What We Learn From “Inside Out 2”

4 of the new characters in Inside Out 2 are depicted: Embarrassment, Anxiety, Envy, and Ennui

Pixar just released “Inside Out 2,” a funny, touching, and sophisticated look at how our emotions and experiences shape us. In the sequel, we once again join main character Riley’s five primary emotions: Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust. However, now Riley is 13 and heading to a hockey summer camp when the “puberty alarm” goes off. The group is then joined by some new feelings: Anxiety, Embarrassment, Envy, and Ennui (a mashup of boredom/disinterest/lethargy). We can learn a lot from “Inside Out 2” about ourselves, other people, and our kids. Here are a few of the biggest psychological takeaways. Warning, light spoilers ahead.

1. All emotions are valid and play important roles

“Inside Out 2” shows us that our emotions are a big part of who we are. Like in the first movie, all of Riley’s emotions in the sequel are necessary for her to grow and develop. For example, when Anxiety first arrives, she helps get Riley out of a tough situation. Embarrassment works with Sadness. Even Ennui, sprawled on the couch, helps out. We can’t always be driven just by Joy- or Fear- we need all the emotions. They are all important and valid. 

2. Anxiety is just trying to help

As the character Anxiety tells the others, she is there to protect Riley “from the scary stuff she can’t see.” Anxiety moves in, with armfuls of luggage (a-hem, baggage), and immediately offers to help with anything and everything.

A little anxiety, like fear, can be helpful. It can mobilize us to do things or get away from harm. But as the movie unfolds, we see that too much anxiety can be unhelpful. We need more than just one emotion driving us.

And we all have anxiety sometimes. For kids and teens, it can be powerful and normalizing to see a movie where other people experience anxiety, too.

3. Naming our emotions can help us understand them

Like in the first movie, the emotions in “Inside Out 2” all have names. We can see that when one of the emotions is leading Riley, the “control board” in her mind changes color to reflect that emotion (anger is red, disgust is green, joy is yellow, and so on). We then see how Riley acts as a result.

But for ourselves (or our kids), it can help us understand what we’re feeling or doing if we stop and identify the emotions we are experiencing. Which feeling is “driving” us in the moment?

It can be hard to learn how to do this. I like to use this Feelings Wheel from the Calm website when helping people identify their emotions. 

4. Our emotions don’t get to decide who we are, but they help shape us

We are more than our feelings and we are not our feelings. Emotions certainly play a part in who we are, and they are definitely important. They help us understand things and shape our personalities. They may lead us to act. But they are not us. Each of us gets to decide who we are: by how we think and how we act.

5. Core beliefs are created by experiences and emotions

Move Poster for Inside Out 2, showing all the characters faces pressed close together
Inside Out 2 Poster

The film provides a nuanced picture of how core beliefs- positive and negative- are formed for Riley.

Core beliefs help create our personality and “sense of self.” The process of this, which begins in childhood and then continues into adolescence, is thoughtfully depicted in the movie. Core beliefs can develop and then shift. Ultimately, core beliefs become components of who we are. 

6. We are many things at the same time

Throughout the hockey camp in “Inside Out 2,” Riley goes back and forth about who she is and who she wants to be. Her emotions and experiences help her explore her values, her sense of empathy, and belonging.

It would be easy for a kid’s movie to make it clear about who the main character is: she is kind and a good friend. But “Inside Out 2,” embraces multiple aspects of who Riley is. She is not one-dimensional. She is many things, like we all are. We can all be selfish at times, and still be a good person. Also, many of us want to fit in and be liked AND want to be ourselves, too. 

7. A LOT is happening in our brains at any given moment

After being banished from Riley’s mind by the new emotion, the primary emotions race through Riley’s conscious and unconscious trying to help. As they move through Riley’s mind, we see neurological depictions of what is happening in many of our minds at any given time. We see the “stream of consciousness,” a growing “sar-chasm,” and a wild “brainstorm.” From imagination to the process of pruning memories, “Inside Out 2” amuses and educates about the various processes that happen inside our brains at any given moment. 

In closing…

The tagline for “Inside Out 2” is “Make room for new emotions.” With all of Riley’s emotions, the film teaches us a great deal about our feelings, how we develop a sense of self, and how our minds work. In closing, I recommend watching it with your kids or family, and seeing what kind of conversations or insights it might spark.

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Megan Vogels, MA, LPC, NCC is a licensed professional counselor and National Board Certified Counselor in private practice in Colorado. For more about Megan, check out her website.