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Inside Out

Pixar’s new movie, Inside Out, has created a buzz in the therapy world. My adult clients have been the most fascinated with the numerous levels of insight that the movie provides into the “human psyche” and the complex experience of relationship within oneself and with others. What a novel concept and great medium: to use animation to give insight, or to shine a light in, to how we are guided by inner emotions in the unconscious realm of our mind.

In the story, Riley, the main character, has a team of emotional parts (our 5 basic emotions – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Disgust, and Fear) which react to Riley’s experiences. On a daily basis, we see that Riley’s emotions are key in helping Riley make sense of her world and her experiences. The memories are stored and make up a narrative of Riley’s life to date. This is true for each of us: from the time we are born, we have our individual unique experiences and interpretations of life events and we develop “constructs” or belief systems to map out stories that help us navigate, survive and succeed in our individual journeys of life.

In the movie, Riley’s internal world begins to fall apart when she experiences a big move from Minnesota to San Francisco, and she has a hard time connecting to and dealing with her sadness and profound sense of loss. The interesting thing is that Riley is largely unaware of her feelings and her mounting sense of internal crisis and despair; and thus is unable to communicate about it to her loving family. As the audience, we can see that Riley’s internal interpretations are not the “truth”, and we develop an understanding and compassionate concern for this child’s collapsing world view and self-driven crisis. As a therapist, and someone who continues to more consciously navigate my own internal world, I love that what “saves her” is a connection to a feeling that she has been resisting to feel because it feels vulnerable and therefore scary – sadness. I also love the viewpoint that sadness drives her to connect to safe/loving relationships and to express herself/her truth.  This is a journey I see daily in therapy: with the support of a caring relationship, individuals feel safe with their vulnerability, make the unconscious conscious and find freedom and choice with inner and outer challenges.

As a therapist, I see so much truth and insight in this movie.  We have many emotional parts which are our navigational system. There are wonderful theories and modes of therapy which help us to make sense of the many characters in our own psyches: “Internal Family Systems” or “Ego States” modalities/therapy give form and understanding to all of our different parts. Many psychological and spiritual authors write about the process of constantly unlearning previous beliefs and growing through crisis into new beliefs and possibilities.

Of this essential journey, Marianne Williamson writes: “Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back in our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth. To be consciously aware of it, to experience love in ourselves and others, is the meaning of life. Meaning does not lie in things. Meaning lies in us.”

Another popular contemporary author and speaker, Brene Brown, offers wise guidance about the importance of vulnerable emotions to developing connection, self-love, and making meaning through life events to become a mature “whole-hearted” person.

This movie offers so much food for thought! If you want to explore links and more about this concepts, visit Beverly Therapist’s blog and/or sign up for our monthly newsletter.

For the Curious, More Links:

Internal Family Systems model (a psychology model about emotional parts)


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