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From Screen to Self: What Inside Out 2 Teaches Us about our Emotions and Therapy

What are you watching this summer? Is Inside Out 2 on your list?

It’s at the top of ours! 

The sequel to the fun, earnest exploration of emotions from 2015 features new characters joining the team of feelings ruling Riley’s life. Inside Out sends powerful messages about our ever-changing brains and feelings. It shows us that each of our emotions are a part of us and has an important role to play in keeping us safe, balanced, and happy. This theme is so important and is exactly what we do in therapy with our clients at Capital Counseling each day. So, of course, we loved every minute of it!

Inside Out 2 Movie Poster featuring all of the characters
Inside Out 2 Movie Poster

Inside Out, Emotions, and Therapy

How do the themes of Inside Out translate to therapy? Contrary to our instincts to push away or tamp down difficult emotions, Inside Out shows us that our emotions, even the unpleasant and uncomfortable ones, work together. The movie also tells us that acceptance is the patmessage echo many of the common themes in modern therapeutic practices, but it is something that we at Capital Counseling are passionate about helping our clients navigate. Often, clients come to us hoping to ‘get rid’ of certain emotions like sadness or anxiety. We help our clients learn to make room for their emotions and move towards greater acceptance and compassion of them rather than focusing on eliminating them.

The emotions in Riley’s mind in Inside Out represent parts of her, each taking on a different role that are all inherently valuable. This premise reflects the theories of Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy, an evidence based therapeutic model created by Richard Schwartz in the 1980’s. IFS imagines an individual’s mind as a family of different personalities, conceptualized as parts. Of course, in Inside Out these parts are represented as different characters like Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. The sequel even introduced new emotions of Anxiety, Envy, Ennui (bored), Embarrassment, and Nostalgia. All of these emotions are part of Riley. According to IFS, these parts revolve around her core self, which is the piece that should be in charge.

Inside Out and Internal Family Systems (IFS)

Image of Riley, the main character of Inside Out
Riley, the main character of Inside Out.

According to IFS, living with our true self involves facilitating a life filled with compassion, clarity, confidence, calmness, creativity, curiosity, courage, and connectedness. IFS says that if we can live from our true Self, we will embody the 8 C’s: compassion, clarity, confidence, calmness, creativity, curiosity, courage, and connectedness. 

Within the IFS model, it’s important to acknowledge that problems arise when trauma, stress, or other negative life experiences force our parts into unhealthy roles. These problematic roles are categorized as exiles, managers, and firefighters. Exiles are parts that have been wounded in some way and they often manifest in emotions like shame, humiliation, and fear. Managers and firefighters are parts with protective roles that try to help us avoid the exiles. Managers try to take control over our lives and minds so we never experience negative feelings and include things like perfectionism, anxiety, people-pleasing, and procrastination. The firefighting parts try to get rid of the exiles when they come to the forefront and often react through substance use, binge-eating, self-harm, or any other behavior that provides short term relief without long term benefits. IFS therapy focuses on a path of acceptance and compassion towards all our parts, even the ones we want to push away. The goal is for all of our parts return to a healthy role in our minds, acknowledging their individual value to us but not letting any one part take control.

When we use this therapy model with our clients at Capital Counseling, we focus on one part at a time and help guide our clients through 6 steps towards a more balaced life: find the part, focus on it, flesh it out, discover how you feel about it, befriend it, and ask the part about its fears. While this may seem like a long process, it is the best way to heal each part and uncover your core Self. At Capital Counseling we feel incredibly honored to do this work alongside our clients as they navigate their journey towards acceptance and compassion for all of their parts and inner experiences. 

If you are interested in learning more about the Internal Family Systems model, ask your counselor about it! We also recommend the book No Bad Parts by Richard Schwartz or visiting the IFS Institute.

Book over of No Bad Parts, Healthing Trauma & Restoring Wholeness with The Internal Family Systems Model by Richard Schwartz

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