The other day I went to see the movie ‘Inside Out.’ It’s a creative film that focuses on the life of Riley, an 11-year old girl. Her life is going pretty well until her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco because of her father’s new job. Riley goes through some tough times as she struggles to adjust to her new house, school, and friends. The movie is unique because it follows what goes on inside of Riley, specifically her emotions and how they affect Riley’s life. Each of the primary emotions—joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust—is personified as a character. The emotions work together (and sometimes against each other) to try to help Riley navigate her life.
One of the storylines I found most interesting was how the various characters in the film engaged with Sadness. At the beginning of the film, the other emotions got pretty annoyed with Sadness, because she was kind of a downer. At one point, Joy drew a circle on the ground and told Sadness that her job was to just stay in the circle and not mess anything up.
I think we have the tendency to do this in our own lives, especially with ‘negative’ emotions such as sadness, anger, or fear. We might feel like they are messing up our lives. They can be uncomfortable or unsettling emotions. And so we might try to ‘banish’ the emotions to a small space inside ourselves, and not let them out.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t usually work. Part of the reason is that to be whole people, we need all of our emotions. Each of our emotions has a purpose. Fear protects us from danger. Anger helps us set boundaries. Sadness helps us connect with our heart and with others.
I don’t want to give too much of the movie away, but one of the coolest parts of the movie is how the characters gradually realize that all the emotions are needed and play an important role in Riley’s life, even the ‘negative’ emotions like Sadness.
Discussion: Do you view certain emotions as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad?’ What do you do with the emotions you consider to be ‘bad?’ If you try to shut those emotions down, how has this strategy worked for you?