What Moana Taught Me About Trauma

Photo by Julia Kim on Unsplash

By Kimberly Poovey

This post originally appeared on Parent.Co in 2017

My child has recently become obsessed with Moana.

(Yes, I know. We are a little late to the party.)

I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I’m a little obsessed too. It was so refreshing to see a female heroine in a kid’s film that passed the Bechdel Test. A heroine who goes on her own journey of self-discovery that, (shocker!), doesn’t involve romance.

But what stunned me, what absolutely knocked me to my knees, was what this film taught me about trauma recovery.

I am currently wading through the thick muck and mire of recovery from childhood sexual abuse, and sometimes it gets ugly. My therapist says that I “check out” as a defense mechanism – that I numb myself by disassociating from the trauma.

And I do. Because I’m terrified to feel my feelings. I’m terrified that if I really let them out, I will be crushed by them. I’m getting there, slowly, one painful step at a time. But I’m getting there.

So imagine my surprise when what I thought would be a fun, cheerful Disney flick left me ugly-crying and gasping for breath.  

*Spoiler Alert*

When Moana finally confronts the lava monster Te-Ka, she realizes that the creature isn’t what it seems. As the monster crawls toward Moana – huge, roaring, and terrifying – the future chief shows no fear. She walks calmly and confidently toward the raging beast, singing:

“I have crossed the horizon to find you. I know your name. They have stolen the heart from inside you. But this does not define you. This is not who you are. You know who you are.”

Once the monster realizes that she is finally seen for who she truly is, the fire fades, and she leans toward Moana with a sigh of relief. Her heart is restored, and it is revealed that this creature was the beautiful Goddess Te-Fiti all along.

This. This scene. It undid me.

I see my pain as a monster of fire. I am so afraid of it. I want to stay far, far away. But it is a part of me. I have had to work so hard to get back to that place. To walk toward the fire, instead of running away. Back to that four-year-old little girl. To tell her that what happened to her does not change who she is. To sit in that pain for the first time in 27 years. I cannot turn away.

I must approach the monster, touch its face, and tell it the truth.

May I be as brave as Moana as I face what is part of me, but does not define me.

You are not defined by your darkest hour.

You are greater than what has been stolen from you.

It is never too late to heal.

It is never too late to make a fresh start.

It is never too late to have your heart restored.


*Love this essay? Buy me a coffee. It’s like a tip jar for our writers.*

Kimberly Poovey is the founder of The Exvangelical Parent. She is a liberal misfit Enneagram 9 INFP who likes long walks on the beach, honey-habanero lattes, and Zoloft. After spending over a decade in the ministry world, she now writes and creates full time. She lives with her partner of 15 years and their 5-year-old son in the mountains of North Carolina.


  1. This is so good. I, too, have ugly cried to Moana, but a different scene for a different reason. When her grandmother tells her to listen to the call inside her instead of the expectations of others, it tears me up. I so wish someone had told me that as a teenager.


  2. The first time I watched it was in the theater with my kids. Tears streamed down my face. No one understood. Thanks. It is nice to know I’m not alone.


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