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Inside Out & Stepping Out of Denial

This is the first part of a series examining the 12 Steps of Recovery through the lens of nerd culture, all of which will be collected as part of our Mental Health resource.

Step 1 of Recovery | We admitted we were powerless over our addictions and compulsive behaviors, that our lives had become unmanageable.

Inside Out, a heartwarming and thought-provoking movie produced by Pixar Animation Studios, delves into the complexities of human emotions. The film imparts numerous valuable life lessons, with one of its most profound themes exploring the damaging impact of denial. Through brilliant storytelling and vibrant characters, Inside Out serves as a powerful reminder of the consequences of denying our emotions, and how it can significantly affect our mental and emotional well-being.

The movie takes us on a journey inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley, where anthropomorphized emotions – Joy, Sadness, Fear, Disgust, and Anger – shape her personality and create memories. Each emotion serves a unique purpose, and Sadness, in particular, plays a central role in understanding the dangers of denial.

But what exactly is “denial”?

Well, as they say, “denial” ain’t just a river in Egypt. (Pardon the tired recovery joke.)

Denial is a defense mechanism we often use to shield ourselves from painful or uncomfortable emotions. In the movie, Riley initially denies her sadness to hold onto the happiness she once knew. Joy, her dominant emotion, becomes fixated on suppressing Sadness, creating an illusion of eternal joyfulness. However, this suppression sets off a chain of events that highlight the harmful consequences of denying one’s true feelings.

Photo Credit: Animation World Network

As Joy tries to keep Sadness away from Riley’s “control panel,” her emotional life begins to unravel. Denying the expression of sadness prevents her from processing difficult emotions in a healthy manner, resulting in chaos, confusion, frustration, and anxiety.

When we deny our genuine feelings, we construct a façade of happiness and contentment that may not align with our true emotional state. This artificial persona can alienate us from our loved ones, hindering meaningful connections as we struggle to portray ourselves as something we are not.

Denial also hampers personal growth and development. In the movie, Riley becomes emotionally stagnant by clinging to her past identity. True growth necessitates facing and embracing a range of emotions, including sadness and fear, as they offer opportunities for learning and resilience.

Denying emotions does not make them disappear; instead, they accumulate beneath the surface, potentially leading to emotional outbursts or breakdowns. The movie illustrates how denying Sadness ultimately results in Joy’s own breakdown, highlighting the importance of embracing our full emotional spectrum.

“By acknowledging and accepting our feelings, even the painful ones, we can pave the way for a more authentic and emotionally fulfilling life.” -Iris Cruz

As the movie unfolds, Joy comes to realize that Sadness plays a vital role in emotional well-being. Allowing Riley to confront her sadness and express her true feelings helps her begin the healing process. The film beautifully portrays the power of acceptance, both in acknowledging difficult emotions and seeking support from loved ones.

Denial is something with which we all struggle at some point, usually for two reasons. First, we fear others might perceive us as not being “in control.” Second, we hesitate to admit to ourselves that we aren’t “in control” either.

Putting on a mask of denial for others often results in pretending to be fine. This is an issue in church culture, where people may avoid being honest about their struggles to maintain a facade of togetherness. However, the truth is that none of us have it all together, but we’ve conditioned ourselves to hide our struggles.

The real danger lies in how we deceive ourselves. It’s challenging to lie to ourselves because we know the truth. Instead, we resort to coping mechanisms, such as indulging in video games, immersing ourselves in work, partying, gambling, drinking excessively, or even experimenting with drugs to avoid facing our emotions and pain.

Photo Credit: Disney/PIXAR

Inside Out serves as a poignant reminder that denying our emotions is detrimental to our mental and emotional health. Through the vivid world inside Riley’s mind, we witness the adverse effects of denying Sadness and the importance of embracing our true emotions. The movie encourages us to accept and process our feelings, promoting emotional resilience and personal growth.

In our own lives, we can learn from Inside Out and strive to be more aware of our emotions, allowing ourselves and others the space to experience and express them honestly. By acknowledging and accepting our feelings, even the painful ones, we can pave the way for a more authentic and emotionally fulfilling life. As we navigate the complexities of human emotions, let Inside Out remind us that it’s okay not to be okay and that true healing comes from confronting, not denying, our feelings.

Here is a verse to take with you today:

“You can’t heal a wound by saying it’s not there!”
Jeremiah 6:14a (TLB)

Writer in the geek world, raising two beautiful baby geeks.

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