Outside of my office door I hear a little voice talking to her daddy saying, “This one is joy, then disgust, yuk! And that one’s anger.” I know this little one does not like to talk about her feelings, but today she is excited and certain, describing the characters from the new Disney Pixar movie Inside Out. I am overwhelmed with gratitude hearing her use emotional language and thrilled that director Pete Docter and Disney Pixar have taken on the task of bringing to life the amazing world of feelings and the workings of the mind. As a mental health professional, the debut of this movie has been on the top of my to do list since I saw the trailer. I am happy to say Inside Out does not disappoint! Most importantly it does what I hoped it would; it is an amazing tool to open up the world of feelings to a generation of children and parents. But most importantly, it makes the audience wonder and question: how do my feelings make up my memories, my choices and my actions?
Every day as parents and individuals we have a choice. Do we shut down our emotions in the hope of never being hurt again or do we open up with vulnerability and believe that no matter the circumstance we can tolerate and recuperate? Riley, the 11 year old protagonist of our movie, makes a terrible choice when her feelings no longer control her. Her “console” breaks and she loses who she is, what she loves, and makes a choice to move on alone. How have you done that? How will you keep from transferring this loss of emotional intelligence to your children?
Young children have yet to learn to shut down an emotion. Little ones are open and willing to screaming with sadness when their toy falls off the table. Little ones run around the room arms flailing and voices loudly expressing joy because Daddy is home. Inside Out shows us these beautiful moments as the feelings look back on Riley’s core memories. Joy, in particular, holds close to her the memory of Riley as an unedited emotional toddler. Our little ones teach us to feel with wild abandon and to live in the moment because they have yet to feel fear. Yet as parents, our own past hurts and our inability to trust interrupts this free flow of emotion and life, a point the movie shows us when we see the parents’ emotions in their minds. As adults we censor our emotional freedom and ask our children to stop feeling to protect ourselves from the possibility of pain, in the guise of protecting and sheltering our children.
My takeaway from Inside Out is the importance of feeling the spectrum of emotions. The importance of noticing that our relationships blossom and build when we feel together. This is the first time I see sadness treated with respect for what it brings to our experience of the world. It’s important as parents to ask ourselves, how often do we tell our children that “it’s okay” just so that we do not have to tolerate their sadness? How often do we tell our children to quiet down when they are full of excitement because somewhere inside of us we believe that joy is fleeting and are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Every day as parents our children challenge us to feel with abandon. Are we up for the challenge? Are we willing to have our children show us that to be truly alive we must risk fear, disgust, anger, and joy with the certainty that it may all end and we will be okay? I thank Disney Pixar and director Pete Docter for animating and giving life to these feelings that live in all our minds. Now we have a sweet visual to feelings most attempt to ignore, a reminder to pause the next time our little one cries with abandon and a challenge to live life unburdened from fear of emotion.