“Inside Out” Emotional Insights

This past weekend, I went to see the movie Inside Out with the whole family. It was my son’s first movie in a theatre and we couldn’t have picked a more memorable one. The movie presents a look into the mind of 11-year-old Riley, which is run by characters in a control tower representing four of Riley’s emotions: Anger, Disgust, Sadness, and Joy. I felt that this wonderful movie affirmed many of the ideas around emotions that I have been working on for years with my own family and the families I work with.  Here are some of the insights the movie provided:

1. No one can be happy all the time. Our kids need to experience a sense of loss and sadness in order to fully experience and appreciate joy. The main character Riley moves from Minnesota to San Francisco and all of her previously golden Joy(ful) memories become tainted by the blue of Sadness.

2. Emotions, especially negative ones cannot be pushed away forever; at some point they have to come out. The more we push them away, the more forceful they come back. Inside Riley, Joy tries to contain and confine Sadness, yet Sadness continues to slip out and create havoc to the previously existing structures of Riley’s life presented as five islands: Family, Honesty, Friendship, Hockey, and Goofball, aka messing around. Outside, Riley’s mother wants Riley to just put on a happy face, yet the more she tries, the more things go wrong for her. Riley needs to express and feel his sadness fully in order to process it and begin to move on with her new life.

3. The best way for parents to help kids with difficult negative emotions is to engage in discussion and validate these feelings rather than trying to shake them off and put on a happy face. Once Riley’s parents are able to acknowledge her sadness about the move, she gets to cry it out and feels validated in her sadness. She gets to say, “I’m sad and that’s OK.”

4. Emotions are the glue that binds together our memories and helps us to organize the way we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Riley has several core memories connected to the five Islands that represent various aspects of who she is. As she goes through her Sadness crisis, Riley is unable to hold together who she was and who she will be moving forward. This illustrates so clearly how we as parents need to help our kids identify and incorporate all feelings, even the feelings we don’t like to see in our kids.  Many of the kids I see don’t like who they are because they feel anxious, sad, or angry at times and cannot accept these feelings as part of them. They feel out of control or simply ask, “What’s wrong with me?” The simple answer is:”Nothing.” Emotions are part of who we are–all of them.

This movie also affirmed to me that media, especially movies, are a great introduction to and help with discussing things that kids are otherwise defensive about. Rather than asking our kid’s directly about their feelings, movies provide an avenue to discuss the idea of emotions and that people feel things without triggering the defenses that come up when we talk about your feelings. I don’t think I’ve spoiled anything for you if you haven’t seen the movie yet. And if you have and want to know more, here’s a link on life lessons learned and the science behind Inside Out.