3 Takeaways from Pixar’s Inside Out

Joy and Sadness, from fandango.com
Joy and Sadness, from fandango.com

Almost every time I see a Pixar movie with my children, I end up crying as quietly as possible in the dark theater.  Inside Out was no different in that respect.  This time I cried less for the main character’s plight than I did for the ways the story line resonated with me as an adult child of divorce. Here are my top three takeaways. (note–spoilers ahead!)

1.  Our core memories shape our personality.

In the movie, Riley’s core emotions are golden, representing Joy’s influence. Riley has many happy bonding moments with her parents, which buttress her sunny personality.

While watching Joy send Riley’s daily memories to long-term storage, I considered how many of my core memory “marbles” are golden, and how many are blue with Sadness.  If I survey my childhood, the sad moments outnumber the happy ones.  Surely many adult children of divorce can relate.

With this movie I gained some understanding into my childhood struggles, because most of my core memories–even the joyful ones–are mixed with blue.  The good news is I can use those sad memories to power me toward making joyful memories with my family today.

2. Sadness is a vital emotion.

When Riley faces a tough transition, her emotions war inside.  Joy strives to regain control and banishes Sadness.  Riley’s emotional state disintegrates until Sadness is permitted to take the helm, allowing Riley express pent-up pain and grieve her losses.  She cannot get well until Sadness helps her.

I don’t usually see Sadness as helpful.  I see it as a dark grey cloud, a weight on my chest, an unwanted heaviness.  I feel guilty about Sadness, even though melancholy is my core alignment.  Yet I cannot welcome Joy until I take a walk with Sadness, acknowledging her presence and listening to her wisdom.  Sadness clears the path for Joy.

3. Validation is a key to healing.

Near the end of the movie, Riley finally expresses Sadness in front of her parents.  She is afraid they will be angry, but instead they quickly affirm her fears, doubts, and struggles.  Sadness allows others to help Riley–a key lesson for Joy to learn before she resumes headship.

I couldn’t hold back tears at this point.  What I craved most from my parents, from anyone in my childhood, was validation of my pain.  Not one more “It could be worse.”  Not one more “Be thankful.”  Not one more admonition to “Lighten up” or “Shake it off.”  Sadness sat beside Riley’s imaginary friend, simply listening.  She placed her hand on his arm and simply affirmed, “That’s sad.”  She didn’t tell him to stop crying.  Once she comforted him, he had the energy to move forward.

I didn’t receive validation until I was in therapy as an adult.  Only then did I learn to grieve my losses and pour my energy into moving forward as a wounded healer.

How did this movie resonate with you as an adult child of divorce?  I look forward to your comments, and I may write a future post based on your responses.  Thanks for reading!

God’s Refrigerator


img_1442I love my cluttered collection of magnets, photos, and business cards on the sides of my refrigerator.   When I take a phone call or sort our recycling items, I look over my collection and it makes me smile.  Corny, glittered mementos from tourist shops. Handmade creations from my children’s classrooms.  Oldie-but-goodie prints from our dating days.

The one item that always gives me pause is my August 1993 school portrait.

The 15-year-old me was nervous and excited that day.  Freshly hatched from a spiritual rebirth experience in the basement bathroom the week prior, I was ready to enter my junior year with verve for the Lord.

Little did I know that in two short months my lifelong best friend would move away, and I would turn all my hurt inward and slide downward, even entertaining suicidal thoughts.

I wasn’t aware that my depression was linked to all the hurt, anger, and confusion about my parents’ divorces and second marriages.  The storm clouds were gathering and I would be blindsided.

More than 20 years later, I know her pain.  I no longer hate myself, and I no longer am burdened with anger and confusion.  It took a lot of suffering, grieving, and therapy to get to the other side.

I heard a sermon once that said God carries your photo in His wallet.  I think He carries my old photo in His wallet, or maybe He keeps it on the side of His refrigerator.  I take comfort in His words of Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.”

God saw me and knew me then.  He knew the storm clouds were gathering.  He never let me go, even as the storms raged over me.  He showed me how to come out on the other side as a conqueror (Romans 8:37).

When I pause and look at that photo now, I say out loud, “I love you, 15-year-old Sarah.”  I say that to acknowledge the girl inside me, to validate her pain and her worth.  And then I thank God for all the healing He has brought to me since then.

How has God helped you through your struggles as a child of divorce?