In my search for a “real” family, God provided three kinds of healing, while I was growing up and even today. Here are my findings:
As a high school freshman, I sat in the school counselor’s office, counting numbers backward. To test my aptitude, he told me a series of random numbers (36, 71, 42, and so on) and asked me to recite them backward. I got a perfect score every time. I didn’t understand why he was so impressed—my memory has always been strong.
A powerful recall runs in my family. My great-grandmother touched my curly hair and ruminated. When she lost her hair to diphtheria as a young girl, she felt devastated. But when it grew back curly, she felt joyful. I learned from her that visual cues and feelings are keys to retrieving memories.
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!