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Friday Food for Thought: Confronting Emotion

I re-watched the animated Pixar movie Inside Out one night this week when I couldn’t sleep. Midnight and wide awake, I remembered the first time I had seen it, during one of the darkest periods of my life. Back then it had taken a children’s movie to completely unravel me; tears pooled into my box of Raisinettes and I wasn’t quite sure why.

That movie still pulls at my heartstrings. It is the only movie I can think of that addresses emotion in such an open manner. During a time where I’d been suppressing my sadness and anger, a bunch of Pixar characters had essentially given me permission to let go of the hurt I’d been holding onto.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I highly recommend it. The story centers on an 11-year-old girl who has difficulty processing her family’s move from Minnesota to San Francisco. To illustrate this, we are able to see inside her mind, and are introduced to 5 “characters” who are her 5 major emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust.

The film is an extremely clever look into how emotions work, though the moral of the story lies in that Joy cannot exist without Sadness, and all the other emotions, too. Don’t let the word “cartoon” fool you—this movie plays out like an exercise in psychology that will leave you wondering long after it’s finished about the concept of mixed emotions, and how those emotions can work together.

Today I thought about this a little more, and stumbled upon a quote from writer Anne Lamott that I had bookmarked some time ago.

“But you can’t get to any of these truths by sitting in a field smiling beatifically, avoiding your anger and damage and grief. Your anger and damage and grief are the way to the truth. We don’t have much truth to express unless we have gone into those rooms and closets and woods and abysses that we were told not go into. When we have gone in and looked around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in – then we will be able to speak in our own voice and to stay in the present moment. And that moment is home,” she wrote.

This quote speaks so beautifully to the idea of emotional growth and perception. Within each of us, we hold dark and light moments that have led us to the people we have become. Avoiding our “truths” will further inhibit our growth, and the “anger and damage and grief” that we feel are essential components to the healing that we strive for on a daily basis.

Making the choice to reconnect with our emotion in a healthy and reasonable way is the most important step in finding peace with the past. The future holds Joy—though it holds Sadness and a million other emotions, too.

Moving through a profound experience such as recovery often dredges up emotion that we would rather not confront. Though instead of viewing a meeting of these emotions as a confrontation, we can take heed of Lamott’s words in “looking around for a long while, just breathing and finally taking it in.”

“The present moment,” she concludes, is “home.”

Home is a good place to begin, and our emotions are a good place to start a new conversation with the selves we wish to become.


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