Self-esteem is a common and complicated theme in psychotherapy.   Underpinning many of the catalysts that bring people to therapy is an underlying lack of adequate self-esteem.  One way to think about increasing self-esteem is to focus on a person’s sense of themselves and subsequent ability to exist and operate in the world as a grounded and whole-hearted independent self.  Such individuals have a strong sense of individual identity and can therefore more easily manage anxiety and balance separateness and togetherness in their relationships.

From a psychological perspective, one way to understand director John Crowley’s heartwarming and critically acclaimed new film, Brooklyn, is through the lens of the individual’s ability to mature emotionally and develop a stronger sense of an independent self.  Young Ellis (the glorious Saoirse Ronan) begins the film living in a small and struggling Irish village in the 1950s.  Her job in the local bakery is unfulfilling and even degrading.  Her family is struggling, and while hanging out with her best mate at the local dance, she radiates awkwardness and insecurity.  When a priest sponsors her immigration to New York City, she reluctantly boards the intimidating ship as perhaps the meekest young lassie to immigrate from Ireland.  Of course, her timidity is completely understandable in the context of her difficult life.  It is also quite relevant in the film, as her acculturation to life in the big city sparks an evolution from within that is at once inspiring and palpable.

Ellis slowly but surely manages her homesickness and masters her work as a sales clerk in a chic department store.   She meets an earnest and appealing Italian plumber at a local dance and makes independent decisions as she navigates young love.  She enjoys her independence and new professional skills.  She finds smart and stylish new clothing to represent her newfound competence.  Her swimsuit and sunglasses are smashing and she rocks them with pride.  She learns to twirl her spaghetti properly, with a spoon.  And when tragedy calls Ellis back to Ireland, her transformation is undeniable.  One of the most interesting psychological dimensions of this endearing tale is the extent to which Ellis’ strengthened sense of an independent self is picked up on by those around her and therefore transforms her life and her relationships.

For anyone who questions their confidence and their ability to find love, Brooklyn is welcome testament to the importance of becoming a fully developed individual and the magnetic power of strengthened self-esteem.

Elisabeth LaMotte

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