I recently watched the movie “Inside Out” for the second time with my daughter. As someone who studied emotional development during my graduate school years, I was delighted and impressed by how well the writers conveyed the complex and evolving nature of children’s emotional awareness. As young children, we largely experience emotions as discrete entities – if we are happy, we are only aware of our happiness. As we move into middle childhood, however, we become aware of the finer nuances of emotional awareness, such as our ability to have more than one emotion at the same time. This article by Susanne Denham, Ph.D. provides a helpful overview of childhood emotional development.
As the “Sadness” character touched the girl’s memory spheres, these memories which had been purely “Joy”ful changed to a combination of joy and sadness. Isn’t this true for a lot of our experiences? For example, we can think back on experiences with happiness and at the same time feel sad about missing the people or activities that were so important at that moment in time.
We then see the girl’s “personality islands” start to fall apart and “Joy” is not there to fix it. This leads us, the audience, to worry about how she is going to recover and how disastrous this could be for her emotional well-being. In the end, though, we realize that these struggles were an essential step toward building new “islands” for the next stage of her development. A great illustration of how challenges encourage our growth…and an important reminder that each emotion has value, and it’s okay and important to feel all of them.
I also enjoy the concept of externalizing our emotions in this way. This movie offers a helpful -and humorous – way to observe how each of our emotions has a purpose and, for the most part (!), wants to help us out. There is space for all of our emotions at the control panel, and we can learn to observe them with compassion and understanding.
A great movie for kids and adults alike!