Healing Vigilante: 7 Things We Can All Learn From the Movie Inside Out

2015-06-30-1435695638-3418564-040915_InsideOut_Characters.jpgPhoto found on nerdist.com

This is a cute movie - colorful, silly, good storyline. Well-played, Disney. Throw Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, and Mindy Kaling into the mix and there's enough money to feed a gazillion hungry kids (hint, hint). BUT - let's keep it real - it's more than just a colorful eyeball party. My six-year-old loved it! But it was over her head. It is WAY deep. As a therapist who works with adults blocked by their past, I found the messages powerful.

My nutshell: There's a tween girl. She's got five major emotions hanging out in her brain (Joy, Fear, Sadness, Anger, Disgust). There's a control panel there. JOY holds the reigns. Depending upon what's happening in the girl's life, one of the others take over. Especially ANGER, that little hot head bulldozes in, blows things out of proportion, acts irrationally, and makes an unnecessary mess (I love how they made him look all blocky and annoying). There's a bunch of brightly colored balls representing memories. Based on the emotion being triggered, a colored ball comes rolling into her memory bank. The memory gets stored based on the type of memory. The big balls on campus are called "core memories", which influence the girls' overall life and personality.

A life changing event happens: the girl moves, and her life is uprooted. Joy is on high alert. The move causes a buttload of stress for everyone and Fear, Sadness, Anger, and Disgust start to take over. All kinds of blue, red, and purple balls come rolling down (why was Joy was not green)? Anyway, Joy starts to freak out the moment she sees a core memory ball of deep sadness roll down. It triggers a domino affect that starts to rock the girl's "Personality Islands" (i.e. Family Island, Goofball Island, Honesty Island). For the rest of the movie Joy works super hard to help that core memory shift. Does she succeed? Well, it's a Disney movie, so chances are they're not going to let her end up on a path of self-loathing and addiction.

Most likely every kid in America will watch this movie (note to self: write a kid movie, stat). Disney is brilliant because usually a minor attends a movie with an adult. And there's no doubt it got some of them thinking about their feelings, what their family and islands look like, that time as a kid when they had to move, and, hopefully, what color balls they're putting in their own child's memory bank.

There were a few times I got the wind knocked out of me with empathy. I could really relate. Perhaps a couple of my core memories were triggered. This movie left people knowing they learned something profound, but perhaps not really sure what. So here I am, Healing Vigilante, performing my duties and breaking down 7 Things We Can All Learn From the Movie Inside Out:

1. Joy is supposed to run our brains.
We are meant to primarily live in Joy. Joy is the body of ocean, and the other emotions are temporary waves passing through. If you're not living primarily in Joy, something's up.

2. Joy is strong, but also hungry.
Based on what unfolds, those other emotions can overrun Joy in a flash. If something doesn't shift, then Joy continuously gets beat down. But...Joy is strong. Even if you feel you've been sucked deeply into the undertow of disgust or sadness, Joy is just waiting for the challenging waves to pass. Joy is always there and WILL get back to controlling your brain. But...Joy is hungry. It needs to be fed in order to stay strong. Stuff your Joy's face with hugs, fun, and chocolate.

3. We need to nurture creativity.
Oh Bing Bong. You slay me. You represent all that is magic in the world. Imagination! Creativity! The message BB emits is ridiculously important: If we do not foster imagination and creativity, it fades away. As we age, society drives us into left-brain (order, logic) - we must make sure the right-brain (creativity, flow) gets nurtured and stays active.

4. We have different parts of ourselves that need attention.
The movie calls these "Personality Islands". I use the Wheel of Life, which is Physical, Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, and Relational "Islands". On each of those Islands are mini-islands, including family, friends, playfulness, trust, health, career, and much more. You can't spend too much time on just one island! Each island needs consistent love and attention, or it will deteriorate.

5. We influence each other's memory.
Be accountable for what color ball you put in a person's memory bank, especially if you are a parent or guardian.

6. One "core memory" can shift our entire life.
There are questions about whether core memories exist. However, there is little doubt that a specific event can cause a person to have a memory that touches them to the core, and affects perspective on themselves, and life. It can be positive or negative. One moment can ruin a person, or completely lift them up.

7. When a negative "core memory" is not resolved, it can trigger a treacherous path.
Joy and Sadness fight hard to shift the negative core memory and get back to home base, so Joy could take back the reigns. At one point, they start to panic, yelling something like, "Oh no! We're going into the subconscious!" as they descend past long-term memory and into a dark abyss. This is profound. When a person has an unresolved "core memory", they usually had an experience that shifted their core beliefs about life. They are deeply affected, in their mind and body. The lack of resolution can send them on a slippery, unfulfilling, self-destructive, path. If this were an indie film, it would go like this: kid moves, feels self-doubt or not good enough, shuts down, shuts everyone out, uses alternative defense mechanisms such as cutting or drugs...think Requiem for a Dream. Therapist note: if you have an unresolved "core memory", get help to resolve it. You deserve it.