top of page

Inside Out and Emotional Expression

Inside Out is an animated movie released in 2015. It, in my opinion, is easy to love. It has a hard-hitting cast (Amy Poehler, Mindy Kaling, Richard Kind, Bill Hader and Phyllis Smith), it’s a Pixar movie (a company that doesn’t often flop) and it shows a unique teenage perspective. That’s not to say that we haven’t had our share of teenage movies, but this one is different.

Inside Out focuses on a preteen girl, Riley, as she and her family move across the country. We meet emotions inside her mind: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust and Anger. They all work at a control panel inside her mind and witness her life through a big screen in front of them. Riley’s adjustment to the new state is terrible; school is hard, she feels disconnected from her father and she has an embarrassing moment in school. As this is all happening, Joy and Sadness are separated from the other emotions, leaving Fear, Disgust and Anger in charge of regulating Riley. Joy and Sadness go on an adventure through Riley’s mind, which is full of memories. Joy goes from believing she needs to be front and center to realizing that Sadness plays a crucial role in Riley’s life. Joy, like the audience, begins to realize that feelings often aren’t compartmentalized. Instead, Joy learns that memories are often formed more impactfully when there are multiple emotions experienced.

The reason I love the movie is because it makes emotions approachable. The core emotions are made into human form and have personalities of their own. By making them appear like us and in us, it makes it more of a movie about acceptance than psychoeducation that feels forced.

There have been several times when clients have told me they aren’t sure how they feel. I totally get that; feelings can be confusing. Feelings often mix; at one point in the movie, Joy finds a memory that began as sad and then moved to happy due to the comfort she feels from her support system. This mix of feelings is often called bittersweet; the circumstances that brought on the support, that made us happy, is a sad or difficult one.

What does this mean day to day?

It means we deserve to be nice to ourselves. It means it’s ok when your mind feels overwhelmed and confused. It means that it’s ok for feelings to mix together. It also means that it may help to learn how to tease apart all of those feelings.

This can be difficult for anyone to do, regardless of age. We typically learn about our feelings through experience, which, again, can be difficult. Small kids feel feelings and then we tell them what they’re feeling. We tell them they are happy or scared or excited or sad. When they get older, the feelings start to intermingle and overlap. For example, hungry and angry exist together (like when we get irritated when we haven’t eaten), happy and nervous exist together (like when we perform for an audience) and scared and excited exist together (like boarding a roller coaster for the first time).

This is a lesson that Joy had to learn – feelings often work together to shape an experience. As we get older, we rarely associate a memory with just one feeling. We learn more and more to accept feelings as they are, even if they’re jumbled and confusing. So, when your child comes to you and feels confused by how they’re feeling, just know that the movie Inside Out is happening in their brains right at that moment. If you feel nervous about explaining what’s going on, turn on the movie. If there is still work to be done, reach out to me!

I (Gillian) am the owner of Tavernier Therapy Group. I am a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Clinical Anxiety Treatment Provider and a Certified Sex Offender Treatment Provider. I work with teenagers who struggle to connect with their parents and am currently accepting clients! Take a look around my website and get to know me. I look forward to hearing from you!


bottom of page