A Disney movie about emotions? Yes, please! When I worked as a counselor, one of my favorite movies to show clients was Disney’s Inside Out. Now before I go on I should tell you, I did not work with kids. I worked with adults with drug and alcohol addictions.
You might be thinking “why in the world would you show a Disney kid movie to an adult struggling with addictions?”
Simply put, all of us—adult or not—have difficulty managing our emotions at times. This is especially true for those with substance abuse issues or other addictions. They have yet to learn the tools and skills to cope with their emotions in a healthy way. Inside Out not only teaches viewers how to express their emotions appropriately but also shows what can happen when we suppress certain emotions as well.
In continuing with our Be Transformed series, we’ll be talking about emotions in this post and looking at four lessons we can learn from Inside Out.
4 Lessons From Disney’s Inside Out
1. Emotions Serve a Purpose
All of our emotions—whether we like them or not—serve a purpose in our life. Many times we try to avoid certain emotions like sadness, fear, or even guilt, but our emotions are there to help us. Guilt, for example, can serve as a motivation to change certain behaviors. In the movie when Joy introduces Fear, she describes his purpose is to keep Riley safe.
Fear serves as our basic survival instinct. It’s the emotion that kick-starts our fight, flight, or freeze response and gives us the adrenaline and energy needed to escape dangerous situations. Of course, like many emotions fear can become maladaptive. Rather than helping us avoid physical danger, it can keep us paralyzed and disconnected from others in order to escape emotional vulnerability.
2. Life is Made Up of Mixed, Complex Emotions
Towards the end of the movie, we see Riley begin to experience a mix of emotions all at once. We see Joy and Sadness expressed simultaneously in one event. That’s how it is for most of us. We rarely experience only one emotion at a time.
For example, if you were laid off from a job, you may be feeling hurt, fear, anger. Or maybe something positive happened, like a promotion at a job, you may feel excitement and joy and maybe even fear/anxiety, wondering if you’ll be able to do well in this new role.
It’s completely normal to have these mixed emotions. When they happen, just let them come. Don’t try to suppress any emotion, most importantly don’t try to force yourself to be happy when you’re not.
It’s ok and normal not to be happy every single day of your life. The movie portrays what can happen when we suppress certain emotions and not let them out. At one point, Riley became numb and couldn’t feel any of her emotions at all.
But once she was finally allowed to express her sadness, things changed, and she was able to get her needs met.
3. Benefits of Sadness
For most of the movie, Joy tries to keep Sadness out of the picture. This is because she didn’t understand Sadness’ purpose until the end of the movie. Several times in the film, we see Joy trying to keep Sadness from expressing herself or trying to make Sadness more like herself (Joy).
As the movie goes on, Joy gets stuck with Sadness on a journey to get back to headquarters. As they spend more time together, Joy starts to recognize the benefit of having Sadness around. Sadness was the one to help Bing Bong work through his grief and loss, and she was the only one that would be able to help Riley start to feel her emotions again.
Riley is then able to reach out to her parents and share what’s wrong and find comfort in them. We also see this happen in a previous memory Joy watches. Riley is sad after losing her hockey game but finds comfort in her parents and teammates as they all rally around her and help her to feel better.
So we see that even Sadness has a purpose—to help us feel better and seek comfort and connection with others.
4. Crying is OK
Everyone hear me on this, especially parents, crying is ok! It’s a release and a healthy way for us to express our emotions and frustrations.
If you’re a parent, please don’t tell your child “if you start crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.” My parents did this, and I hated it. It’s why I never went to them with any issues.
When you tell a child this, you send the message that they are not safe to be open and vulnerable with you. That their feelings are not valid and crying is an act deserving of punishment.
On the same note, stop telling boys to “suck it up” or that “crying is for girls or babies.” Boys need to be able to express their emotions just as much as girls. We do way more harm to them by not allowing them to express their emotions, and then we wonder why they have problems as adults.
It’s time to stop shaming someone for crying and instead seek to understand the emotions behind the tears. Bonus tip: crying doesn’t always have to do with sadness either.
There are a lot of lessons we can learn from Disney’s Inside Out, and if you haven’t seen the movie yet, I highly recommend getting it to watch or recording it next time it airs on Disney channel.
So remember, it’s ok to have all different types of emotions. Don’t suppress them, embrace them. I know some are difficult to cope with—like grief, hurt, or pain—but reach out to someone you trust if you need help. Don’t be afraid to see a counselor. Our emotions serve a purpose. Once you identify what that is, you can begin to find healthy ways of expressing it.
Did you resonate with any of the lessons we talked about? Comment below and let me know. And, if you’ve seen Inside Out before, what are lessons that you took from it that we might not have covered?
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