ByMandi McGuire, writer at
I am an eclectic mom of two, gaming enthusiast, and cinephile. I sell tech at Best Buy when I'm not writing about the things I love.
Mandi McGuire

Disney Pixar worked unbelievably hard for 5 years to make Inside Out. In that time, they created a gem that will become a wonderful resource for parents to teach their kids about feelings and better yet, understand their own. I was excited to see Inside Out from the moment the trailer went live and it didn't disappoint. There are so many things that adults can take away from the movie. I love how the filmmakers blended obvious messages aimed toward kids with deeper themes meant to be interpreted by adults. Its a film that a child can grow to understand more and more as they grow up.

As an adult, I got hit with the feels while experiencing the film for the first time. I saw a connection between the emotions and my own mental illness. I convinced the key people in my life to go see the movie with me in hopes that they would see the deeper message it has to offer in relation to my state of mind- and it worked. Understanding mental illness is the biggest hurdle people must jump over in order to understand what goes on in the mind of their loved ones. I never believed a children's movie would aid them in that struggle, but I'm so glad it did. I'd like to highlight the key points in Inside Out that can help explain what goes on in the mind of those with such illnesses. Hopefully this article can reach people struggling with this issue and inspire them to take the time to think about it a little more.

A Case Of The Feels: Blending The 5 Core Emotions

Many feel that Inside Out was over-simplified when it comes to the inner workings of the brain. That's simply not true, especially for the mind of 11-year- old Riley. Each of the 5 emotions depicted in the film can blend to create a well-rounded mix of complex ones. Anger and Disgust make loathing while Sadness and Disgust make self-loathing, for example. This is a small look into mental illness. When "negative" emotions interact, they can produce a more complex and intense feelings that have more gravity than the core emotion. This can create internal struggle within one's mind and make it harder for others to understand and respond in the proper way. People with mental illnesses tend to instinctively react to difficult situations in this way, becoming weighed down by their extremely complex feels.

When one emotion is doubled, the result is extreme and harder to control. Anger squared creates rage, Joy squared creates ecstasy, Sadness squared creates Despair and so on. These combinations can lead to outbursts of unnecessary proportions. People with mental illnesses often have no control over how these emotions mix due to dysfunctional pathways in the brain that effect how emotion is felt. Understanding how these emotions tend to blend in a different way for these individuals can be an enlightening first step in supporting those that may not be able to feel in the same way you do.

You Are The Setting Of The Emotional Journey

The vast and beautiful setting of Riley's head was a rather accurate look into the complexity and functionality of the mind. I loved the idea of emotions controlling Riley's outward actions via the control panel. The imagery behind these emotions sometimes fighting for control was extremely telling. Sadness is always prevented from taking the wheel, leaving no room for her in the grand scheme of things. This is an intelligent reference to how age effects things. Riley is 11, and a child her age is typically used to Joy leading the way. The most carefree part of life, childhood, should be a time of positive exploration and play.

Core memories pre-move: typical joy of a child
Core memories pre-move: typical joy of a child

There is always an event in one's childhood that sets the framework for growing up. In Riley's case, its moving away from the only home she knows: the one place she would always feel safe. This transition is what sparks the chaos that ensues in Riley's mind. This event triggers Sadness to make her presence known in an attempt to balance out the confusion. However, Joy's relentless attempts to stop this hinder Riley from expressing her feelings in a constructive way. The only emotions that can convey this stress are Anger and Disgust. This creates a problem. Unable to express feeling sad, the emotion is hidden behind other negative emotion.

People with mental illness often use other emotions to hide sadness at their core, anger being the usual culprit. Being told to just stop being so sad sets off a chain reaction characterized by heightened expression of the wrong emotions. This can cause a problem with displaying those substitute emotions effectively as a result. The lesson here is simple: suppressing one emotion destroys our ability to feel the others effectively. In regards to mental illness, the worst thing you can advise a sufferer to do is tell them how to feel or encourage suppression of certain feelings. Instead, help them through the journey of living with their unique emotional structure in a productive way.

The Bigger Picture: Connection Is Key

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Inside Out is the lesson of connection. Going through any trying time alone can be a slippery slope for anyone, not just sufferers of a mental illness. After the family's move, Riley becomes more and more distant, unable to express how she feels about her new surroundings. Isolation can lead to many problems, especially in children. It's our connections with those we love that can lift us out of the abyss and into a foundation of recovery. When Joy and Sadness return to Headquarters, it is Sadness that fixes the broken control panel and finally helps Riley convey her true feelings to her parents. In this moment, I was full of raw emotion as it hit home for me.

I always knew I was different growing up. Being treated as a rebel and a problem child only made things worse. Struggling during my adolescence and young adulthood, I finally decided to reach out to someone that would listen: a mental health professional. Even though my family wasn't the correct connection, I was able to find acceptance and understanding in therapy. Finally discovering my condition, bipolar disorder, I was able to bring this information home to my loved ones and begin a new journey: one with a light at the end of the tunnel. Learning how my emotions function was a great tool to utilize: for myself and those close to me. My connections grew stronger and I am now well on my way to cleaning up the mess I made of the past decade. I now see a brighter future ahead of me and I know I have the right people in my corner. This concept can be applied to everyone, not just those with mental illnesses.

Everyone Operates Differently: The Importance Of Dominant Emotion

The hierarchy of Riley's emotions is easy to discern. Joy is the dominant emotion, while Anger and Disgust seem to be her biggest collaborators. Fear pops in when something just doesn't quite feel right and Sadness is at the bottom of the pyramid, often shoved in a corner. This speaks to who Riley is as a person at this point in her life. While the structure of her emotions will change as she grows, the way they are organized presently speak to her personality. This hierarchy is different for everyone and plays a key role in the functionality of interpersonal relationships.

In the case of Riley's mom, we are shown a Headquarters that is unique to her. Her dominant emotion is Sadness. Joy and Anger are her main support emotions. This could provide insight as to the type of person she is and how she is likely to react to a tough situation. This is a crucial concept that can be tied back to the importance of connection. Relationships don't just survive on their own. They require an understanding of one another. When problems arise, the key to pushing past them is as simple as recognizing the difference between which emotions drive your loved ones in comparison to yours.

In my case, Joy and Sadness are constantly fighting for control by intensifying their presence in a cyclical manner, with Anger being a right-hand man to both. Fear (anxiety) is most likely the dominant emotion of my significant other. I've grown to understand his underlying motivations in relation to his emotions as he's able to pinpoint whether Joy or Sadness is leading me at any given time and he moves forward in a way that is compassionate to whichever emotion is driving me in that moment. This process is crucial to the integrity of our relationship.

Riley's father has a different emotional setup than that of his daughter and wife, supporting the concept that everyone's emotions function in a different way. In his case, Anger is dominant with Sadness and Fear in the support roles. Notice how Joy is off to the side, in heavy contrast with his family's emotional foundation. This speaks to who he is and why he does the things he does.

When these driving emotions are forced to interact at the dinner table, Riley is missing Joy and Sadness, who are on a mission outside of Headquarters. This makes for an interesting interaction between Riley and her father. While hilarious, it is extremely accurate as well. Riley's anger going head-to-head with her father's is a common occurrence between a sufferer of a mental illness and a loved one that doesn't quite understand. The loved one is angry because they lack comprehension of the other's emotional function, while the sufferer is expressing frustration with the situation and screaming for understanding in the only way that makes sense to them. Which emotions drive your day to day activities? How do these compare to the one's closest to you? Understanding that can greatly improve the quality of your relationships.

Inside Out is by far the best movie I've seen this year. With so much to offer for every generation, I believe it will be a useful tool for families for years to come. It has such a strong and necessary message to send to society: emotions are crucial to development and to the relationships we have with others.

People with mental illnesses struggle to handle their emotions and often feel like they're being governed by them. Often seeming out of control, these individuals require compassion and understanding. Once we can learn how their emotions function, recovery and stronger relationships have room to emerge. It's never right to make someone ashamed of the way they feel, especially those with mental illness. When someone feels like their emotions are unacceptable, they begin to keep them inside, leading to overcompensation by other emotions and an overall decline in coping skills and communication. Inside Out was able to take these complicated themes and bring them to light in an unbelievably fun and accurate way that people of all ages can relate to.

What are your thoughts on Pixar's latest creation? Tell me in the comments! Follow me here for more in depth discussion of how movies can be useful to our lives and as always, watch more movies!


Which emotion was your favorite in Inside Out?


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