For my family, the message of Inside Out happened to be an incredibly well timed—and important—piece of work.
New Pixar movie. 2 young kids. A dad who loves Pixar movies! Oh, we were going to see Inside Out anyway! But for this, a movie that deals with the emotions in an 11 year old girl, I was hoping that it might give me something a little extra to use on the home front to help the kids (7 & 6 years old) through a divorce
My ex wife and I told our children we were separating about 6 months ago. They’d been shielded from any drama going on between us (as it should be) and had no clue. But the new reality for them is it means half the time away from daddy, half the time away from mummy.
It was almost immediately that they began talking to me about how they were feeling about us living apart. More so my daughter, but my little guy too. Even before the separation, I’ve always tried to convey a “real is best” approach to feelings and emotions. So if you’re happy, be happy. If you’re sad, be sad. But they’d never really had something to test the “sad” theory with.
If my kids are sad, they convey it to me. With the methods I’m employing, we get below the surface of just “sad” and get into what’s behind that. I end up gaining incredible insight into how they’re feeling without them actually realizing they’re telling me. They don’t like to feel sad of course, but they do let it out.
Worryingly, they also shield how they’re feeling around certain people, for what they think are very good reasons for those other people. That’s not a good habit for them to get into and a burden they need to release themselves from.
They haven’t fully grasped that actually embracing whatever it is that they’re feeling and expressing it is part of a healthy, real and genuine healing process.
Then came Inside Out.
This film by Pixar tells the story of Riley, an 11 year old girl who is uprooted from her Midwest life when her father starts a new job in San Francisco. Riley is guided by her emotions—Joy, Sadness, Fear Anger and Disgust. These emotions live in Headquarters, the control centre of Riley’s mind and they trigger certain events in Riley’s everyday life.
When these emotions solidify for Riley, a colored ball representing the memory of that event is created and sent to Headquarters. For example, yellow is a joyous memory, blue a sad one. The storage area of Riley’s mind is filled with mainly yellow balls, thus making her a “happy” kid by this measure!
Things get rough for Riley as she struggles to accept her new life in San Francisco, just as Joy & Sadness get locked out of Headquarters. This means that unlike business as usual, Joy can’t just make everything ok with the flip of a switch and create a new set of joyous memories for Riley.
Instead of sticking to “Happy all the time is good, kids,” which would have been a significant setback for us, this cartoon reflected the real world where happiness can be tinged with sadness. Can be born out of it. Or sadness can just… be. And that it is perfectly normal. It is healthy for that to be the case.
They see it as perfectly ok for daddy to be upset about something because I’ve modeled that (you don’t want them to see too much though). Yeah, that’s all great for other people! Doesn’t mean they want to feel their negative feelings though. No, no, no. They think they want nothing but yellow balls!
With Inside Out, my kids got to see that it wasn’t just their crazy dad spewing this malarkey about “It’s ok to be sad.” There’re some dudette’s in a movie saying the same thing!
A few weeks before the movie came out, it came up that they understand when someone is pretending to be happy, but is actually sad. And while it doesn’t quite sit right with them, under certain circumstances, they acknowledge they do it themselves! For me, this was a red flag! I know they’re only little—and even adults can often do this—but being authentic about your feelings, especially around those closest, should be the natural order of things.
I think Inside Out could be a catalyst to solidify the concept for my kids that it’s more than ok for them to feel things that are uncomfortable and always be truthful about what they’re feeling. It’s something I’ve been trying to get across to them, but not something I’ve always executed on.
In a different way, I was guilty of being “Joy” for a while too. When my wife and I were separated, but living together and had not told the kids, I was the one saying to her “Let’s work it out.” And I was doing that for my kids!
I was telling an adult in my family that they had to face their stuff and work through it. At the exact same time, I’m doing everything I can to prevent my kids from facing a future without mummy and daddy in the home. I was doing everything I could to prevent my kids from going through pain.
That was never going to work.
In the movie, not being able to express herself authentically causes Riley to completely shut down. With Joy & Sadness trapped in the outer suburbs of Riley’s mind, Anger, Fear and Disgust are losing control of her. At one point one of them screams “We can’t make her feel anything!” I’ve witnessed what happens when this occurs and it is not pretty.
And that’s the risk if these lessons aren’t understood and a healthy way of dealing with your emotions adopted. Young or old, the result of not getting this is a life half lived in my view. It’s a little hollow, it’s not fully realized, and potential for incredible highs and lows (where many lessons are learned) is given away.
And yet there are millions of people getting around exactly like this. I don’t want that for my kids.
In the movie, it’s when Riley finally speaks out (explodes) about how she really feels that she finds true Joy. Happy. Sad. Angry. They’re all ok! As a friend of mine pointed out, it’s the Taoist approach of letting those feelings pass through you. Embrace whatever it is you’re feeling, whether that’s ‘I’m top o’ the world’ or ‘I can’t move for the sadness.’
But then Let It Go (Frozen style if you must!)
For my kids it was their dad and mum getting divorced. For Riley it was a move across country and being isolated. For other kids it might be a death in the family, a problem at school, or any number of other stresses, big or small.
But the message of this movie is something kids and adults can take on and learn from.
For my kids, we’re going to have to see how this plays out over the coming weeks, and whether they put into practice not hiding their struggle. Time will tell, but someone other than Daddy has planted the seed. Having Pixar on side doesn’t hurt.
There were probably 150 people in the theatre, but at the point where it clicked for my daughter, everyone else disappeared. She tapped me on the leg “Daddy?” I leaned my head towards her, she does the same and says, “She needs to be sad to end up feeling better…”
I looked straight at her and she was fixated on the screen. I won’t forget that moment any time soon!
I could have screamed “Hallelujah!”