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Don’t Forget About It – Tony Soprano and Anxiety

I recently started rewatching “The Sopranos,” for the first time since I originally watched it in the mid-2000’s.  It is a fantastic show, with great characters and a lot of dark humor, as well as compelling storylines (Spoiler Alerts!).  And given that I was not a therapist 15-20 years ago when I first watched the show, I now have a different lens that I bring to watching the scenes between Tony Soprano and Dr. Jennifer Melfi.

In Season One, Tony, played brilliantly by James Gandolfini, is a Mafia captain who begins to experience panic attacks.  After ruling out other medical causes of his attacks, Tony begins therapy for the first time in his life, with Dr. Melfi.  He quickly begins to realize that he has a LOT of underlying stress – with the acting boss of the Northern New Jersey Mafia dying of cancer, Tony has a chance to become the boss.  But he is not sure that he wants this role, with all the responsibility it would entail, and he worries that the best days of being a mobster are in the past.

However, the primary cause of Tony’s stress is his family –

  1. he has a contentious relationship with his wife, Carmella,
  2. his two teenage children are giving him headaches, and
  3. his mother, Livia, can no longer live alone, but accuses Tony of abandoning her to an assisted living facility.

Tony Soprano as an Archetype of American Men

Tony is like many men – he has deep, strong feelings, but American society has taught boys and men not to show or ever talk about those feelings.  He expresses to Dr. Melfi that he wishes American men would be more like Gary Cooper, the “strong, silent type.”  Tony hates the fact that he has to go to therapy and start taking medication, even as he acknowledges that both treatments are making his life better.

As the creators of “The Sopranos” probably knew, panic attacks often occur when someone has tried, for a long time, to ignore troublesome feelings.  The attacks themselves can be a way for the unacknowledged feelings to make themselves known, as if to say, “Not so fast, buddy, you aren’t paying nearly enough attention to us!”  And sure enough, once Tony starts to pay attention to these feelings, he starts to feel better.  His life still has many ups and downs, but he has turned a corner, learning that the thoughts and feelings below the surface of his day-to-day life are worth his attention.  He has also begun to learn that by paying attention to those thoughts and feelings, reflecting on them and then practicing new ways of interacting with the people in his life, he can make his own life better.

You may not know anyone like Tony Soprano, but if you or anyone you know could benefit from looking more closely at life situations that are causing stress, therapy can help.

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