Inside out 2: A Therapist’s Perspective

In society today, we have made great progress in regards to the topic of mental health which can be seen by increased widespread acceptance of mental health treatment, truthful conversations being had related to mental health experiences, deeper understanding of how to improve one’s mental wellness, and so on. However, so often in media does there continue to be messaging, subliminal or otherwise, that works against the incredible strides we have made in the mental health field. Stigma, misinformation, and a general lack of knowledge are still challenges we face in relation to this collective experience of mental health and subsequent conversations around it. This is why it is so incredibly refreshing and exciting to witness cinematic productions such as Disney’s new film, Inside Out 2, which in one 90- minute visual experience, helps push the needle forward.   

If you personally know any therapist, especially a child based or play therapist, you know that we have quite literally been unable to stop talking about this movie. Its blend of playfulness and depth allows for children and adults alike to develop deeper awareness of their own internal experiences, giving one the opportunity to have a healthier relationship to themselves and thus those around them. We saw this movie and its current popularity as an opportunity to continue productive conversations around emotions, development, etc. and invite you to have the same conversations in your home. Below we will do a moderate deep dive into elements of the movie that deserve commentating, then offer suggestions for you to employ this movie as an opportunity for connection with your children and yourself.  

Embracing emotion

In the first Inside Out movie, Joy struggles to embrace all of the other emotions Riley experiences. In her efforts of isolating the other emotions, especially sadness, so they do not harm Riley, she inadvertedly puts Riley at risk. Ironically, this is very similar to what the new character Anxiety does in the second movie, attempting to control because “she knows best”. Come Inside Out 2, Joy still seems to struggle with this idea of the other emotions negatively influencing Riley somehow. This causes her to discard of any memory that could turn into a core belief. Ironically again, her invention to ensure the other emotions don’t negatively impact Riley, puts Riley at risk and sends the core 5 emotions on a journey to help restore balance. Joy was so afraid that the other emotions could cause Riley to develop a poor sense of self but learns for a second time how to embrace the beauty of all of the emotions in Riley’s life.  

Something to consider: “what if accepting and feeling every emotion appropriately is how we develop a strong sense of self, not just ignoring the uncomfortable emotions?”. These emotions offer up an opportunity to learn more about ourselves. After all, emotions are simply the body and subconscious’s way of communicating with us. They offer an opportunity to learn about the world, solve problems, trust ourselves deeper, challenge ourselves, soothe ourselves.  At the end of the movie, Riley ends up with a crystalline structure that represents her core beliefs and it shines with the colors of all the emotions. What if we were able to surrender to the understanding that we don’t have to negate or avoid hard emotions to stay protected? What if embracing all of our emotional experiences and what they can offer us, like in the movie, can be what keeps us protected at the end of the day? Riley’s ability to accept all of her emotions, embracing what they have to offer her, is what brought her closer to her true, albeit complex and ever evolving, sense of self.  

Questions for parents:  

  • Do you at times attempt to do what Joy does in rejecting emotions that are uncomfortable for you?  
  • How does rejecting your emotions lead to further distancing from who you truly are?  
  • How can you attempt to embrace the uncomfortable emotions you currently experience within yourself as an adult?  
  • How can you attempt to embrace the emotions your children embody on a daily basis?  
  • How liberated do you believe you would feel if you accepted all emotional parts of yourself?  
  • How do you believe your connection with your children can improve if you began helping them embrace their naturally occurring emotions and assist them through experiencing them? 
  • What would your childhood have looked like if your parents had embraced all of your naturally occurring emotions rather than reacting to them? 
  • How can you view emotions as information and use this new perspective to bring yourself closer to freedom? 

Puberty is Messy

An absolutely relatable and subsequently hilarious part of the film that left the theater in an uproar of laughter, is when the alarm in Riley’s brain begins to sound, signaling the beginning of puberty. The maintenance crew busts through the windows, wreaking havoc and leaving a mess in their wake. Eventually you see a sign that shares “sorry for the mess, puberty is messy”. Isn’t that the truth! Any parent of a teenager can relate to this sentiment. But as relatable as it is for the people around the pubescent child, perhaps we need to use this as an opportunity to sit and remember what it truly was like for us to experience this time ourselves. It is incredibly easy to forget the realities of living in a body that no longer felt like your own. It was changing by the day as were your emotions by the minute. There were complex emotional experiences you felt deeper than you ever have but have no idea how to understand let alone manage. I believe this aspect of the movie, which is illuminated throughout the film, offers parents, loved ones, and therapists of teens an opportunity to truly empathize with the difficulties that is being a teenager. Perhaps loving and accepting these teens in the way we wish we were loved and accepted at that age is what can assist them in loving and accepting themselves. Maybe this nurture is exactly what they need to stay afloat in these tricky waters of teenagehood.  

This nurturing doesn’t take away from any limit setting or discipline but rather helps these teens have a safe harbor within their parents and this is what helps them create a safe harbor with themselves.  

Questions for parents:  

  • How am I rejecting aspects of my teenager’s emotions that I also reject in myself?  
  • How can I attempt to love and nurture them through these complex emotional experiences?  
  • How can I calm my nervous system so that I can effectively embrace my teen, with all of their messy emotions?  
  • Inside Out 2' Review: Pixar Sequel Gives Us All the Feels—Plus Anxiety

Anxiety doesn’t need control, it needs love  

.The character Anxiety in the film is a bit polarizing, with some claiming she is annoying and the “villain” and others finding her relatability endearing. It is a bit telling how quickly we are to inherently villainize this anxiety character in ways that mimic what we also do to our own anxiety but that is a lengthier conversation to be had at another time. All throughout the movie, Anxiety is frantic in her attempts to control Riley’s present and subsequent future, even utilizing her own imagination against her (which a brilliantly creative addition if you ask me). Believing she knows what is right, she works Riley and herself up to a breaking point at which her defenses finally come down. Our anxiety works similarly, working around the clock to control, consider, plan, perfect, and perform. At the end of her quite literal spiraling, we witness Joy offering her a moment of coregulation to which Anxiety responds by relinquishing control. What did we learn that anxiety desperately needed? Love and nurture. This is how we lower our own anxiety’s defenses. Yes, it eventually depicts Anxiety being brought to a massage chair and given “anxie-tea”. Yes, things of this nature can help with soothing the body. But what if we in reality outside of this movie were able to take this idea of love and nurture and apply it to the deep, wounded part of us that is promoting the anxiety? What if it wasn’t just about coping with anxiety but responding to the parts of us that are crying out for support? Our anxiety is a manifestation of a younger part of us that learned they had to do X, Y, Z to survive this world. Those younger parts of us need to be loved, nurtured, and soothed. Once Riley’s Anxiety felt nurtured, she could loosen her grip on the reigns and surrender control, allowing Riley to live a more empowered, authentic life where she had more authority.  

How to nurture anxiety:  

  • Check in with the wounded part and ask what it has to say not just outwardly but inwardly  
  • Ex: Outwardly it says “you have to control everything” but inwardly it says “I am scared and needing support”  
  • Ask yourself how you would respond to a small child who is saying the same things and pleading with you for safety  
  • How would you console it, comfort it, reassure it?  
  • How can you show the body you are safe?  
  • Rocking back and forth  
  • Humming 
  • Deep breathing  
  • Moving the body  
  • Deep pressure touch  
  • What is a values based action that you can engage in after calming your nervous system?  

Questions to consider:  

  • Do you ever feel like your anxiety is spiraling like Riley’s did in the movie? 
  • How can you as a parent help calm your child’s anxiety like Joy did for Anxiety? 
  • How can you calm your own anxiety like Joy did for Anxiety? 
  • How can you maintain a connectedness to nervous system in order to help calm your child’s nervous system? This is called coregulation. For more information on this, check out this podcast episode.  
  • Think about how your vulnerability and appropriate self-disclosure with your children and those around you can lead to deeper connections and healing for yourself and others 

This movie grants us an opportunity to reconnect with our internal experiences and guide this next generation towards a life of genuine connectedness with self, compassion, and resilience. The more we build the foundation of emotional safety, the better our children will be and the better we will be as their influences.  

For those of you who have watched the movie or are interested in watching this movie in the future, consider these questions below as well as the ones offered above to start having productive, open dialogue about this topic. We can continue moving the needle, one loving conversation at a time.  

General questions to ask children after the movie:  

  • Which character do you relate to? 
  • Why do you think you relate to that character?  
  • What was your favorite part of the movie? Why?  
  • Is there a character you didn’t like and why?  
  • What character needs more love in their life?  

If you or someone you know is in need of more extensive support, we are here to lend a helping hand. Check out our website for more information of our services and how to connect with our team.  

meet the Author

Avery Benedict, LPC, is an expert therapist at Brittani Persha Counseling in Houston, TX. Avery works with children (8+), teens, and adults using modalities such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment with Avery, please use the link below.

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