If you haven't seen the movie Inside Out yet I would recommend you give it watch. It is not only a typically engaging, fun movie from Pixar. It is also a really accessible introduction to emotions and how they function.
If you don't already know, the movie is about adolescent girl who moves from a small town to a new city with her family. In the process of moving she loses connection with their social support network and falls into a depression. The movie operates in two different worlds. One of these worlds is common to most movies, one in which we see the story from the perspective of the girl and her family as they go through this challenge together. However, in the film's other world, we see inside the girl's brain/ mind. The world of her mind primarily involves the interplay between four sub-selves, each representing a different core emotion: joy, sadness, anger, and disgust.
I think Inside Out does a really good job of demonstrating a couple of things.
The first thing is how it so vividly illustrates demonstrates that what appears to be a person's singular “self” , is actually emerging through the continual interaction of multiple sub selves. (if you haven't done so already I invite you to read my blog post on this topic). This idea, not just as a useful metaphor but as a neurologically grounded reality, is very central to how I do therapy. So I love the way that Inside Out was able to present this idea and such accessible fun way.
The second thing that I really like about Inside Out is how effectively it illustrates that each of the core emotions, even the painful ones, provide vitally important, adaptive information when they are listened to appropriately. The key illustration of this idea in Inside Out comes in a scene (Spoiler alert!) where the girl is mourning the loss of her childhood. The three main characters in this scene are Joy, Sadness, and a character representing the girl's fading childhood self. Through much of the film, Joy is the primary emotional sub self. She is the one who is working hard to keep sadness, anger and disgust regulated so she can help move the girl forward and out of her depression. This is adaptive for most of the film. However, in this key scene Joy and Sadness meet the character symbolizing childhood, who is grieving for being “grown out of” by the girl. Joy thinks the right thing to do is to “cheer up” the grieving character. This of course does not work. Only when Sadness connects with the grieving character and empathizes with him, is the grieving character able to move through his grief and return to forward action. Joy has great trouble understanding how Sadness was able to help in a way that she herself, despite all of her wonderful positive energy, was not. Gradually Joy, and the audience, come to vividly see that Sadness is not just a “problem to be managed”, but is a vital resource that allows us to take the time we need to recognize and process losses when this proves necessary. On another level this scene also clearly differentiates sadness from depression, with the forward moving quality of adaptive sadness compared to the flat and despairing quality of the girl's depression ( I invite you to check of my earlier blog post on the differences between sadness and depression).
So I really do encourage you to rent Inside Out if you haven't seen it. Not only will it be a fun movie, you may end up learning a few valuable things about yourself, and about ideas that are central to effective psychotherapy.