Pixar’s Inside Out and the Wisdom of Sadness

Hurt doesn

Another blog post written by Lindsey Walsh, our newest therapist. Spoiler Alert: This post is about the Wisdom of Sadness and
how the Pixar film, Inside Out honours deeper emotions in kids and
I’m grateful to my colleagues who are taking on the challenge of writing some blogs, while I take some time “nesting” with my newly enlarged family, and reading some great books, including Brené Brown’s new book, Rising Strong.  The themes of Pixar’s, Inside Out and Brené Brown’s thoughts about overlap significantly.

Inside Out shows us pretty clearly the hurt that happens when we try to fix, ignore, or circumscribe Sadness. When we don’t let Sadness express itself, well, the whole Inner Family – Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear, and Sadness – gets out of whack.

Our Inner Families need Sadness.

A picture of Sadness. Downloaded from Inside Out

Sadness is a vital part of being a balanced human being.

Our Real World families and communities also thrive when they can honour and hold Sadness, too. This is especially the case with Sadness because, well, our society has some deep prejudices against it.

Honestly, it’s about the wisest Hollywood movie I’ve ever seen in a long time. And the gift of insight it offers to parents is…

Well, it’s pretty cool.

But, before I do get into all that mushy stuff, I’d like to get something off of my chest…


I’m pretty sure Joy does not actually look – or dress – like Tinkerbell from the Peter Pan cartoons.

What I’m trying to say is that, every one of us is going to experience Joy a little differently.

Not necessarily like Tinkerbell.

Me? Well, my own Inner Joy is actually much more like Ernie from Sesame St.

Or Feist. Possibly Feist.

But that’s just me: I’m more of an Ernie/Feist-Joy kind of person. 

Thanks for letting me share that.

Despite my misgivings, I figure Joy is represented well in Inside Out. Joy is always trying to make everything ok. And she uses her wit and zeal to do so.

Seems remarkably unlike the typical lead character in a summer blockbuster, doesn’t it?

And you get a sense of how frustrating and exhausting it is for Joy and everyone around her to always need to be so, well…


Because, lets face it, the best way to be happy is not to pursue happiness.

The best way to be happy is to do stuff, even hard stuff, that you find meaningful.

There is probably someone in your life who is like Joy in the movie. You know, that person who never seems to frown or cry, who seems to have boundless energy, who is great at saying the right thing, and excels at getting sticks out of spokes.

Or maybe you’re like that? Maybe you have a hard time just sitting with Sadness. Maybe it’s next to impossible for you to listen, to really, truly hear the message your sadness or a loved one’s sadness is trying to share.

It’s hard to not try to make everything ok.

Anyhow, I’m like that sometimes. Sometimes I try to solve problems for my family, when all they want is to be heard, held, and acknowledged. 

And, yes, sometimes we do have to face the world with a smile, even when we don’t want to.

But, sometimes, that doesn’t feel so good. To be fixed. Or to be told to “fake it til’ you make it”.

Sometimes, you don’t feel like the Joyful people in your life hear you. They are too busy fixing the problem, to stop and listen.

And that can feel awful. Really, really awful.

It can feel sort of like you’re inner world doesn’t matter. Like you don’t have the right to feel Sad, or Angry, or Disgusted, or Afraid.

There’s probably a big part of you that would like to be able to share what’s on your heart with at least someone in your life just a little more often. Maybe you would love
to share a deep feeling of sadness – or regret or shame or anger – with your spouse, or friend, or parent, or another person you love, and feel totally heard and accepted.

I bet, sometimes, just sometimes, you’d like to look at that particular person (or in a mirror) and say, “I’m having a rough day.” I bet you yearn to say that sometimes because you are feeling something and it hurts and you don’t want to hold onto it all by yourself.

You want to hold onto a hurtful feeling, but to share its weight with someone else, for a while. 

But you don’t.

You don’t share your rough day with that person you love (or with yourself). You put on a happy face, or you shut down and get angry.

Because you believe that their response will make you feel even more lonely.

So why bother!?

Maybe you stopped sharing for a very good reason: You didn’t feel like you got the response you needed and deserved. You felt like your emotions were ignored, downplayed, or

I think we all feel that way, sometimes. Whether we can acknowledge it or not, sometimes we just don’t feel like we matter to the ones we love.

Maybe you stopped sharing your rough days or deep emotions with the people you love because, like Riley in Inside Out, you have shared with someone who really matters and felt really let down.

Maybe you’ve repeatedly felt let down? Maybe you said something like: “I had a rough day. I don’t feel like I fit in.” And got a response like this:

“Of course you will fit in! You’re beautiful/handsome and
smart as a whip/very creative/good at sports. Besides, I already told you, it’s
going to take some time to settle in. Don’t worry about it!”

Or maybe you got an even worse response. Maybe you were simply ignored, or told to be quiet. Maybe the other person just turned up the volume on the tv.

If so, I’m sorry about that.

My guess is that most of the time whomever you were sharing your Sadness, Fear, or Anger with answered the best they knew how.

My guess is that they just didn’t know how to do a better job.

That’s the neat thing about Inside Out: It demonstrates how very loving and caring people go from trying to do (or say) the right thing to totally blowing it and hurting their child’s, and possibly each other’s, feelings. 

Inside Out shows us that this is pretty normal behaviour. Sometimes we screw up. It doesn’t make us bad people, it just means that our Inner Anger or Disgust or Fear has taken charge.

This is especially clear in the part of the film used in the movie trailer where we see the Inner Family of Mom and Dad inside their heads.


But this isn’t just another movie to make us feel bad about ourselves. It shows adults making mistakes and then tuning into the emotions of their loved ones in order to make it better.

I figure it does a tremendous job of demonstrating love, resilience, and good communication. Yes, Inside Out shows us one way to get on the right track. It demonstrates, clear as day, how to tune back into the emotions of ourselves and others.

I know, I know, easier shown than done, right? Watching a movie is not going to make everything better. Still, a good demonstration can go a long way.  

So, yes, sometimes we get judgmental or angry with our children or other loved ones.

And yes, it sucks, but it happens. Even to the most loving and compassionate among us is going to make someone feel small and unimportant at some point this week.

The big deal is not what we do wrong.

The big deal is how we tune into our loved ones and learn from them how to make it right.  

So, yes, it is just an animated movie. Yes, it was created in order to make Disney/Pixar lots of money. Yes, parts of it could be construed as manipulative or sexist or at least insensitive to young women who aren’t built like Tinkerbell.

But, well, it’s a movie that demonstrates some very important things. It’s a film that can help parents remember to stop ignoring or tying to fix things.

It’s a motion picture – or an Emotion picture – that reminds us, that when our kids are crying, sometimes its best to simply hold them as they sob in our arms.

It’s a movie that reminds us that ALL PEOPLE CRY because it is the best way to let our loved ones know we are in distress.

And we all know that we let loved ones know we are in distress because we need them to help us stay safe. No child, man, or woman is an island.

No one survives alone.

That is why Sadness is so utterly and inescapably valuable:

It’s all about safety. Sadness keeps us safe by helping us and the ones we rely on to tune into us and our deepest needs.

And, when the ones we love hear our cry (or simply pick up on the catch in our voice) and reach out to us, well then we do feel very Joyful, don’t we?

So, that was what really moved me about Inside Out. It honoured Sadness.

And, beyond that, it gave a very potent (and often funny) demonstration of how we can embrace all of our emotions in order to lead – and
help our kids lead – rich and fulfilling lives.

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