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  • Writer's pictureSophia Khan

Embracing Our Inner World: Reflections on Inside Out 2 from an Internal Family Systems Perspective

As a trauma therapist who employs Internal Family Systems (IFS) or Parts Work in my practice, I was particularly moved by the nuanced portrayal of human emotions in Inside Out 2. This animated film goes beyond its predecessor in exploring the complexity and interplay of our inner parts, offering a compelling visual narrative that aligns beautifully with the principles of IFS. Here are some reflections and takeaways from the film, viewed through the lens of a therapist deeply familiar with the intricate landscape of the human psyche.

The Multitude Within: Understanding Our Many Parts

One of the core tenets of IFS is the understanding that we are all composed of various internal "parts" that together form our complex, multifaceted selves. Inside Out 2 does an excellent job of illustrating this by introducing new characters such as Anxiety, Embarrassment, Envy, Ennui, and Disgust, alongside familiar faces like Joy and Sadness. In IFS, parts can be more than just emotions—they can manifest as beliefs, memories, thoughts, patterns of behavior, sensations, and much more. Each part has its own perspective and story, contributing to our overall experience and behavior.

Benevolent Intentions: The Good in Every Part

A powerful message from the film, which resonates deeply with IFS principles, is that there are no "bad parts." Every part within us, no matter how disruptive or distressing its actions might seem, is ultimately striving for our well-being. For instance, Anxiety's overbearing presence in Inside Out 2 is depicted as a misguided but well-meaning attempt to protect Riley. This aligns with the IFS view that all parts have positive intentions, even if their methods are flawed.

The Complexity of Our Parts: Beyond Simple Emotions

Inside Out 2 beautifully captures the sophisticated and multidimensional nature of our parts. Joy, for example, experienced moments of sadness, while Anger showed softness, and Sadness felt joy. This complexity reflects real life, where our parts are not static or one-dimensional but are capable of a wide range of thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behaviors. Recognizing this complexity allows us to appreciate the depth of our internal world and the richness of our emotional experiences.

The Roles Our Parts Play: Seeking to Help

Each part within us has a specific role and aims to contribute to our well-being. In the movie, Anxiety's takeover of the control board leads to a panic attack, but it is revealed that this was an attempt to protect Riley. This portrayal underscores the idea that parts are not inherently problematic; they often need guidance to channel their efforts more effectively. When parts are understood and supported, they can step out of the driver's seat and find more constructive ways to help, as Anxiety eventually does.

Inclusion and Acceptance: The Need for Recognition

Parts of ourselves, like characters in the film, want to feel wanted, included, and needed. They can be hurt when we try to dismiss or ignore them. Inside Out 2 shows Joy's sadness when she feels Riley doesn't need her anymore. This moment poignantly illustrates how our parts can experience hurt and rejection. Instead of discarding them, we can invite our parts to take on new roles that better serve our current needs, fostering a sense of inclusion and cooperation within our internal system.

Loving Our Messiest Parts

Finally, the film underscores a vital therapeutic insight: even our messiest parts deserve love and acceptance. The parts of ourselves that we might want to hide or deny are integral to our identity and well-being. By embracing all parts of ourselves, we build a more honest, authentic, and complete sense of self. This acceptance is crucial for healing, especially in the context of trauma, where many parts may hold pain, fear, or shame.

Conclusion: Embracing Our Inner Ecosystem

Inside Out 2 offers a vibrant, emotionally rich exploration of our inner worlds, aligning closely with the principles of Internal Family Systems therapy. As a trauma therapist, I see this film as a valuable tool for helping clients understand and navigate their own internal landscapes. By recognizing the multiplicity, good intentions, complexity, roles, need for inclusion, and worthiness of all our parts, we can foster greater self-awareness, compassion, and healing. Embracing our inner ecosystem is not just about managing emotions; it's about honoring and integrating every part of who we are.


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