Okay little shits I want to say some words about the Earp Sisters- particularly my darling Willa
I see a lot of you guys have been giving her quite a bit of flack- you know for hating Waverly and shooting Nicole and unleashing a writhing tentacle beast on Purgatory. Now these are all very bad things. But I’d like to take a moment to explore how we got here. And as a clinical child psychologist specializing in abuse and trauma- I have A LOT to say about these three. Because OH BOY do they run the spectrum of child abuse outcomes in the real world.
Now, I want to start by saying all three of the Earp sisters were born into an abusive household. But the three had some very different experiences of abuse/neglect, and environment is SO important on child development. Like genetics is some basic groundwork but really it’s environment that does most of the shaping. In this analysis, let’s start youngest:
Waverly Earp. Now Waverly is like an ideal outcome from abuse. Clearly this girl was born with a hell of a lot of resilience in her genes (that Earp? legacy). She can bounce back from a crisis. But, she kinda got it easiest of the three: she was only in the homestead until she was 6- after that she was raised by Gus and Uncle Curtis in what was no doubt a much healthier, stabler household. Now see age 6 is important- because personality is generally done developing just before puberty- about 10 years of age. This factoid of personality development will come up again later, but for Waverly, being removed from a toxic environment at a young age meant she actually had a chance to unlearn/recover from many of the more nasty potential effects of severe neglect (she was by far the most neglected I mean a demon was her best friend and NO ONE KNEW) as well as the sibling abuse inflicted by Willa (blackmail, sadism, power plays- not a good sign in a child).
Now does the abuse still affect her? Hell yeah! She still lived through it and it changed her permanently- you see it in how she needs love and attention (why else go for Champ as soon as Wynonna leaves town? She needed ANYBODY) even at her own expense. She downplays herself, but simultaneously wants to be important (the Heir- cause you know her dad only cared about the Heir). And you know what I think? She didn’t resist telling Wynonna about Nicole because she was scared what she would think. No. Wynonna of course doesn’t care. No she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want to even risk Nicole getting involved in the toxicity surrounding the Earp family. She wanted Nicole separate to keep her safe (remnant thought process from Willa using what Waverly loved to blackmail her). But still, even with all of this, she is not as severely affected as she would’ve been if she had stayed neglected and abused for say, 12 or 13 years. Waverly had intervention, and real world case studies of severe emotional neglect have shown that a child as old as 5-6 can bounce back remarkably well in the right care. I mean to where you wouldn’t know they had been through Hell- at least not immediately.
Wynonna Earp. Middle sibling, mix of neglect and abuse. She is the most moderate/common outcome from abusive childhoods- with healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms and personality traits meshed together. Like Waverly, resilient as hell, because she lived in that environment for 12 years, and unlike Waverly didn’t get a healthy stable home afterwards. No she got the foster care system and juvie and unhelpful counselors who essentially gaslighted her (unintentionally but it’s still gaslighting) which does no one any favors. So Wynonna had way more negative environment time, yet she still held on to her “good” side- she has a moral code she follows, she cares for those close to her, she’s able to have a healthy relationship with at least one person (Waverly). I’d almost say she’s shown the most resilience of the three. Now her childhood experience is interesting, because she’s in the middle of this spectrum. She didn’t receive the full force of Ward’s attention because she wasn’t the Heir, Willa was. So that’s less aggression abuse from him, instead she was more neglected by him. But her very close age with Willa put her close to that aggression abuse as she experienced it vicariously through Willa. She saw what he did to Willa by way of abuse and Waverly by neglect, and seeing that affected her. It made her so, so protective and parental. Of both Waverly and Willa. So while Ward may not have done much direct abuse to Wynonna, she still lived it. And it affected her to make her a caretaker.
It’s also a form of displacement on Wynonna’s part- to be a caretaker. The prospect of caring for herself is far too daunting but caring for another? More doable. Taking a caretaker role also helps her regain some sense of control, none of which she had when she had to witness Ward’s abuse and couldn’t help Willa or Waverly. Now some of you may be asking: “Didn’t she see Willa abuse Waverly? How could she still care for Willa?” Remember she had known Willa much longer than Waverly, and on top of that she knew WHY Willa was so callous and aggressive- she knew first hand why. So she explained it away because she loved Willa and saw she was broken and I’m willing to bet when she witnessed the sibling abuse, she stepped in. I have a feeling Willa did most of it under the radar. Hell I bet even Wynonna got some verbal or emotional abuse at times from Willa, but she went with it because it was less severe. And again she would explain it away. And in Willa’s absence, Wynonna idolized her even more, and she became a myth of herself. Her good qualities remembered over her bad ones. Waverly had a different experience seeing as she didn’t HAVE any good memories of Willa.
Now to the contentious point. Willa Earp. Now I’ve taken you through the personality development of Waverly and Wynonna. You see how they came to be. Now I’m going to show you how Willa came to be. As the Heir, Willa was THE focus of Ward’s attention. And this is where it begins. If she had been neglected she may have actually had a shot, ironically. Because Ward promoted aggression, antisocial behavior, and created a culture of fear. We’ve only seen glimpses but he was taking her out in the middle of night telling her how everyone would die and it’d be her fault. He was creating a paranoid soldier. Now this is awful for a child’s development, especially personality. Remember she lived under Ward’s thumb for 13 years- her personality had long since formed, and it formed to cope with constant fear and a desire to gain some semblance of control over her situation to stay safe. And to keep Wynonna safe. I do not doubt she loved Wynonna- but she loved her how she LEARNED to love another human. Ward had no problem hurting and scaring Willa in a horribly misguided attempt at raising her. She knew as a child that fathers are supposed to love their daughters. So Ward’s abuse must have been how you love (in the mind of young Willa), and you see her applying this with Wynonna. She was more than ready to kill Wynonna because she truly believed it was a kindness and a show of love.
Did Willa ever love Waverly? I do not think so. Because Waverly didn’t show up until Willa was already about 8 years old and completely bonded to Wynonna. And, I think she was too busy to learn to love her, which I’ll explain more later on. Even in a healthy family, it’s not uncommon for an older sibling to resent a younger one, but add in the way Willa has been treated and raised up until that point, and you get the extreme response of sibling abuse. Now you might ask “So why didn’t Wynonna do the same? Why did she get parental while Willa got aggressive?” and the answer is (for the first time in this whole spiel) likely genetics.
A quick lesson: everyone is born with a specific type of temperament, which in short is how a child naturally deals with their emotions. Do they sorta “go with the flow” of their emotions, are they a powder keg with strong, uncontrollable emotions, or some mix? Temperament forms the building blocks of all further personality development, and it is far far from destiny. But it’s a genetic predisposition to regulate your emotions in a certain way. And it is interconnected with that resilience I’ve mentioned previously.
Resilience, if you aren’t sure, is a child’s ability to cope with adversity. The greater the resilience, the more likely a child is to come away from adversity without major psychological harm. A highly resilient child, is more likely to have a “good” temperament (moderate level emotions, relatively easy to work with) whereas a child with low resilience is more likely to have an “at-risk” temperament (very strong emotions that are difficult to regulate). Wynonna, with her obviously high resilience, clearly had a “good” temperament growing up. Willa, most definitely was an “at-risk” temperament (her losing her cool at the slightest provocation with Whiskey Jim for example), and combined with the severe abuse and aggressive environment, that temperament blossomed into the rest of her personality.
A third vital ingredient in this is called cognitive load. What that refers to is basically how much mental effort/energy the brain spends performing a task or tasks. There is a finite amount of cognitive load the brain can handle, and so it must apportion its time as it sees fit. If there’s a lot of stimuli (external and internal) to deal with, the brain will prioritize, again, as it sees most fit, leaving out “unnecessary” information. EVERYTHING take some cognitive load, from thinking through a problem, to emotional regulation, to social relationships. And we all know you can only juggle so much.
Now let’s combine these three concepts together in Willa. Willa was born with an “at-risk” temperament, which means she has BIG emotions and cannot regulate them well. That takes a LOT of cognitive load to manage. She also has lower resilience to adversity, and some of resiliency’s power comes from a LARGE capacity for cognitive load. You are more resilient if you are better able to process and work through adversity instead of getting drowned in it. So low resiliency=low cognitive load capacity. This already low cognitive load capacity had to deal with emotional regulation of a veritable firecracker, so it’s mostly busy doing that. Add in her forced focus on Ward’s “training” (skills and cognitive tasks) and abuse, and her close bond to Wynonna (a social relationship to manage and someone to protect) and her poor brain is overloaded. It can’t handle any more responsibilities. So when Waverly comes along she sees another potential responsibility and says no. So instead Waverly becomes not only a nuisance to her (she’s got enough to focus on already), but an outlet for her frustration and pain. She has no control with Ward, but she can control Waverly like he does to her. She can feel big, and what kid doesn’t take comfort in feeling big?
Another major thing I want to point out with adult Willa is her obviously stunted emotional and social development, which is no surprise. I’m willing to bet growing up she really didn’t have any friends besides Wynonna, so all of her socialization happened in the Earp homestead (not a great place as has been clearly demonstrated). Willa shows an understanding of the world that is basically that of a preteen. It’s shown as a black and white understanding of other people when she tells Wynonna of the citizens of Purgatory “They hate us Wynonna, they’re evil they deserve that thing!”. It also plays into her lack of emotional regulation, because even a child with an “at-risk” temperament tends to improve some as they age because they learn ways to cope. Willa never did. Now not only did Ward contribute to this stunted development but so did being isolated by Bobo and Lou.
And finally it is here where I will address the Stockholm Syndrome briefly. Only briefly because while she clearly has it- believing Bobo loves her- it did not create Willa as she is. That happened long before Bobo. Bobo used what Ward had started, that’s probably part of what drew him to Willa. Bobo’s influence sure as hell didn’t help because all he did was reinforce everything she had learned up until that point. But Stockholm alone did not make Willa. It’s a much more complicated story and it is tragic and it is one that needs to be heard. She is a product of fear and pain and the need to survive, and while her history does not change the fact that as she is now she is a villain, she is a villain worth sympathy. Because the poor thing never really had a chance from day one. So I dare you to instead take a look at Willa not as the evil lesbian-shooter, but as a scared child trained to be a soldier who is solely responsible for everyone’s lives who cannot handle the pressure and needs to escape and doesn’t know any other way but destruction.