Summer is officially here with triple digit heat indexes to prove it! Typically, this is a season of slowing down from the usual pace, enjoying time at the pool, kids going to summer camps, family vacations and…summer movie blockbusters! Our family was particularly excited about the release of Disney Pixar’s Inside Out 2. As a therapist, I absolutely loved the first one, and a few years later when my kids wanted to repeatedly watch it on family movie night, I got a little bit giddy! More than a few times, the characters have come up in my therapy sessions as we discuss the importance of honoring all emotions, and doing parts work. A primary message from the first one was that all of our emotions have an important role to play in making us who we are. Sadness was needed for connection. Furthermore, we can’t selectively numb emotions. If we shut down one, the others suffer.
I will try to avoid giving too many spoilers and will share just enough to prompt some self-reflection. In this sequel Riley is 13, and the Puberty button caused a major overhaul to her “control panel.” In the process, we are introduced to the new emotions: Anxiety, Envy, Ennui (aka the queen of boredom) and Embarrassment. For any of us who have been a teenager, who can’t relate to those emotional experiences!

As Riley experiences pressure to find approval from older girls on the high school hockey team, Anxiety takes her place at the control panel and then Joy, Anger, Sadness, Disgust and Fear are literally bottled up, illustrating what happens when we suppress emotions. Meanwhile, Anxiety acts like a great little manager, taking control and keeping Riley busy as she strives for the approval of her coach and the other girls. In my opinion, the writers totally nailed it with Anxiety. I’ve written before about Ambivalence (see Blog Post from 4/29/2022) and resolving ambivalence involves honoring the needs of 2 opposing parts. It is not uncommon for anxiety to be driving one of these parts towards working harder in such a way that becomes self-destructive. For example, someone with an eating disorder might restrict and exercise more to “manage” the discomfort of shame. This part can feel very big and dominant, but most of the time, when asked about it, they will acknowledge that there is a very small part of them that wishes they could be free of the burden. This small part reminds me of Joy and Sadness standing side by side. Sadness is there to remind them of what’s been lost, and create a longing for Joy, where they can be free to enjoy life. There’s a scene in the movie where Sadness shyly asks Joy if she can go down into the memory pool with her. Joy takes her hand and says, “Of course! Remember Sadness, wherever I go, you go too.” As we reflect on our memories, we notice that a tinge of sadness accompanies joy and vice versa. For example, during the joy of a wedding or birth of a child there may be sadness in recognizing that someone is missing, and not sharing that experience with us.
As Joy and the other original emotions struggle to get back to headquarters and recover Riley’s true self, we notice that Joy finally becomes exhausted from trying to stay positive. The moment in the movie that brought a tear for me was when Joy said, “Maybe this is what happens when you grow up. You feel less joy.” From adolescence onward the pressures and responsibilities of life begin to increase exponentially. Without a conscious effort, joy can gradually get pushed aside and maybe even buried. It might take a major life event or a mid-life crisis to prompt us to change our perspective and start cultivating those seeds of joy beneath the surface. With consistent nourishment, those seeds will bear fulfilling fruit. And as we invite more emotions into our experience, we discover that our true self becomes more complex.

Action Step: Go see this movie! Then take some time to reflect on the following questions:Which emotion has the most influence at your “control panel” most of the time?

  1. Which character would you want to become more like? How might you do that?
  2. If you could have told Riley anything to encourage her on the journey of finding her true self, what would it have been?
  3. Is there a part of you that needs to hear this same encouragement?
  4. In what ways are you experiencing ambivalence in your life currently? How are your parts (or possibly suppressed emotions) trying to get your attention?
    In closing, I’d like to share a Scripture from The Message translation that offers a spiritual lens for the theme of this movie.
    So here’s what I want you to do. God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life- your sleeping, eating and going-to-work, and walking-around life- and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out.” -Romans 12:1-2 MSG

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