As a therapist and self-proclaimed highly sensitive person (HSP), I was really looking forward to Inside Out, a movie all about emotions. It lived up to the expectations I had with its complex plot and deep message about the importance of emotions.
I can’t say that it is a movie that I would necessarily want to watch more than once, but I would recommend it to anyone that struggles with emotional expression. It teaches an important lesson while also providing entertainment and a colorful backdrop for the story to unfold.
The story focuses on five core emotions which include Sadness, Joy, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. Joy and Sadness are the primary focus in the movie, and it seems that Anger, Fear, and Disgust take a backseat to the other emotions, although they do play a role. These five emotions belong to Riley, voiced by Kaitlyn Dias. Riley has been a happy child through out her life with Joy primarily controlling the show. After moving to San Francisco from Minnesota, however, Sadness begins to take over.
The message of the movie was something I could really resonate with, and it is something I witness through my work in the mental health field. The core message is basically that all emotions need to be acknowledged, not suppressed. When we try to numb or suppress negative emotions, we end up numbing or suppressing our positive emotions as well.
This was very clearly depicted in the movie as Joy, voiced by Amy Poehler, tries to keep Sadness, voiced by Phyllis Smith, out of the picture. Joy thinks that by inhibiting Sadness, this will ultimately make the main character Riley happier. In the long run this does more damage than good because Riley is unable to express her sadness.
The parents of Riley appear to play a crucial role in her suppression of emotions. They encourage her to continue to be the happy little girl that she usually is in order to make things easier on her dad as they are in the process of acclimating to their new home in San Francisco.
Here is a crucial lesson for anyone that is in any sort of relationship with a person that has emotions (i.e. pretty much all of them): emotions need validation. If we grow up in an environment that is invalidating of our emotions, we will not learn how to cope with them properly. This is when we see addiction, eating disorders, anger management issues, and other mental health problems arise.
The reality is, we need to feel sadness to know how good the joyful and happy moments are. As humans we feel a range of feelings and each emotion plays a role in our emotional landscape. We cannot suppress negative emotions and expect to only feel the positive emotions. It just doesn’t work that way.
Riley ultimately learns this lesson and allows herself to feel the sadness she has been expressing. Riley’s parents also acknowledge their sadness and how the move has been difficult for them as well. This highlights the purpose of sadness as an emotion. It is meant to signal to others that we need help, support, compassion, etc. It also functions to connect us when we may feel the most disconnected.