A small group of people moves into a new place, bringing with them their hopes, dreams, and secrets. Soon, they find themselves unable to leave as their lives change forever.
Horror movie or quarantine?
We are rarely aware of how different we are from the people closest to us. Surprisingly, we use the same circuits in our brain to predict their decisions as we do to make our own. (If you’d like to read more about this, it’s called the lower prefrontal medial cortex).
Whether you’re traveling together, social distancing together, or just stuck in a house while a masked killer lays siege at night… prolonged time together makes these differences impossible to filter out. Next thing you know, you’re in a fight with the people you care about the most.
A basic premise of storytelling is that stress brings out the parts of us that lie beneath the surface. Like it or not, we’ve all been learning a lot about the people closest to us that are impossible to ignore now. And without the distractions of socializing and travel, it’s no wonder that divorces have been skyrocketing these past few months.
But also like in every horror movie, two paths branch from the way you handle this time. Either you will grow and discover a tighter bond, or you let it tear you apart (and then the ghost gets you when you storm off alone).
In Netflix’s adaptation of the Haunting of Hill House, the Crain family leaves us some poignant lessons on what to — and what to not — do.
Fight with love
Fights are an inevitable part of relationships. Even if you do your best to avoid conflict, irritation will come out in other ways like passive aggressiveness or withdrawal.
But there are destructive ways to fight and constructive ways. Hugh, the father in Hill House, has a beautiful quote near the end of season one addressing this:
You fight with love…You’re on the same team even in the middle of a fight. During the fight, you’re…you’re forgiven. There’s no fear. There’s no danger. You’re safe…It’s a beautiful way to be. You know, we weren’t perfect, but we were always kind.
Fighting is a natural result of friction and hurt, which can build up even under the best intentions. Expressing these feelings to each other stops them from building into resentment, and is a healthy way to clear the air.
But always hold onto the fact that you are on the same side.
Use your fights to resolve needs instead of assign blame, and they will bring you closer together.
Don’t hide things that bother you
It’s easy to leave things unsaid when there’s a world of plentiful distractions. Friends, travel, and work create a multitude of opportunities to push irritations aside until next time.
But words unspoken tend to have a way of bursting out under stress. Especially words about boundaries, values, and insecurities.
The Hill House’s family fell victim to these unspoken words. Hugh believed that he could shelter his children from reality, and each child continued this pattern with their families.
But never acknowledging their experiences in the house didn’t let the Crains stay a family. Each family member dealt with their unspoken questions in a different, painful way. In the end, it pulled them apart and made them explosive when together.
If something’s bothering you, find a moment when you’re calm and address it. It might be hard to start, but I promise it will be a better moment than when rising emotions (or ghosts) force it out.
Find your own Red Room
The Red Room was the place where every member of the family went to get away. It was a reading room for Olivia, a toy room for Nell, and a treehouse for Luke. Exactly what each person needed to recharge their batteries away from the family.
Having time to yourself makes relationships stronger.
No matter how close your relationship, everyone has a primal need to claim their own space. Space where you don’t have to answer to anyone, and you can be as neat, messy, playful, serious, active, or lazy as you want.
If you’re currently sharing all your space, try setting a separate room for each person for at least a few hours each day. If you’re both stuck in a studio apartment, empty out that storage closet and make it cozy, or set up partitions and earphones in your living area.
Even if it’s not ideal, having any area to call your own dramatically reduces stress and conflict. Assuming, of course, it’s not a room that’s feeding on your life force.
Nothing is as scary when you face it together
The most devastating experiences for the Crains were the terrors they faced alone. For two decades they wrestled with inner struggles, but could only able to solve their issues once they started trusting each other. That trust could develop only when they were brought together for a common purpose.
We don’t have to wait for outside circumstances to give us a common goal. Sharing activities and ideas bring us closer together. By making time to do things you both enjoy, and talk about subjects you’re both interested in, you deepen the bonds between you.
When it comes time to deal with stress, this stronger bond helps you to work together to overcome everything.
Surviving cabin fever might be new to us, but storytellers have been imagining these situations forever. Their stories can guide us into coming out of this time closer together than ever.