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Lessons From Inside Out  

I just saw the most recent movie release from Pixar, Inside Out, and I think it has some good lessons for how we manage our emotions. First of all, a spoiler alert. If you haven’t yet seen the film, and I do recommend seeing it, I talk about the key plot development in this article. So go see the movie. Then come back and read this.

Probably not really a surprise what the plot twist is, but the lesson is one that many people could benefit from. The major characters in the movie are the “emotions” of the heroine, an eleven year old girl named Riley. They learn that sadness is integral to creating memories that create a “core self” and develop the skills and values which help define who Riley is.

Many people try to organize their emotions the way they were initially organized in the movie. Sadness was banished to the corner and not allowed to touch any memories because she might taint them. When things went wrong sadness was often blamed. And whenever sad things happened to Riley the emotions worked rapidly to cover them up.  Many people do the same, trying to avoid feelings of sadness as much as possible and only focus on the positive. They then try to do the same thing with other people, essentially trying to talk them out of their sadness and back into happiness.

The biggest problem with this is it creates a big disconnection between people. It is quite off putting to feel sad, or some other unpleasant emotion, and to have the people who are close to you and care about you work at convincing you that you shouldn’t feel the way you do, but a different way. You usually end up feeling misunderstood, and more alone, as well as sad.

One of the most important skills you can build as a healthy adult is the ability to tolerate sadness and other unpleasant emotions, in yourself and in others. As Riley’s emotion Joy finally figured out in the movie, sadness often creates an opportunity for connection with other people that cements and strengthens relationships and contributes to a stronger view of self. But those experiences aren’t as available unless you can tolerate and sit with your own sadness and someone else’s.

And when you accept positive role of sadness in life you get an upgraded, much more sophisticated, emotion management control panel. Like I said, go see the movie.