The Martian as Metaphor for Trauma Survivors

When I saw The Martian I marveled at Watney’s ability to find the positives in his seemingly hopeless circumstance of being stranded on Mars. I think my favorite example of this is when he proclaims himself Blondebeard, because he will commandeer a vehicle in international waters.

Martian as Metaphor for Trauma Survivor

The movie also got me thinking about my clients. People who have somehow, despite growing up in environments devoid of loving acceptance & kindness, manage to keep trying to create beautiful lives. Growing up in an abusive, neglectful home feels isolating. It often feels like you’re marooned on a loveless, shame-filled island.

Watney wouldn’t have been able to do what he did without help. He literally had dozens of the most intelligent minds on the planet working together on a complicated, near-impossible problem. Without them he would’ve died. Watney’s problem is one that obeys the laws of physics. Healing from trauma doesn’t have straight forward rules – but it usually requires a group of folks working with you to build a better life. Usually friends to bond with for emotional support, maybe a positive mentor or accepting significant other and a therapist knowledgeable about the aftereffects of childhood abuse.

Okay I get the metaphor but…now what?

If you want to get off Planet Toxic and get to Planet Awesome Life, you’ll need to follow in Watney’s footsteps.

  1. Goal. Spoiler alert, Watney had one goal: get back home. Healing from trauma can look different for people, maybe you want to kick depression to the curb or you want to have healthier relationships. Maybe you have an inkling for what your goal will be but it seems impossible, so it’s hard for you to acknowledge it. Refer to step 3 if that’s the case.
  2. Inventory Resources. Watney counts up all his food stores and potential resources so he can figure out what’s at his disposal to survive. You need to look at all the current tools you can use to help you achieve your goals. Maybe you have some deep nourishing friendships you can rely on. Maybe you have healthy habits, like regular exercise. Maybe you find meaning in your work. Looking at your strengths is important. Maybe you don’t know how to use them just now and that’s cool because you’re going to…
  3. Enlist Help. The only reason Watney gets home is because he enlists the help of basically all of NASA. That’s a lot of professional help. Call and make an appointment with a therapist who knows about helping people heal from abuse and neglect. Let folks you rely on for emotional support know that you’ll be going to therapy to process some stuff so you might need their help.

Watney reaching out for help is the most reasonable thing he can do. It’s just not possible to get out of that situation without professional help. The same is true if you have endured abuse and neglect. You can’t heal alone. It’s just that some situations are like being stranded on Mars, you need help to get out. This doesn’t mean you’re weak, it just means the situation can’t be handled by one person alone.

Sometimes it might feel impossible. But with help it isn't.