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Disney Pixar’s Inside Out: Not Just for Kids

Megan Mulroy, LPC 

During a recent session, a client and I started talking about the movie Inside Out. We had been discussing this client’s different emotions and why they are equally important, and all have a seat at the table. I hadn’t seen the movie in quite some time and decided that I would watch it that night. The first time I saw the movie, I wasn’t working in mental health, and didn’t think too much about the underlying messages. However, watching this movie now was extremely moving, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear or two (or maybe a few more…)!

 The conclusion I drew was that this movie is not just a kid’s movie. This is a movie we should all watch, especially older people because it has some valuable lessons we can learn about our feelings. The blog might confuse you if you haven’t seen the movie, so here is a synopsis . The main character is named Riley and her emotions (joy, sadness, fear, disgust, and anger) are her guiding emotions/characters throughout the movie. Please note that there are spoilers ahead!  Here are some of big takeaways that I found to be important: 

It’s possible (and OK!) to feel two emotions at once: There are a lot of points in the movie where Joy and Sadness work together to help Riley. In the beginning, all of Riley’s core memories are painted by joy, but in the end, her core memories become a mix of joyful and sad due to the duality and complexity of human emotion. 

Different emotions drive different people: As the movie goes on, we learn that sadness is the leader of Riley’s mothers’ emotions, and that anger is the leader of Riley’s fathers’ feelings. Are they both kind and fair people? Yes! Different people lead with different emotions, and that doesn’t make a person good or bad. 

Sadness is a key component to wellbeing:  We can’t expect people to be happy all the time. In fact, Sadness ends up being the hero of the movie and engaging with Riley in a way that Joy can’t. She makes Riley feel lonely without her parents and guilty for running away, which helps her decide to come home. Sadness is just as important as any emotion for our mental and physical wellbeing. 

All of your emotions serve a purpose: In meeting some of the emotions like fear or disgust, some folks might wonder why these emotions have a spot at the table. Fear saves Riley a lot of the time from dangerous situation and disgust helps Riley think critically and decide her likes and dislikes. Our emotions are always trying to tell us something!   

Embrace your feelings instead of pushing them away: When Joy stops pushing away sadness, they are both able to work together to solve their problem and help Riley cope with her feelings. It becomes clear that the more Joy tries to ignore or run away from sadness, Sadness has a way of coming back even stronger. Be mindful of when you are suppressing your own uncomfortable feelings. 

Take off the pressure of being happy all the time: There’s a scene where Riley’s mother is asking her to remain happy and putting a lot of pressure on Riley to remain happy amidst a cross-country move. Riley is clearly not happy, but after hearing her mother’s ask, she reluctantly puts on a mask of happy and tries to get through her day while bottling up her anger and sadness. These emotions end up coming out in unexpected ways. Try not to dictate emotions, and instead, let your children and you feel whatever is coming up. 

Inside Out is a great movie to watch with anyone of any age. Other than a star-studded cast, it can lend to really meaningful conversation about your feelings and the importance of embracing your emotions. If you would like emotional support for any aspect of your life or relationships, please connect with one of our skilled and dedicated Chicago counselors today.

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