We took our kids to see Inside Out* yesterday, because everyone goes wild with excitement whenever they talk about this movie.
It’s about a twelve year-old girl named Riley, whose family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco, away from friends and hockey and “the woods,” and into San Francisco, where all they serve is organic, gluten free broccoli pizza. It’s about growing up, building memories, navigating change, and experiencing loss. My main complaint is that they didn’t give Riley’s family real outstate Minnesota accents (“Ohhhh, come on nowwhh,”) or conversational quirks (like ending every sentence with “so” or “or”). The boys did not like the movie (Ben actually had to remove himself from the theater during one particularly troubling scene). It was too “adult” for them – their word. They did like the anger character, mostly I think because his head frequently becomes a violent flamethrower, which they thought was “rad” – their word.
But really it’s about how we learn to stuff certain feelings while facing lots of pressure to feel other feelings. The main characters in the movie are Riley’s five main feelings: anger, sadness, joy, frustration, and fear, and how those feelings manage each other, which is mostly hilarious but also very poignant. Joy is the unquestioned leader; she’s always trying to make Riley feel happy, no matter what is actually happening to her, even when she moved to a city that serves broccoli pizza. Even when her best friend skypes her and raves about her new best friend. Even when a dead mouse greets them in their new kitchen.
When they finally reach their new house, everyone is struck with how shabby – and scary – it is. Riley is especially afraid. But instead of saying it out loud, she races over to a broom and a crumpled up paper ball, and starts pretending to play hockey with her mom and dad, making them laugh and distracting them from feeling any feelings about the scary house.
Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with Riley’s reaction. Some people really do have the gift of energizing a room with the luminosity of their personality. But it could be bad if a child feels like it’s their job to be happy no matter what, and to make other people happy no matter what. Those kinds of kids could become adults who don’t feel permission to be sad, and who don’t give anyone else permission to be sad.
Riley learned to stuff sadness because it was her job to be happy, even when she wasn’t happy. This takes an enormous amount of energy. In doing so, she learned to try to bury her pain and just be goofy, or positive, or distracting.
What was your job growing up?
Did you have to be the shiny, happy, funny one even when you felt sad?
Did you have to be the family scapegoat, so nobody would talk about what was really wrong?
Did you have to be the quiet, confident one because nothing else was stable?
Did you have to be the peacekeeper, taking hits for others?
Did you have to be the responsible one, because nobody else would?
Regardless of what job you had, you probably learned to stuff certain feelings and you probably felt undue pressure to show other feelings, no matter how you felt.
So, question: Do you ever notice that you have a hard time locating your actual feelings, because more often than not you judge those feelings before you allow yourself to feel them?
I’ve noticed that I do.
I can’t just be angry about something and notice my anger; I immediately try to calm myself down. I can’t just feel sad about something, I immediately feel scared when I feel sad. Sometimes I can’t even feel happy about something without feeling apprehensive about when the other shoe is going to drop. It’s like pushing a beach ball down under water. Pretty soon, what you push down is going to come up, and it’s going to make a pretty big mess when it does.
I won’t spoil the rest of the movie, but something very significant and meaningful happens between joy and sadness inside of Riley. Some things crumble and some new things are rebuilt. It really isn’t a movie for 6 year old and 8 year old boys, but it is a great movie for a 44 year-old boy.
So let’s try this together, even though it’s kind of terrifying: let’s try to feel our actual feelings and not judge them, at least not right away. Let’s just notice them, and say, “Interesting.” That makes me mad. Hmm. I wonder why? That makes me sad, or afraid. I wonder why? That disgusts me. Why? Or, wow, that fills me with happiness. Why?
In it together, my friends.