Let’s Talk About Bruno

by Deborah Schiefer

My kids are OBSESSED with Disney’s new movie, Encanto. Or, as my 3 year old lovingly calls it, “Encanto with the cracks.”

And can someone – anyone – please tell me I’m not the only Mom bopping around the kitchen to a mental soundtrack from the movie? Some days, cleaning house is almost a Broadway style production with a one-man (read: one-Mom) cast, my older kids hiding their entertainment behind groans and eye rolls as they watch me re-enact the screenplay while scrubbing the toilet. Which… I gotta say… it does make it easier to do gross jobs.

Disney opened so many doors (did ya catch my pun there? Definitely intended) for discussions about dysfunctional families. I’m here for it. I see you out there, connecting with the pressure of expected perfection in Isabella or the role of carrying the family as the strong one, like Luisa.

But can we talk about Bruno?

Or better yet, let’s talk about Bruno.

I kind of wonder if the reason we don’t see nearly as many TikToks and IG reels of people who saw themself in Bruno is because of the lifelong impact on the confidence and self-assuredness experienced by family scapegoats. Because Bruno is clearly the scapegoat.

I see you, Bruno. I feel you. For one parent, I was the scapegoat. And while I was the golden for the other, all too often, he’d buckle to the accusations from my Mom to prevent WW3 or to keep our dirty laundry hidden from the world.

It’s interesting having come from a home where mental illness and egos ran untreated, undiagnosed, and unaddressed. Our roles, like those in many dysfunctional families, were not so clear cut as the roles in Encanto. The golden child for one parent could be the scapegoat for the other. The responsible, nurturing one could also be the rebellious child. And, like many dysfunctional families where narcissism controlled any of the parental dynamics, roles could change based on whether or not the child behaved in a disappointing manner.

In these homes, achievers must achieve higher, the nurturer needs to clear his or her schedule to manage the entire home, the peacemaker better just stay out of the way.

But what does it mean to be a Bruno? A scapegoat. The child on whom all sins, transgressions, and problems within the family as individuals and as a whole are projected. The child who lives as a sacrifice to protect the adults from recognizing where the real dysfunction exists.

In reality, the scapegoat role can be given for any number of reasons. An awkward child, like Bruno. A boundary-setter. The child who’s determined to break generational traumas (Mirabel was clearly also a scapegoat in the movie). A child who reminds a parent of someone they don’t like. The child who calls it like it is. Scapegoats aren’t chosen by chance. They’re often highly empathetic with a strong bend for justice. They can see the situation for what it is and they shake up the family dynamics by not conforming to one or both parents’ expectations.

For that child, it means growing up constantly questioning your worth. It might mean believing you might as well never try because you’ll fail anyway. It can look like constant people-pleasing so others won’t abandon them, like their family did. They may come to believe their life is nothing more than a trashcan for all of the world’s garbage to fill.

Did you catch how Bruno was anxiety ridden? That he left the physical presence of his family because he believed that without him there, everything would be okay? He believed his presence alone would be enough to ruin Mirabel’s life.

Interestingly, his presence, his skills, his talent, and his love were all necessary to the process of healing and creating unity between Abuela and her family. If his other family had been as supportive and encouraging of his gift and ability as Mirabel had to be, there’s a good chance the problems in Casita never would have gotten as far as they did.

But Bruno couldn’t see it because, as the scapegoat, he’d been well-groomed into self-loathing and self-doubt. And the dysfunction was so strong in the family – Abuela, like so many other dysfunctional matriarchs and patriarchs, was so good at manipulating appearances – that even the town’s people believed Bruno was a malicious character. How could Bruno not grow to believe he was the problem in the home?

Disney really managed to reflect the issues present in dysfunctional families, even down to the way the family can fool their community.

The truth is, we need to talk about Bruno. The Brunos of the world grow and grew in homes that failed them through dysfunction by giving a label that couldn’t be farther from the truth. The truth is, many of the Brunos in the world grew and grow to fill their expected role of scapegoat because it’s all they know of themselves.

But our world… our world is capable of helping the Brunos find their space for healing. If we choose to see beyond the rough and splintered exterior of the man or woman who may present in any combination of lazy, unmotivated, aggressive, argumentative, overachieving, or overly sensitive, we might see the broken inner child who is convinced he or she cannot. We might learn how to be the encouragement each Bruno needs to step into their talents, passions, and skills. We might find that each Bruno can learn their own style of success with the right encouragement and support…

If we learn to talk about Bruno.

Find your fight – D.S.

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