push. Elsa eventually shouted over Anna, “I can’t!!!”

That’s exactly how chronic pain can feel. At first, it seems simple to undo pain: take a muscle relaxant, go to a chiropractor, get an injection, go to physical therapy, and you should be good as new. When none of that works and the problem lingers, friends and family, as well as medical providers, often tell patients that their body has had enough time to heal, that there is no explanation for why the pain continues, and that the pain should be reversible. It’s never that simple. How many people with chronic pain have said something to the effect of, “I can’t!”? Probably most of us.

2. Urge to Isolate and Spare Others

As someone with chronic pain, I also empathize with Elsa’s desire to isolate from those around her. It comes from a good place of wanting to spare others from having to protect her or from getting hurt by her. She thinks that she is better off alone, not letting anyone else share the burden with her.  

It’s why she wants the gates to the castle to stay closed. It’s also why she runs away on coronation day after she accidentally freezes Arendale. 

Determined to not let her be alone, Anna came after her and tried to get through to Elsa that now that she understood Elsa’s curse, she could be there for her. She sang to Elsa,” You don’t have to live in fear. Cuz for the first time in forever, I will be right here!” Elsa refused and cast Anna out of her ice castle, injuring her again! 

Anyone with chronic pain knows that chronic pain also affects those around us. Loved ones are subject to the person with chronic pain’s irritability, anger, anxiety, activity limitations, barrage of appointments, etc. It’s tempting to think that isolation is the best strategy to avoid dragging others down. 

Or as a friend of mine with chronic pain said about her almost nonexistent social life: “I’ve been in pain and miserable. I just haven’t felt like talking to anybody.”

If we’re lucky, we have someone like Anna whose love is strong enough to not let us be alone.

3. Love is the Only Way Out

Spoiler alert: in the end, Elsa figured out that she could reverse the spell. The answer? Love! Her love for her sister, Anna. Love is how she thawed the ice and reversed the everlasting winter. 

So how does that solution apply to chronic pain? In a few ways, I think. 

  • Passionate love has a similar effect to painkillers on the brain, according to Stanford University School of Medicine. This is largely because of the release of dopamine associated with passionate love. 
  • While less intense, feeling the love and support of friends and family, and even the empathy of your medical providers, has been shown to make drastic differences in pain experience and quality of life. 
  • Finally, the love we have towards ourselves makes a big difference.  Research has found increased ability to cope with pain and recover when we are able to tap into love and compassion for ourselves.

Unfortunately, the immediate transformation of frozen Arendale into summer isn’t similar to the painstaking and usually time-consuming recovery from chronic pain. But the concept of using love as a tool and a propeller certainly does apply.

4. Acceptance 

Another part of the happy ending of Frozen is that Elsa returned to live in Arendale again, and this time, in peace with who she is. She found the upside in her powers in being able to entertain the people of Arendale and spread joy – for instance, by creating an ice skating rink that they get to enjoy. She accepted her own powers (along with their shortcomings) and no longer felt she had to hide them from those around her. 

She can keep the castle gates open. She doesn’t have to be alone anymore.


Personally, I like that her “curse” wasn’t completely reversed in the end -- that she didn’t find a way to rid herself of her inadvertent tendency to freeze things around her. I like this because many people with chronic pain will never fully be rid of their chronic pain but can aspire to live better and easier with it – having a better quality of life, moving better, enjoying being with other people, and even finding some upside in it like the tremendous amount of strength and resilience that pain has likely uncovered.

Accepting, rather than resisting, where you are in your own pain journey is key to enjoying as much of life as you can and ultimately to improving your quality of life.

Override Can Help with Chronic Pain

As always, we want to offer our help with your chronic pain. We offer free consults so you can see if Override is right for you. Getting to the point of not isolating, accepting where you are, cultivating love and self-compassion are not easy things to do, especially alone. Anna wouldn’t want you to be anyway. 😉

Posted on 
March 29, 2024

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