The Real Inside Out

Pixar has just released a new animated film, Inside Out, which takes place largely inside the mind of an 11 year-old girl. Pete Doctor, the director, decided to personify 5 major emotions—joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. These are shown as 5 characters struggling to control what the girl feels and how she acts. It is a sweet film, showing the importance of family, the difficulties of growing up, and also how each emotion has an adaptive side as well as a difficult side.

I highly recommend Inside Out for children, and, for adults who enjoy animation, it has many interesting references, too. There are even more cool things in the film, like how it represents memories and important themes in a person’s life. If you know someone who is new to the idea of parts (subpersonalities), the film could introduce it to them in a fun way.

The director got some help with the science behind the film, but he mainly looked at the understanding of emotions from psychology. Unfortunately, it seems that he didn’t explore what is known about the mind from psychotherapy. He didn’t realize that he could have done much more than just creating cute personifications of our emotions, that our minds are actually made up of sub-personalities, sometimes called parts, which really are like little people inside us.

If he had looked into psychotherapy, he would have seen that there is a rich history of approaches to therapy that work with sub-personalities–Jungian Analysis, Psychosynthesis, Gestalt Therapy, Voice Dialogue, and Ego-State Therapy, just to mention a few. And Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) is the latest and most sophisticated of these approaches. Parts are far more than just emotions. Some parts try to protect us from pain or keep us from getting hurt. Some are child parts that are in pain from the past. And so on. By working directly with our parts, we have the power to engage in deep healing of psychological issues and make important changes in our behavior to get what we want in life.

The film could have been even richer and more accurate if it had been based on IFS. But nevertheless, it is a great film, and I take my hat off to Pete Doctor and Pixar for venturing into this territory.


Understanding The Wound Dimension of the Pattern System

In this article, I will focus on the Wound Dimension, which you can see on the next to bottom row of the chart below. In a previous blog, I discussed the Inner Process Dimension.

This dimension is about your attitude toward the way you were wounded in the past, usually in childhood. This is important because it is a central aspect of IFS work and of most forms of psychotherapy.

Wound Dimension

The two healthy capacities in this dimension are Understanding Wounds and Forgiveness.

With the Understanding Wounds Capacity, you are interested in discovering how you were wounded in childhood so you can heal these wounds. With the Forgiveness Capacity, you are able to forgive the people who wounded you. Forgiveness doesn’t mean condoning the way you were treated. It means letting go of your resentment. Forgiveness is primarily for your well-being, though it may also enhance your current relationship with your parents (or whoever wounded you). Even though Forgiveness is an important part of healing, be careful not to push yourself to forgive before you are ready. Many people need to first feel their wounds and their anger about the way they were treated and heal their wounds. Then they are ready to forgive. This is fine.

The two problematic patterns in this dimension are the Angry Pattern and the Loyal Pattern. With the Angry Pattern, you not only feel and express your anger about how you were harmed or deprived as a child, but you can’t let go of the anger even after it has been fully expressed. This will ultimately get in the way of your healing because this defensive kind of anger often blocks your access to the pain of your wounds, which is necessary to feel into order to heal them. And it also blocks Forgiveness, which is important to healing.

If you have the Loyal Pattern, it means that you feel such loyalty to your family or to one of your parents that you are unwilling to realize how they wounded you. You may be afraid of hurting the parent or making them feel bad. You may be afraid of losing your connection to your family if you let yourself realize how they hurt you. You may be afraid of not pleasing them and losing their approval.

It is important to realize that understanding your wounds is not about blaming your parents. It is about seeing and feeling how you were wounded so you can heal your wounds. Your parents may have given you many positive things in addition to how they wounded you.

Recognizing the wounds doesn’t negate the positive. And it doesn’t need to undermine your current relationship with your parents, if that is now good. If you refuse to see what happened to you out of loyalty, it makes it hard to heal.