How The Movie, Ordinary People, Can Teach You About Dealing With Your Feelings

I’m really excited about today’s podcast. In honor of Mental Health month, I’d like to illustrate how a scene in the movie, “Ordinary People”, can teach you about dealing with your feelings and lays the foundation for how an emotional healing technique called, The Method, works.


Ordinary People is one of my favorite movies. If you haven’t seen this movie, I highly recommend it — both from a moviegoing experience and in the context of today’s podcast. Spoiler alert: I will reveal what happens in the movie.

Released in1980, Ordinary People is based on the novel of the same name, which was written by Judith Guest and is the great niece of Poet Laureate Edgar Guest. The movie won a number of awards, including Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, Robert Redford.

Here’s a description of the movie, Ordinary People, on Google:

Tormented by guilt following the death of his older brother, Buck, in a sailing accident, alienated teenager Conrad Jarrett (played by Timothy Hutton) attempts suicide. Returning home following an extended stay in a psychiatric hospital, Conrad tries to deal with his mental anguish and also reconnect with mother, Beth (played by Mary Tyler Moore), who has grown cold and angry, and his emotionally wounded father, Calvin (played by Donald Sutherland), with the help of his psychiatrist, Dr. Berger (played by Judd Hirsch).

This movie is a great example of how people deal — and don’t deal — with their emotions, exemplified through the three main characters, each in a different way. The protagonist, Conrad, is struggling to deal with his feelings — about the boating accident and life — in general. In the movie, we watch as he learns how to open up to his feelings in his therapy sessions under the guidance of Dr. Berger.

In a role reversal, the mother, Beth, who is normally capable of warmth and caring, has buried her feelings after the accident and is distant and cold, while the father, Calvin, is open and sensitive to his feelings and those of his wife and son.

It’s the climax scene that I want to talk about, but first let’s talk about feelings and how we are designed to deal with them. 

The way we should deal with our feelings is, whenever something happens in our lives that is painful or bothersome, we need to stop and acknowledge it. The purpose is to deal with our feelings, to process them, so we can let them go. Sometimes we turn to a close friend or a family member to talk about what’s happened. Sometimes we reflect about it on our own or we may journal. It’s important to understand that whatever has happened needn’t be as tragic as someone dying in a boating accident, as what’s happened in the movie. What’s happened can be anything that happens in the day-to-day. For example, it can be an incident at work or an interaction with a loved one. Dealing with our feelings means to understand what we’re feeling and why we feel the way that we do. That’s how we let them go.

So the sequence for how we should deal with our feelings is this: something happened, it’s bothering you, and you work on letting it go.

Conversely, when something happens, it’s bothering you and you don’t deal with your feelings — when you don’t stop and acknowledge that something’s wrong — it’s common to push down your feelings, ignoring them and pretending they aren’t there, real or bothersome. Instead of letting them go, instead you may bury the pain.

The problem is, the pain is still there — buried, yet living somewhere in your psyche, subconscious, or unconscious. But the pain doesn’t just sit there. It will surface from time to time when something else happens — we call it a trigger. Because the pain is buried and you don’t know what’s really bothering you, this time, you can’t let it go. It hangs around and makes you miserable. This sequence is: something happened, it’s bothering you, and you can’t let it go.

This sequence happens more frequently than we realize. Usually, we just ignore it. But it will repeat itself again and again. With what I’ve seen in my practice, I believe it’s the biggest obstacle to our emotional well-being and also the biggest obstacle to vibrant health because buried emotional pain will keep our bodies in a perpetual state of stress just under the surface. Stress is a factor in at least 75% of illness and disease. That’s according to the American Medical Association. Which means that, regardless of the healthy things we may be doing — eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and so on — stress can override the gain.

Now, when emotional pain does surface, it’s actually a good thing, because it gives us an opportunity to do what we hadn’t done before, which was to deal with our feelings in the first place, so we can let them go. And this is what happens in the climax scene of the movie, Ordinary People. It illustrates very clearly the sequence: something happened, it’s bothering you, and you can’t let it go. And this sequence is the basis for how The Method works.

I’ll set up the scene. Something happened — to Conrad — a trigger. Conrad just found out that one of his friends from the psychiatric hospital has taken her life, and he has the same reaction that he had when his brother died in the boating accident: He wants to kill himself. You see him panic and rush to the bathroom, run water into the sink and plunge his wrists into the water. You see the scars from his first suicide attempt on the inside of his wrists. He looks in the mirror and has a flashback of the boating accident. A storm is raging, the boat is overturned, and Conrad and his brother, Buck, are on either side of the boat, clinging to it and struggling to hang on. It’s a painful memory. Cut back to Conrad looking in the mirror, thinking about killing himself, when something shifts and he decides not to kill himself. He hurries and shuts off the water and calls Dr. Berger to meet him at his office.

Let’s listen to the scene.

This is a very powerful scene. Let’s break it down.

The conversation begins with Conrad literally saying the words, “something happened”. At first, he struggles with his feelings and can’t put them into words, but he can feel that they’re  coming and he’s overwhelmed by them.

He begins to understand what he’s feeling and why. There’s guilt: He blames himself for not having control of the boat, for letting down Buck. Anger, a lot of anger: He’s angry at Buck for getting them into the situation in the first place, for screwing around and not taking the storm more seriously. Leading up to a key revelation: He’s angry at Buck for letting go of the boat and dying. “Why did you let go?” Conrad cries. To which Dr. Berger answers as Buck, “because I was tired.” Conrad shouts back, “Well, screw you, you jerk.” Dr. Berger says, “It hurts to be mad at him, doesn’t it?” At the root of Conrad’s anger is a lot of pain.

Conrad uncovers more anger, pain and sadness. It’s unfair that he was burdened with having to try to save them. Life is unfair: It’s unfair when things happen to people. There is pain in losing Buck and loving him. We see Conrad awkwardly allowing — demanding— that he feel the pain of his friend’s death, shouting at Dr. Berger “I feel bad, just let me feel bad.” 

Finally, at the end of the scene Conrad discovers what’s really been bothering him about the boating accident all along, what he’s buried that was so painful that twice he wanted to take his life. “You do one wrong thing,” he tells Dr. Berger. Which was, he held on and stayed with the boat. Conrad chose to live. This is what he couldn’t live with. And it surfaced again when his friend took her life.

I’m glad this last part was in the movie because it’s very instructive, especially for men. In a subsequent podcast I’ll discuss how most men deal with their feelings. After all this has transpired, Conrad admits that he’s scared. Dr. Berger says, “Feelings are scary. Sometimes they’re painful. But if you can’t feel pain, then you’re not going to feel anything else.” Dr. Berger is referring to love. This is what happened with Conrad’s mother, Beth. It isn’t until the end of the movie when the family has fallen apart and she’s leaving that she breaks down and allows herself to cry and to feel the pain that she’d been suppressing for so long.

Now, Conrad probably could have discovered all this in one of his therapy sessions or at the psychiatric hospital without his friend dying. But that’s not how it happened. It illustrates that there’s another way that we can work through our pain: Whenever something is bothering us. In the moment when we’re feeling the pain, we can uncover the pain and let it go while the pain is still happening, providing immediate relief while also letting go of what was buried in the first place, so it’s never triggered again.

Which is how The Method works. When something’s happened, it’s bothering you, and you can’t let it go, The Method will step you through — right now, while you’re experiencing the pain — and uncover what’s bothering you and why. Buried feelings, such as anger, sadness, fear, pain, shame, guilt, and so on. And the thoughts and beliefs that you’ve been holding onto — so you can let all of it go.

The Method is an all purpose tool that is effective with mental health problems that include anxiety, of which I’ve discussed and provided client examples in another podcast entitled, There’s More To Anxiety Than We Realize. The Method has also been effective with depression, some phobias, paranoia, as well as stress management and addiction.

The Method is a tool that you can use on your own in the privacy of your home — or anywhere, at any time of the day or night — whenever something’s happened, it’s bothering you, and you can’t let it go. You can use it on your own or in conjunction with other tools or methods you may be using. For example, it can complement your work with a therapist. You won’t have to wait until your next appointment to use The Method, and you can share what you have discovered with your therapist so together you can explore what has happened more.

You’d be surprised at what you discover. It’s always different than what appears to be the problem on the surface. For example, some of my clients have had problems with anxiety. When we talk about anxiety, we think of it as one catch-all problem. Instead, the clients have discovered the reasons for their anxiety, and it’s different for everyone. One woman had a frightening incident learning how to tie her shoes as a little girl. Another woman was affected by the breakout of the AIDS epidemic in New York City when she a little girl. A man’s father made a remark to his teenage son that plagued the man’s confidence in business matters throughout his life. With Conrad we might say that he was suicidal, when instead there was a reason why he felt he didn’t want to live anymore. As with anxiety, suicide isn’t one catch-all problem. This is important to understand when talking about the growing problem of suicide in our world today. 

Over time, using The Method — whenever something happened, it’s bothering you, and you can’t let it go — will help you to work through your issues and baggage, as we call them in mental health terms. Over time, providing relief, advancing your personal growth, and leading you to a happier and more peaceful life.

So, that’s all for today. I hope you have enjoyed today’s podcast. If you have, please consider leaving a comment or rating and passing this along to a friend.

If you’d like to learn more about The Method, The Method book, or The Simple Seven book and educational platform, please visit website. My name is Marlene Veltre. Thank you for joining me today. Wishing you the best of health.


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The information in this post is to be used for educational purposes only. It is not intended to serve as a substitute for professional medical advice or to prevent, cure, or heal any illness or disease. You should always see your doctor or health practitioner.