(Warning: spoilers ahead.)
There’s a scene in Inside Out where the emotions are projecting one of the memory orbs onto the screen of Riley’s mind. It’s a happy memory that was created with Joy at the helm, meant to make Riley feel good.
Then suddenly the memory turns sad.
There’s Sadness, with her hands on the orb and that look we get when we realize we’ve done something wrong. “I don’t know why I’m doing this” she whimpers. She knows that the golden rule of Head-quarters – keep Riley happy – as happiness is the main fuel for Riley’s personality, even through this daunting life event of moving across the country to a brand new house in a brand new town with a brand new hockey team and a brand new school where she has to make brand new friends.
The more memories Sadness touches through this event – uncontrollably, unwillingly, without reason – the more they turn into ones that make Riley cry. Sadness (voiced by Phyllis Smith pretty damn perfectly) is viewed as somewhat of a screw-up by Joy, who tries to keep her under control. But it’s Joy’s forceful attempts to control sadness that accidentally gets them both out of the picture….leaving anger, fear, and disgust in control.
And this is when I went from liking the movie to LOVING it.
In one hour and forty-two minutes I was seeing things adults don’t grasp in an entire lifetime being laid out in plain layman’s Disney terms. Inside Out is one of those clever, poignant Pixar movies that’s made for kids but really made for adults, too, which is to be expected from Pixar now (and feature-film cartoons in general). What makes this one different is that it doesn’t just amplify what we already know – it conceptualizes what we need to learn.
This movie caused me major anxiety: it was like watching the foundation for negative self-talk patterns being built up in every frame, in the mind of a girl who was at the exact age these patterns start carry weight and inform the way we transition into adulthood and perceive the rights and wrongs of our emotional intelligence.
How many times do we all try so hard to stay away from sadness and what’s really troubling us, only to find that in the moment, joy seems virtually impossible? In Inside Out, Sadness really WANTS to make things better. And when she’s not being eclipsed by her type-A strong-personality’d coworkers – she does. Sadness is type-B and submissive, and all she wants to do is help Joy. She admires her, reveres her even. She’s soft spoken, comfortable watching the other emotions shine as she inserts herself when necessary. She doesn’t want to make Riley sad, but knows that sometimes it’s necessary in order to move “their girl” forward.
It’s the very premise of WANT. Darkness is a clue. Sadness is an ally. Having moments of sadness creep into our day isn’t necessarily what causes negative self-talk – trying to squash them down is.
Anger, Fear, and Disgust focus on the external and on the excuses. In reality, Riley’s not angry at her parents. She’s not fearful of the hockey tryouts. She’s not disgusted at the broccoli pizza…okay, well, maybe she is…but the broccoli pizza isn’t what really matters in the grand scheme of things. In reality, Riley is plain old sad: she feels alone, lost, like an outcast. Her sense of purpose is being challenged, as she’s always been praised by her parents for being their “happy little girl.” And because she can’t be happy right now, she doesn’t even know her place any more. In a world without sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust are reactive, responding only to external events and the things we can see.
When we pick ourselves apart and convince ourselves we need fixing, or can’t do something, or we lash out because of the situation we’re in, we’ve got these three emotions at the helm. And with days and weeks and moths and years of anger, fear, and disgust in control more often than not, our “Islands of Personality” begin to crumble and our emotional control panel shuts down. We begin to act from a perfunctory place that’s based off of what we’ve previously known to be true and what is so engrained in our internal vocabulary that its become our identity. IT’S CASUAL NEGATIVITY: We’re not addressing the whys of how we feel, the true whys that can ultimately lead us back to joy.
Shifting around your negative talk patterns (and moving into the self-actualized, unique person you’re meant to be) is NOT about squashing sadness. It’s not about Pollyanna-esque optimism or interminable joy. It’s not about any one emotion, really. It’s about sadness and joy working together – feeling the sadness, identifying what it really is that is off-kilter – and letting that live so that joy can come back in and provide balance.
I’ve read a few quotes from critics saying this movie will help adults understand their children a whole lot better. But I really think it will help us understand ourselves, if we really make the space to dive deep, dig in, go there and identify.
That sadness is there for a reason; it just wants to help. It’s not about losing those moments of sadness – because if we do, we’ll also lose joy. It’s about letting our downs, our bad days, and our sad moments live and inform how we can let JOY into the rest of our life, ultimately working to conduct the symphony of emotions that makes us so unique.