Speaking of imagination the new Disney movie Inside Out is a wonder. From my viewpoint as a psychologist I believe it provides a remarkably accurate model of the human mind. If you have not seen it I recommend it highly. Find a child to take you and you will be in for a treat! It is the story of a little girl named Riley who makes a move with her parents from Minnesota to San Francisco. Everything is different and she has trouble adjusting to a new school, a new house, new friends and the loss of her beloved Hockey team.
The person that Riley presents to the world is depicted as Joy—an upbeat child with the voice of Amy Poehler. On the inside and not so visible Riley holds Fear, Disgust, Sadness and Anger, each represented by lovable cartoon figures in different colors. Each of these emotions is portrayed by talented actors with individual personalities. So that right there is accurate! We all have a “face” that we present to the world with competing and complex emotions and attitudes that we hold inside.
Riley’s mind is depicted as countless “marbles” that hold thousands of memories on racks in a vast maze—like the graduate library at the University of Michigan!! Core memories are essential conglomerates of incidents that are tipping points in life such as a moment of joy ice-skating with parents. The core memories connect to “islands” of personality: family, hockey, honesty, goofball and friendship. I find this conception to be right on target. Each of us has “islands” of personality. My islands are wife, mother, therapist, spiritual seeker, feminist, dancer, actor, daughter, sister and grandmother. I can be different as I react in each of those roles. Sure. They are connected but they don’t necessarily reflect the same personal traits and that is Okay!!! I treasure each of those roles.
But there are also islands that I don’t like so much: person who gets angry at insurance companies; person who finds it hard to forgive; person who feels ignored or neglected; person who is frightened. They are present as well and they make themselves known whether I want them to or not. So I believe that the healthiest response for all of us is to recognize the “islands.” Embrace the positive and good and recognize the less desirable and be patient with them. A lot of the work that I do in my office is in building bridges to the various islands that people have and enabling them to acknowledge and forgive those that aren’t so good. It is then and only then that they can begin to change.
What are the “islands” in your head? Can you recognize the good ones and be patient with the bad? Anyway next week I will have more to say about what we can learn from this remarkable movie.
Ellen Toronto is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Spring, Texas and has been practicing since 1980. In 2017, she was elected a Fellow in Psychoanalysis by the American Psychological Association. In 2016, Dr. Toronto's practice was recognized as one of the top Ann Arbor Psychology practices. She received her Ph.D. in Psychology from the University of Michigan. Dr. Toronto is married to Robert Toronto, Ph.D., and together they have four sons and eleven grandchildren.