The news is constantly consumed with articles about violence. Some recent events have provoked various emotions within me. As my husband will tell you, I am a very emotional being. I may not always wear my emotions on my sleeve, but I certainly internalize more than I should! As I contemplate the most recent unimaginable events, I must admit that anger is one of the primary emotions that I feel in response to these tragedies.
As defined by the American Psychological Association, “Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or something you feel has deliberately done you wrong. Anger can be a good thing. It can give you a way to express negative feelings, for example, or motivate you to find solutions to problems.”
This definition reminds me of a fantastic movie that my family saw recently called, “Inside Out” where the emotions of a young girl, Riley, are portrayed as characters inside her head. The “main” character, Joy, is frequently trying to prevent Sadness and the other “negative” emotions from interfering with her self-assigned duty to keep the young girl happy at all times. Any time that the other emotions interfere; we notice that Joy manages to regain control and convert the situation back to a joyful one. However, there is a major event that becomes a turning point in this character’s life.
After years of Joy being in charge, this event allows Anger to step in and take control as he declares, “No, Joy. There’s absolutely no reason for Riley to be happy right now. Let us (anger, sadness, disgust, and fear) handle this.” This begins a downward spiral for the character, as she begins to feel an array of mixed emotions about her new life situation. This situation creates unmet expectations and disappointments by the handful. Sadness claims, “Oh, we're in a Sadness Spiral” almost excited at the idea of being in control for the first time, in Riley’s life. Joy sees that Riley is spiraling out of control as the “negative” emotions take charge. She comes to the conclusion that, “there’s got to be a better way,” and so she desperately attempts to find a way to change it around, but must first go through some obstacles of her own. As the other “negative” emotions struggle to keep Riley moving forward, they quickly realize that their desire for control is selfish and not in the best interest of Riley. Fear declares, “That's it! Until she (Joy) gets back, we should do what Joy would do!” They make their best attempts to mimic Joy and attempt a bold move, but when it fails, Disgust claims, ”It’s like we don’t learn anything.“ At one point they want to give up, but Disgust reminds them, “Emotions can't quit, genius!” They continue making their best attempts, but no one can replace Joy.
I love the life lessons this movie teaches and it has been a great advocate in starting conversations with our children about their feelings. However, contrary to the movie’s depiction of emotions (and the way that they run our lives), I believe that we have the capability to learn different tools that can help us take charge of our emotions. Here at Brookhaven Retreat, these tools are a main focus of treatment. Emotional regulation through mindfulness is exercised with the assistance of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Poncho, along with various other programs.
Towards the end of the movie, Joy comes to find that the “negative” emotions truly aren’t negative. When these emotions are regulated in a healthy way and combined with other emotions, they become an integral part of our emotional maturity and overall well-being. The bottom line in the movie, and in life can be described by Joy when she comes to this realization and states, “You can't focus on what's going wrong. There's always a way to turn things around.” In addition to Joy’s advice, I’d like to offer one of my favorite quotes as encouragement against the struggles of everyday life, “Every day may not be good…but there is something good in every day.”