Toy Story 4 and Secondary Trauma

This post contains spoilers from Toy Story 4, and also discusses Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder. I am not a therapist, but I have been diagnosed to have secondary trauma, and I speak from my experience.

Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder (or caregiver fatigue) is “a natural but disruptive by-product of working with traumatized clients. It is a set of observable reactions to working with people who have been traumatized and mirrors the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

For the past decade I have played the role of caregiver for my spouse while raising our two children and working a busy job. Recently my anxiety has grown, manifesting itself in involuntary physical symptoms, and a licensed therapist diagnosed me with secondary traumatic stress disorder.

Last night I watched Toy Story 4 with my son. This was the second time we had viewed the movie. Many Pixar films have deeper themes that don’t become obvious until you rewatch them.

Watching Toy Story 4 through the lens of a caregiver, I could really relate to Woody.


Woody spends the entire film worried about other people’s happiness. First he is worried about Bonnie being happy at Kindergarten, then he is working to protect the spork because it is Bonnie’s favorite toy, and then he is worried about Gabby Gabby’s happiness, even after she takes his voice box.

As a caregiver, you are focused so much on the happiness of the people for whom you care for that you can lose yourself.

About the voice box–as a caregiver, you can focus so much attention on others that it damages your physical and mental health. And the symbolism of Woody giving up his voice box made me think of the feeling of not having a voice that caregivers often feel.

Others have written about Forky and Imposter Syndrome, but for me, I identify with Woody. Kudos for the master storytellers at Disney for putting such depth in their characters.

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