“Inside Out” and the value of sadness

July 7th, 2015 by Dr. Nina Asher

The new Pixar film, “Inside Out,” brings to light the vast array of deep emotions experienced in childhood. Told through the eyes of an 11 year-old girl, moving with her family from her childhood home to a new city, we hear the voices of joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust bouncing off one another as she navigates this difficult time.

As parents, we often focus on the external challenges of such a move – new house, neighborhood, school, friends. We tend to equate success with happiness, overlooking the multitude of other feelings that accompany life changes. “Inside Out” poignantly highlights the importance of accessing and accepting all feelings, putting particular emphasis on the role of sadness.

Sadness, like anger, can be perceived as a failure. It is seen as something to “get away from” rather than something to acknowledge and embrace. However, without it, we develop a kind of false sense of happiness– we look “fine” but we feel lost and disconnected. When we truly let ourselves feel deep sadness, we also set the stage for interpersonal connection, which in turn facilitates the unfolding of development.

Adults like to think that children are immune to the deep sadness that we experience. I hear many parents say, “she’s just a child, she will be fine.” In fact, children perceive a range of feelings, but often don’t have the words or cognition to explain or speak to what they feel. Children, like adults, experience deep sadness in the face of loss. They are not “naturally happy,” and, they need all their feelings validated.

“Inside Out” underscores the fact that sadness is not only an acceptable, but also a necessary part of the process of adjusting. It is through sadness, or suffering, that we develop compassion and empathy. Conversely, when one is sad, others jump in to soothe, help, comfort allowing for intimate connection. Experiencing our sadness with compassion helps us settle into change, and move forward.