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Insights on "Inside Out 2"

Perspective on "Inside Out 2" from a childhood trauma therapist and mother.

Key points

  • The broader emotional range reflects the onset of more realistic, complex, and relatable feelings.
  • The portrayal of personality architecture in the movie mirrors sources of personality development in children.
  • Anxiety may particularly resonate with trauma survivors, and the tools to deal with it are well portrayed.

Two weeks ago, I shared my reflections about Inside Out when I introduced my 5-year-old daughter to the movie for the first time (and saw it again for the first time since 2015).

Introducing her to it was the precursor to taking her to our favorite theater to see the sequel, Inside Out 2, and in today’s piece, I’m going to share my insights about the sequel as a mom and trauma therapist, specifically with a lens as to how this might apply to those of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds.

A trauma therapist and mom’s thoughts about Inside Out 2

  • I was happy to see the inclusion of a broader range of emotions represented in this film. It’s like expanding beyond the primary colors of a paint palette to create a more beautiful nuanced picture when a broader, more complex range of emotions comes online.
  • But, realistically, research shows that the onset of more complex and nuanced emotions—like anxiety/worry, shame, envy—can onset much earlier than what was modeled in Inside Out 2 when these emotions got introduced to Riley’s “emotional control headquarters” when she turned 13.
  • For any child who experienced relational trauma or any iteration of childhood neglect, abuse, or dysfunctional that caused them to feel unsafe or that compromised their dignity, anxiety would have likely “come online” a heck of a lot sooner than 13 and, as research suggests, would have been at the helm of the proverbial control panel alongside anger as the dominant feeling states.
  • So, that’s another thing that struck me as I watched Inside Out 2adolescence is inherently, painfully uncomfortable (I could see so many of us middle-aged parents there with our kiddos who have yet to journey through puberty) squirming uncomfortably at certain moments having that lived experience under our belts. So puberty is pretty painful and sucky, we can agree. Now imagine doing that in a family system devoid of the safety and stability Riley’s family provided, and imagine how much more painful still that becomes for folks with relational trauma histories. Indeed, research shows that childhood trauma significantly increases the risk of various mental health conditions during adolescence, including depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Adolescents who experienced multiple traumatic events show higher levels of these symptoms as they journey through puberty.
  • I felt deeply, uncomfortably seen by that scene where anxiety is losing it trying to manage Riley’s critical soccer scrimmage performance. That scene—with a hurricane of anxiety whirling around with fear and frozenness at the center leading to Riley on the verge of a panic attack—will likely be hauntingly familiar for any of us who live with anxiety full-stop and/or as a result of our trauma histories. Between that scene and Louisa’s anthemic “Surface Pressure” from another great film, Encanto, you basically have my autobiography. Anyone else out there relate?
  • I was so delighted to see the concept of the architecture of personality concretized into an image in Inside Out 2. Research tells us that personality development involves both temperament (natural tendencies) and character (individual differences in goals and values shaped by experience). These multidimensional components interact to form a coherent personality structure. So that’s why we see one version of Riley’s personality architecture early in the movie up in headquarters replaced by another structure more informed by anxiety, and then finally a cohesive one that contains both the pre-anxiety and post-anxiety experiences and emotions. Again, bearing in mind those from relational trauma histories, I’d make a case that the architecture of this personality may likely be maladaptively formed in response to their traumatic experiences even more so than their nontraumatized peers.
  • And I loved how, at the end of the movie, Joy (and the other emotions) gave Anxiety a concrete, time-sensitive job (as well as soothed her via hot tea and a massage chair) to occupy her instead of attempting to run the show with bigger issues. This is a smart behavioral intervention tool—use the anxiety and don’t pretend it’s not there, but instead give it a task and outlet. In the case of Inside Out 2, it was studying for the Spanish test. For you, it could be making a list, developing a project plan, etc. As the saying goes, the antidote to anxiety is action (just don’t let it be the action that takes over the whole show).
  • Finally, per my last post on Inside Out, I did see what I had been hoping for: a blue/red memory ball that captures the nuance of dual emotions being held and experienced at the same time. And since I personally experience and professionally witness this dual emotion often, I was delighted to see it represented.

I honestly loved this movie. I love the Inside Out series. I wish Pixar would just develop a whole slew of them (cough cough, I’d particularly love to see a middle-aged mom's inner life expanded upon!).

Do I think they’re the whole of what’s needed when it comes to emotional psychoeducation? No.

Do I think they do a marvelous job at starting the conversation so more emotional psychoeducation can happen? 100 percent yes.

If you haven’t seen Inside Out and Inside Out 2, I hope you’ll prioritize doing so.

Whether you come from a relational trauma background or not, they’re truly delightful, helpful, and validating little films.


Russell, J., & Paris, F. (1994). Do Children Acquire Concepts for Complex Emotions Abruptly? International Journal of Behavioral Development, 17, 349–365.

Kaltiala-Heino, R., Marttunen, M., Rantanen, P., & Rimpelä, M. (2003). Early puberty is associated with mental health problems in middle adolescence. Social Science & Medicine, 57 6, 1055–1064.

Suliman, S., Mkabile, S., Fincham, D., Ahmed, R., Stein, D., & Seedat, S. (2009). Cumulative effect of multiple trauma on symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression in adolescents. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 50 2, 121–127.

Cloninger, C. (2003). Completing the Psychobiological Architecture of Human Personality Development: Temperament, Character, and Coherence. 159–181.

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