Alyssa Wermers, LCSW

Play Therapy Services * Firestone, CO

The Purpose of Emotions- told through "Inside Out"

I was a little skeptical of “Inside Out,” when I first met Joy. Not another lesson about replacing everything with positivity, I thought during the first part of the movie. Her dazzling blue hair, her incessant happy attitude, and her “go-get ‘er” attitude were almost too much for me to handle. I suppose one could say that Joy is the epitome of happiness. But her heart is in the right place, she really wants the best for Riley (whoa do I sound like joy). And then comes Riley’s mom – and I got all nervous again. She explains to Riley that her dad is stressed and tells her to “put a smile,” on her face. In other words “Show us a happy face, no matter what’s underneath it and that will get us through.” Yikes! My insides were tightening. “Alyssa, take a deep breath, feel my tight insides, I will survive,” I told myself as I continued to watch. And thank goodness, because this movie sure knew what it was talking about.

Just as Joy is the epitome of happiness, Sadness is the epitome of…well…sadness. And Joy treats her just like our society tends to treat sadness. She tries to distract her, she puts her in corners, she tells her not to touch anything. Joy makes the mistake that we all tend to make now and then, ignore sadness, replace it with positivity, and it will go away. The biggest problem with this strategy is that…well…it doesn’t work. Joy realized this (literally with Sadness not going away), and Riley did too.

Riley began to feel irritated really easily. She snapped at her friend, and even blew up at the table with her dad. She lost interest in hockey, and started to lie about things to her parents. Because the Control Center wasn’t allowing Sadness to be recognized, Riley wasn’t able to acknowledge that’s how she really felt, so it started coming out in other ways. Anger, Fear, and Disgust began to take over. Joy wouldn’t allow Riley to express her sadness because she didn’t want her to feel sad. A noble intent with very dangerous consequences. When feelings are ignored, buried deep down, or not allowed to be expressed, they push back harder and create the potential for explosion. Riley’s explosion was running away – it was the only way she saw the make things better.

The hero of this story was Sadness. Sadness taught Joy that our emotions serve a purpose – all of them! Without even realizing it, Sadness reminded Joy that feelings give us information about our experiences, and about other people’s experiences. They clue us in to challenges and rewards in life. They motivate us to connect with others, and to make changes in our lives. They keep us safe and they encourage us to take risks. We need ALL of our feelings to make these things happen. We need ALL of our feelings to stay healthy. When Riley expressed sadness, her parents realized she needed more support. When Riley was allowed to feel sad without pressure to be any other way, and when her feelings were recognized by herself and her parents, she was able to move forward, in a healthy way.

So in the end, as Riley grew, we saw memories that were not so solidly blue, yellow, red, or green. The majority were not just yellow anymore either. And the memories that included blue were not viewed as negative. We saw memories with mixed emotions, ones that were red and blue, green and yellow. Riley’s Control Center helped her grow and learn that experiences aren’t assigned just one emotion, but that she can experience multiple, and that all of the emotions are helpful for her, even Sadness.