While I watched “The Haunting of Hill House” on Netflix recently, I found myself being more drawn to the symbolism more than the scary moments, recognizing that the ghosts, while scary, are just representations of the “ghosts” we carry with us through our lives and don’t ever want to face, but we know they are there… they follow us and haunt us... almost always brought on by trauma… I’ve convinced my wife to watch the show (I wanted to see it again!) and felt inspired to share some connections I’ve made to my role as a therapist and how they relate to all of us.
Obligatory Spoiler Alert. If you haven’t watched the show, go watch it now! I’ll wait!
Part One: The Crain Kids and the Stages of Grief
There may be a moment in the show when you come to the realization that each of the Crain siblings represent the stages of grief, and in this case, the grieving of their mother’s apparent suicide and the loss of an ability to lead a ‘normal’ life after the experiences at the house. Even more interesting is that they represent the stages from oldest (Steve) to youngest (Nell). If you are wondering what the stages of grief actually are, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross originally wrote about them in 1969 and her stages remain the ‘go to’ when trying to place grief in a framework. She named the stages as follows and she believed that they occured in this order, although current belief is that they cycle and the order is unique to each person:
Denial: Somehow you must be mistaken, and cling to a false reality that is more acceptable to you.
Anger: When the grieving person recognizes that denial can’t continue, they become frustrated and direct it toward others in their world. Often, there is a component of blame and victim mentality. "Why me? It's not fair!" or "How can this happen to me?" are fairly common questions.
Bargaining: The grieving person will attempt to essentially negotiate with the traumatic event. They might attempt to bargain with a higher power or attempt to adapt their life in order to put off facing the trauma.
Depression: The grieving person may face their own mortality or come to believe that they have no reason to go on because of the loss in their life.
Acceptance: The grieving person comes to acknowledge the trauma event as reality and there is some type of relief or catharsis.
Steven Crain as “Denial”: Steve goes through his life denying what he saw and experienced as a child at Hill House. He discredits any memories of ghosts in the house when brought up by his siblings, and he believes that they are all mentally ill, just like their mother which led to her suicide. Somehow, what he knows to be true has to have another explanation than the reality.
Steve’s denial is best represented when Steve’s father told Steve to close his eyes as they are escaping the house. Steve metaphorically, kept his eyes shut all the way through his life. Throughout the show, Steve is in the position to have to face the truth (Nell’s death, the clock repairer ghost appearing to him) until a point late in the show when his denial is broken and can’t be sustained any longer.
Shirley Crain as “Anger”: Shirley is a walking ball of anger. Angry with her father for leaving the home without her mother, at Steve for exposing the family to ridicule by writing the story of Hill House, and angry at Nell for repeating what happened to their mother. Shirley has spent a good deal of her life resenting the fact that she had to be the ‘mom’ of the family, because her mother left them and Steve wouldn’t accept responsibility (victim). Her life is out of control and she unsuccessfully tries to control it...the fear of being out of control comes out in anger.
Theodora Crain as “Bargaining”: Theo wears her gloves to keep herself from feeling (she has adapted her life in order to avoid facing her trauma)...as if the gloves are a way to control her empathic skills (or telepathic, in this case). The gloves shield her from deep interpersonal relationships which she also does by limiting her relationships to one night stands. She lives her life in an attempt to avoid connection (the significance of being the middle child (loner, excluded) is at play here too), but later in the series, when she touches Nell’s dead body and feels nothing, she comes to a realization that connection (to something, to anything) is all that she wants. Her confessional speech to Shirley about feeling empty and wanting to connect with her life again after they run off the road is raw and powerful (giving me more chills than the ghosts!).
Luke Crain as “Depression”: When Luke discovers that his twin sister, Nell, is dead, he believes that he can’t go on living without her. Luke and Nell arguably experienced the worst of the horror in Hill House (compounded by their innate twin connection) and Luke uses heroin as a way of numbing his suffering (this numbing is very prevalent in people that feel flooded with emotional pain). He also has the obsessive tendency to count to seven (the number of family members) to build a protective wall around him to keep the trauma away. Even when he attempts to pull out of the depression through gaining sobriety for 90 days, the “floating man” follows him wherever he goes, reminding him of the pain he wants to avoid.
Nellie Crain as “Acceptance”: Nell is haunted by the “bent-neck lady” throughout her life, leading to high levels of depression and anxiety. Later, she comes to the realization that what she has been witnessing (the physical aftermath of a suicide by hanging) has been her all along in the future. After Nell ‘gives herself’ to the house in an attempt to reunite with her dead mother, she is able to reach a point of forgiveness of her siblings for what they have done in their lives to discount, minimize, blame, or exclude her. There is relief in her forgiveness...she’s no longer suffering with anger or depression. She tells her siblings at the end of the show, “Forgiveness is warm. Like a tear on a cheek,” noting that she loved them completely and she knows they loved her, despite their actions that have hurt her in the past.
While grief is a current that runs through “The Haunting of Hill House,” it is a significant factor in each of our lives from time to time. It can be something that exacerbates a mental illness or brings underlying mental illness into our awareness. If you are grieving the loss of something or someone in your life, please seek professional help to guide you through the grieving process.
For help with your grieving process in the Lancaster, PA area, please contact me at (717) 288-5064 / email@example.com and schedule an appointment today.