Beyond Joy and Sadness: Inside Out 2's Hidden Message About Core Memories


Beyond Joy and Sadness: Inside Out 2's Hidden Message About Core Memories

I went to see Inside Out 2 after much encouragement and reviews from my child clients. I must say, I was very impressed with how it was explained visually. One parent said that she cried because of how much she could relate to her own child’s anxiety and she could understand what her child was going through. 

Just like the new characters in Inside Out 2 potentially represent aspects of our "shadow side" – Anxiety, Embarrassment, Nostalgia (the "old lady") – we all have hidden emotions and impulses we tend to push down. But as the film suggests, these "negative" emotions can be powerful allies if we learn to embrace them.

Inside Out 2 and the Writers' Message:

The writers of Inside Out 2 likely aimed to normalise a wider range of emotions, including those traditionally seen as negative. By giving these emotions personified characters within Riley's head, they challenge the idea of a good and bad emotional landscape. This aligns perfectly with the concept of embracing our shadow selves, which can include not just anxieties but also:

  • Envy: That gnawing feeling when someone else has something you desire.
  • Ennui (Boredom): Apathy and listlessness that can signal a lack of stimulation or purpose.

Shadow Selves: Friends, Not Foes

Our shadow side isn't something to banish, but rather a hidden wellspring of power and potential. Here's how befriending our shadow, like Riley and her emotions in the film, can benefit us:

  • Greater Self-Awareness: Just like Riley wouldn't be whole without all her emotions, we can't achieve true self-awareness by ignoring parts of ourselves. Acknowledging our shadow emotions, like Envy, helps us understand why we compare ourselves to others and what motivates us.
  • Enhanced Creativity: The movie hints at how Anxiety can be a source of preparation and focus. Similarly, even seemingly negative emotions like Ennui (Boredom) can fuel creativity. Boredom can push us to seek new experiences and spark innovation.
  • Stronger Relationships: Denying our shadow can lead to emotional outbursts or unhealthy behaviours. By acknowledging and expressing shadow emotions like Envy in a healthy way, we can build stronger relationships through open communication.
  • Increased Resilience: Life throws challenges, and just like Riley needs all her emotions to navigate them, we need all parts of ourselves to be resilient. Accepting our shadow allows us to process difficult emotions and situations with greater strength.

Why Therapy? The Shadow's Impact

Many people find themselves in therapy because they haven't integrated their shadow selves. Let's look at a new example:

  • Case Study: Ethan, a 16-year-old, constantly worries about school performance, friendships, and disappointing his parents. He avoids social situations fearing rejection and spends most of his time studying alone. This social withdrawal fuels his anxiety, creating a cycle of worry and isolation. In therapy, Ethan explores his shadow – a deep fear of failure and a sense of inadequacy stemming from past experiences of criticism. By acknowledging these emotions and developing healthier coping mechanisms, Ethan can gradually challenge his anxieties and engage more in social activities.

Embracing the Shadow, Transforming Your Life

Once Ethan embraces his shadow, his life changes for the better:

  • He develops self-compassion, reducing his overall anxiety levels.
  • He learns to communicate his needs and fears, leading to stronger friendships.
  • He discovers a passion for music, a creative outlet for his emotions.

Back to Inside Out: Riley's Journey

Just like Ethan, Riley in Inside Out 2 learns to navigate her complex emotions. When she ignores Anxiety or tries to suppress her Disappointment, things get messy. But when she integrates all her emotions, she becomes more adaptable and resilient. This mirrors the journey of self-discovery and emotional growth we can all experience by befriending our shadow selves.

Building Core Memories: Inside Out vs. Reality

The movie portrays core memories as golden balls that are created and stored in Headquarters. While this isn't exactly how memory works in the real brain, it captures the essence of how significant experiences shape our personality. Here's a look at core memory formation in the film and how it compares to reality:

  • Inside Out: A significant event triggers a strong emotional response. The emotions working together create a memory ball, assigning a dominant emotion (Joy, Sadness, etc.) based on the experience. The memory ball is then stored in Headquarters, forming a core memory if it significantly impacts Riley's personality or identity.

  • Reality: Our brains constantly take in information and encode it as memories. However, not all experiences become core memories. Here's what contributes to core memory formation
    • Emotional Intensity: Events that evoke strong emotions, positive or negative, are more likely to be encoded as core memories.
    • Novelty and Surprise: New or unexpected experiences leave a stronger impression and are more likely to be remembered vividly.
    • Personal Significance: Events that significantly impact our sense of self, relationships, or understanding of the world are more likely to become core memories.

The Overlap: How Inside Out Gets it Right

While the film simplifies the process, it captures the key elements of core memory formation:

  • Emotions Play a Role: Our emotions strongly influence how we encode and store memories. Events paired with strong emotions are more likely to be remembered vividly and have a lasting impact.

  • Memories Can Change: The movie cleverly shows Joy sometimes revisiting core memories and adding a touch of sadness. This reflects how our perception of past events can change over time, influenced by new experiences and emotional growth.

The Cost of Ignoring Your Shadow

Ethan's case exemplifies how unexamined shadow emotions like fear of failure can morph into generalised anxiety. When we ignore or suppress negative emotions, they can fester and manifest in unhealthy ways, impacting our mental well-being. This can lead to conditions like anxiety or depression, characterised by persistent negative emotions and a diminished capacity to function in daily life.

Conclusion: Embrace Your Inner World

Inside Out 2, like our own inner world, is a complex and ever-evolving landscape. By embracing all our emotions, including the shadow selves, we can navigate life's challenges with greater resilience and unlock our full potential. And remember, the "old lady" Nostalgia core memory might not be the happiest, but it can be a powerful reminder of who we are and the experiences that shaped us. Don't be afraid to befriend your shadow side – it might hold the key to a more fulfilling and joyful life.

Enrolling in "How To Create an Emotionally Safe Home" Course

Now that we have spoken a bit more about the importance of emotions, you are able to appreciate how important they all are and my online course supports you to create an emotionally safe home environment.

"How To Create an Emotionally Safe Home", provides a comprehensive toolkit to help you navigate this journey.

The course delves into essential topics like: 

  1. Understanding Attachment Theory: Learn how secure attachment, built through responsive parenting, fosters self-esteem and emotional well-being.
  2. Promoting Open Communication: Discover practical strategies to create an environment where your child feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and feelings.
  3. Active Listening Skills: Learn how to truly listen to your child, validate their emotions, and create a space for trust and connection.
  4. Setting Boundaries with Love: Explore how to set clear boundaries while maintaining a loving and supportive environment.

By enrolling in this course, you'll gain valuable insights and practical tools to nurture your child's emotions and set them on the path to a happy and fulfilling life.

Photo credit: Disney

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