Inside out – a story of basic human emotions
I was watching ‘Inside out’ with my children the other day. A couple of hours well-spent. It’s a lovely film and a I might even have shed a few tears!
The story is about 11-year old Riley and her move to a new place, leaving behind the security of familiar surroundings, and an established circle of friends. Interestingly, the story is told from the ‘inside out’, from the perspective of her internal world, specifically five basic core emotions of joy, sadness, fear, anger and disgust.
Certain emotions are considered innate or primary. These are joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and surprise. It is suggested that these emotions have an adaptive or survival value. For instance, experiencing fear in situations, which are dangerous. Fear is associated with a release of adrenalin, which motivates the “fight-flight” response. Also, emotions and their outward manifestations through facial expressions or behaviour have an important communication function. Before we can speak, expression of emotion is an essential way of communicating with our primary caregivers. Equally others’ expressions of emotion allow us to understand how they are feeling and respond appropriately.
The film highlights the ‘internal’ or psychological world of the main character – from the perspective of being a psychologist, who spends much of the time hearing about the internal worlds of others people, this focus seems very important and worthwhile. Of course, all of our day-to-day experience involves our internal world. Events don’t just occur in a vacuum – we interpret events or situations, think about them and experience emotions accordingly. In turn these internal ‘events’ then shape how we respond outwardly, for instance crying when we feel sad, smiling when we feel happy, arguing if we feel angry.
A final note on negative emotions. In the film ‘Joy’ goes on a mission to ensure that Riley’s core memories are positive ones. In reality, experiencing and processing negative emotions appropriately is central to well-being and good mental health. Indeed to master the ups-and-downs of life and cope with failures and disappointment, we need to learn to acknowledge and express a full range of emotions (which of course is one of the central tenets of therapy). It is impossible to be upbeat and happy all the time, yet society perpetuates a focus on happiness and positive thinking. Suppressing negative thoughts and feelings may detrimentally reduce contentment and increase stress levels. Ultimately, it is important to have a balance of emotions, positive and negative – thankfully, this was a conclusion also drawn in the film.
Dr. Andrea Papitsch-Clark