Tag Archives: film/movie/book

5 Mental Health Takeaways from Disney Pixar’s Inside Out

As far back as I can remember I’ve been fascinated with how the mind works. In high school I wrote an essay on the subconscious and later I earned a degree in psychology in college (though I never made a career out of it).

More recently, I started practicing yoga and meditation, as ways to bring the subconscious up to the conscious level on an ongoing basis.

And even MORE recently, as part of my interest in trauma work in the realm of adoption, I’ve begun a year-long self-study of DBT — Dialectical Behavior Therapy. When I read (in either The Atlantic or People — I always get them confused) that Disney Pixar was about to release Inside Out, I did a double-take. Hey — that’s DBT in Buzz Lightyear style!

Based in Headquarters, the control center inside 11-year-old Riley’s mind, five Emotions are hard at work, led by lighthearted optimist Joy (voice of Amy Poehler), whose mission is to make sure Riley stays happy. Fear (voice of Bill Hader) heads up safety, Anger (voice of Lewis Black) ensures all is fair and Disgust (voice of Mindy Kaling) prevents Riley from getting poisoned—both physically and socially. Sadness (voice of Phyllis Smith) isn’t exactly sure what her role is, and frankly, neither is anyone else. — Disney Pixar

My family attended a pre-screening the other night (disclosure: we were guests at the theater). Each of us loved the movie, for different reasons. Reed liked it for the cartoon-y feel, bright colors, and fast pace. Tessa liked it for pulling on her heartstrings. Roger liked it for the multi-layered humor that Pixar is so good at (as in virtually any episode of The Simpson, there is in-your-face kid humor alongside more subtle adult humor).

I liked the film because it takes Dialectical Behavior Therapy from flat words and theories into dimensional images and a narrative. Along with basic tenets of attachment parenting, here are my takeaways (which will make sense even if you’ve never heard of DBT).

Disney Pixar InsideOut emotions

1. Every emotion has a purpose. None are “bad,” though some could be overused or neglected/repressed. Part of the journey within the film involves finding the purpose for sadness. It highlighted for me how much emphasis many of us put into NOT feeling sad.

disney pixar's inside out sadness

2. Relationships are key. Relationships allow for connection. Connection allows for resilience. Connection is required before claims can be made on a relationships. Before you correct, connect — as one of my tutors is fond of saying. When dealing with a traumatized kiddo like Riley (her trauma was being uprooted by a life she loved in Minnesota when her family moves to San Francisco), the connection with her parents must be perceived by her before requests of her can be entertained.

disney pixar's inside out relationships

3a. Play builds connection…Inside Out portrays each of Riley’s memories as a large glowing pearl. Memories that have great significance or are oft-repeated are called core memories. Joy explains in the clip above that “each core memory powers a different aspect of Riley’s personality, like my personal favorite, Goofball Island.

Courtesy Goofball Island, many of Riley’s core memories reflect her family’s silliness: food served in a zooming airplane spoon; undies worn on the head;  nekkid toddler Riley shaking her patooty to the sheer glee of her parents.

Riley’s core memories show strong connection within her family, which won’t prevent tough times but will make recovery easier when she encounters them.

disney pixar's inside out play

3b. …and we should invest in connection. The steady building of Goofball Island, Family Island, Friend Island and the other foundations are necessary for Riley to weather emotions she experiences due to stress-inducing events in her life.

Though in my home we are past the zooming airplane spoon and nekkid toddler patooty stages, we can still invest in Family and Goofball Island infrastructure through games and giggles like jumping rope, getting out the Twister mat, playing charades, bouncing on the trampoline.

4. Simply abide. We in the ALI (adoption/loss/infertility) community have a tradition of abiding with someone who is enduring a loss or facing a fear. We don’t dismiss the emotions (“it’ll all be OK”) or tell someone to “get over it.” We don’t avoid tough emotions. We sit with a person while she feeeeeeels it. We walk alongside.

Riley is able to fall back on core memories of being abided with as she deals with her losses and fears. Surprisingly, Sadness plays a key role here, especially when Riley is allowed to feeeeeel sadness and is supported while doing so.

disney pixar's inside out school

5. Becoming your own observer is one way to be mindful. I vaguely remember a similarly-themed FOX-TV series in the early 1990s called Herman’s Head. Perhaps turning our emotions into their own entities is an effective mindfulness technique because it turns us into our own observer even as we are also the observed. That helps us retain a rational element while also being intensely emotional. What would it be like to observe yourself in a moment of highly-charged emotion and lend a color, a name, a personality to that emotion? Would that make it easier to stay in control of the emotion rather than allow the emotion to control you?

disney pixar's inside out anger

Inside Out by Disney•Pixar is a movie my whole family recommends. If you see it, come back and tell me what you think of it.

Addison Cooper has reviewed this film also. Check out what he has to say on Adoption at the Movies.

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Lori Holden's book coverLori Holden, mom of a teen son and a teen daughter, blogs from Denver. Her book, The Open-Hearted Way to Open Adoption: Helping Your Child Grow Up Whole, is available through your favorite online bookseller and makes a thoughtful anytime gift for the adoptive families in your life.

10 Movies & the Messages They Give About Adoption

I’ve long admired Addison Cooper for the way he makes me think about adoption more expansively, as well as for his  helpful posts about adoption movies (really, if you’re considering a movie for/with your kids, check out Adoption at the Movies first).

Addison and I recently teamed up for an interview that will be published in a magazine soon  — we’ll point you there when available. In the meantime, I think more people should know Addison and the tools he brings to adoptive parenting, so I’ve asked him to treat readers to a guest post. Below he shares how to use movies to open up conversations about adoption, a technique called “dropping pebbles,” covered by Holly van Gulden and Lisa M. Bartels-Rabb in Real Parents, Real Children: Parenting the Adopted Child and introduced to me by Judy M Miller.

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adoption at the moviesHi! My name is Addison. I’m a social worker and therapist in the world of foster care and adoption, and I review movies for foster and adoptive families on my site, Adoption at the Movies. I started the site with the intention of helping foster and adoptive families use film to enter into important conversations about adoption, believing that the movies would be easily-accessible avenues into otherwise hard-to-start conversations.

Many films don’t directly address adoption, but still have relevance to adoption-related issues. For example, in Frozen, Elsa and Anna feel the weight of familial secrecy. In other films, adoption is present but tangential to the main story, such as in the Star Wars series. Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia were each adopted; they reunify later in life prior to Luke’s tumultuous but eventually redemptive reunion with his birth father.

In yet other films, adoption isn’t part of the main plot but it plays a huge role in the story. Despicable Me is about a super-villain changing his ways, but along the way he adopts three sisters from an orphanage. And then there are some films in which adoption is inextricable from the plot, such as The Blind Side.

Movies as Prompters of Adoption Conversations

Movies are helpful to start conversations, but like humans, they’re not blank states. When adoption is part of a film’s storyline, the film does say something about adoption, whether implicitly or explicitly.

Openness in adoption is a topic that’s particularly important to me, and that’s probably part of why I enjoy talking with Lori . I’ve written and trained on openness in adoption, and I’ve enjoyed reading Lori’s book on the same. Openness, or the pain of a closed adoption, or the desire to open a closed relationship — these are all prominent themes in several films. I thought it might be interesting to crystallize what the films below say about openness, or at least, what the each film’s presuppositions are. Some of the messages are healthy, a couple not so much — the point is you should know before you walk into the theater or queue up the movie on your screen.

Adoption Messages in 10 Feature Films

Here are 10 movies and their crystallized adoption messages. Click each link for my full commentary.

1. Admission: “Birth parents never forget their children.”

2. Antwone Fisher: “Finding your birth family can help you understand yourself. The process might be painful at times and wonderful at other times, but it is important.”

3. The Big Wedding: “We keep secrets because we’re ashamed and we fear what others will think of us. But others have issues, too, and might be more understanding than we expect.”

4. Closure: “Opening relationships can provide healing and answers for everyone involved.”

5. Delivery Man: “Even if you aren’t thinking about your birth children, they are thinking about you, and it would be good if you got to know them.”

6. Identity Thief: “We draw direction and identity from our history. Without history, we can feel lost.”

7. Meet the Robinsons: “Leave the past in the past, and look towards the future instead.”

8. Philomena: “Your birth parents have never forgotten you. They still miss you.”

9. Tangled: “Your birth parents have never forgotten you. But your adoptive parent might have kidnapped you.”

10. The Tigger Movie: “Sometimes you want people in your life who aren’t available for some reason. It’s OK to be upset, and you can still find a sense of belonging with the people in your life who love you.”

I often think of openness as involving either contact or the free exchange of information (or both!). Lori wrote about openness as a heartset –- the healthiest adoptive families are those who open to openness. A spirit of openness in the home can make it possible for adoptive parents and their children to talk about emotionally-heavy adoption-related issues. Films can help parents and adoptees access those conversations and can be excellent tools to create a more open atmosphere in your adoption.

What films have you seen that have reminded you or your kids (directly or indirectly) about adoption?

How have those experiences been? I invite you to share any adoption conversations that have been opened between you and your kids due to films.

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Addison Cooper, LCSW, is a licensed clinical social worker and the founder of Adoption at the Movies, where he has reviewed over a hundred films for foster and adoptive families. He has also written for Adoptive Families, Foster Focus, Focus on Adoption, Fostering Families Today, The New Social Worker, and Adoption Today magazines. Addison is a supervising social worker for a foster care – adoption agency, and lives in Southern California. Find him on Facebook and on Twitter @AddisonCooper.

What I’m Watching, Reading, Supporting

Film: Black or White

I watched the Colorado premiere of Kevin Costner’s new film Black or White last night at the  the Colorado Foster Care and Adoption Film Festival.

I loved this film. I loved how these nuanced, flawed people tried to overcome their either/or tendencies to embrace a both/and paradigm for the girl who joined them together. Jillian Estell as Eloise is luminous.

Kudos to the Colorado Department of Human Services and its Office of Children, Youth & Families  for such a successful event. Please please check out waiting children on COHeartGallery.org and consider supporting other luminous kids in any way you can.

Book: You by Caroline Kepnes

simon & schuster book youConsidering I spent almost all my free time this weekend reading You, I’d say I’m obsessed with it. I can’t yet say for certain that I’ll like the middle and the end, but the beginning has me thinking about the story even while I’m going about my day. You is written in the second person and is creepy in the way that Gone Girl was. In fact, if I have any criticism so far, it’s that the book seems to be trying hard to be Gone Girl.

Still, it’s different enough that I keep reading to find out what happens next, how far the characters will go. I think I’ll be wanting to discuss this with, um, You as I turn the pages.

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What are you watching, reading, supporting?

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This post is a part of #Microblog Mondays. What’s that? A post that is between 1 word to 8 sentences long. Head over to Stirrup Queens to join the fun.

Kevin Costner image in social media mentions via Georges Biard [CC BY-SA 3.0], Wikimedia Commons.
Book image via Simon & Schuster.

Adoption Therapy: On Blank Slate Babies & Being Open

There’s a new book out and I think it’s so valuable for adoptive parents, adoption professionals, and adoption therapists that I’m going to share with you here an excerpt from it.

Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues

When Editor Laura Dennis asked me to read the manuscript for Adoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues, I jumped at the chance. And was blown away with new ideas and insights that might be helpful in my parenting journey.

When Laura asked me to write the foreword to Adoption Therapy, I aspired to do it justice. Below is my attempt, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

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Foreword

It’s with both trepidation and humility that I compose the foreword to Adoption Therapy. You hold in your hand an extraordinary and incisive collection of writings about adoption and therapy, composed by many who have walked the long walk of facing trauma and healing from it. A majority of these contributors—and the editor herself—are adult adoptees.

Now if there’s one thing adoptive parents are known for in adoption circles, it is for doing more than their share of the talking. Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the moneyed ones in the adoption “triad.” Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the “winners” in adoption scenarios — they end up with their dreams answered while birth parents and adoptees suffer wounds that society doesn’t recognize. Accurately or not, adoptive parents are seen by some as the ones with the voice, with influence to mold adoption law and policy to their benefit.

And adoptive parents have been accused of speaking about adoption issues when perhaps they should be listening [case in point].

Hence my trepidation.

This notion of listening is why I encourage adoptive parents like me—and others curious about the possible effects of adoption—to pick up this book and read it thoroughly. We should be listening. We should give a temporary rest to our own thoughts and feelings and suppositions about adoption and create within us an open space to simply listen.

The Importance of Being Open

Being open to hearing a new point of view—maybe even a scary point of view—is an expansive state. Being open works best if one has healthy boundaries and appropriate permeability between self and not-self. It requires a healthy ego, one that doesn’t need to “win” to survive, one that recognizes its inherent value and accords others the same recognition. Being open means you have less of a need to defend your truth than you have curiosity to hear another’s.

Being open, however, does not mean there is no discernment. After creating space to hear others’ truths, and after listening and trying to understand a different perspective, it’s still all right to discern whether another person’s truth fits into your own—or not. And even if you decide “not,” it may be prudent to tuck away that perspective for a later time when your own evolving circumstances may cause you to look at the perspective again and anew.

As you turn these pages, I invite you to be open to the gifts and insights within, and to allow the possibility that not all chapters will look like gifts. Anything that strikes you strongly (and dare I say that could be every single powerful chapter?) is resonating for you, either positively or negatively charged, and indicates there is something there for you to look at—within you and from your own experiences.

Understanding Neonatal Trauma

As you read and understand, you’ll find gems like these quotes that will help you better understand the experience of having been adopted:

  • “To be conceived without being intended, to be carried in the womb of a stressed mother facing a crisis pregnancy, leave lifelong traces that persist without an understanding of their origins.” — From Chapter 5: Heeding the Body’s Messages: Physiological Implications of Prenatal Trauma
  • “Adoptive families tend to seek help from a counselor three times more frequently than other families.” — From Chapter 2: Red Flags that a Potential Therapist Could Do More Harm than Good
  • “I felt like I was living under the terms and conditions of a contract I never signed.” — From Chapter 7: Perspective of an Adoptee Conceived by Rape
  • “Start early teaching kids that feelings are like clouds moving through. No feeling is your last feeling. Feelings are not permanent.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • “Our lives are a dance between knowing who we are as separate beings and knowing ourselves as parts of the whole.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • On connecting with Nature: “Ida Rolf said that if you can’t get it from your mother, get it from the Mother—the earth.” — From Chapter 5: Heeding the Body’s Messages: Physiological Implications of Prenatal Trauma
  • “But moving on is much different from healing.” — From Chapter 7: Perspective of an Adoptee Conceived by Rape
  • “One classic example of ‘parentification’ would be an adoptive parent who constantly implores reassurance from the child that he/she is the ‘real’ parent.” — From Chapter 12: Co-Dependency in Adoptees
  • On adoptee resilience: “We succeed not so much because of that original loss but in spite of it.” — From Chapter 3: Approaches for Repairing the Wounds of Separation
  • “What these therapy modalities have in common is the goal of resolving past trauma at the level of the body/mind connection.” — From Chapter 12: Co-Dependency in Adoptees

Parents who adopted internationally may have been under the impression that a child would be nothing but grateful to the people who rescued him or her from abandonment or life in an orphanage. Surely it wouldn’t be traumatic for these “lucky” ones to land in a loving home. It would be a good thing!

As a mom via domestic adoption, that last quoted passage struck me because once upon a time, people adopting newborns thought we’d bring into our homes a Blank Slate Baby. Because they were infants, these brand new humans would come to us with no problem that our love couldn’t resolve. The babies didn’t have words yet, so clearly they wouldn’t have memories of their placement (which first involved a separation in order to make a new connection). Surely it wouldn’t be traumatic for these little babies to go from a chaotic and unstable place into a family that longed for them. As with international adoption, it would be a good thing!

But I’ve come to know by listening to adoptees that infants DO know. Young children DO know. They may not know in their brains, because it’s unclear how we encode events that happen before we can do the encoding through words and thoughts.

But their bodies know. Their body/minds know. The body/minds of infants and young children who were placed for adoption experienced chemical and hormonal changes, responding with unique and complex emotions that got encoded and stored. Evidence shows that the body/mind houses every experience we’ve ever had, even those that are preverbal. What we are hearing from brain scientists, therapists and adoptees themselves is that the memories of the trauma of a chaotic pregnancy and/or separation from source resides in the body/minds of adopted people.

What About Resilience?

So why might one adoptee turn out even-keeled and unflappable while another is deemed a hot mess? If the “primal wound” is real, why isn’t every single adoptee in therapy all the time?

We find the answer in the wisdom of Forrest Gump: Humans — like life itself — are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Because of the infinite number of influences that go into making a person into who she is, because of the complexity of the interactions among those infinite influences from pre-birth on—because of the enormity of it all we can’t identify any one thing that causes someone to be unflappable or a hot mess or anywhere in between.

Will your child be resilient? Who knows? It takes a lifetime to fully unwrap this metaphorical chocolate. Resilience and all other traits will emerge on their own timetables, being coaxed out or pruned based on life experiences and other factors. As your loved one’s nature reveals itself to you, you can best respond by being open to who she is and attuning to her moment by moment.

Attunement and the Adoptee

The longer I do this parenting gig, the more I hear from parenting experts about incorporating attunement. Attuned relationships mean we are in harmony with the other. Being attuned means we are willing and able to go into discord with our loved one, even when doing so is unpleasant and frightening. To be able to do this, it’s helpful to understand how others have handled such inner discord and come out on the other side.

I desire to be an attuned parent, yet I’m finding though the journey is even more difficult than any other I’ve experienced. I bet anyone who loves an adopted person would like to be able to walk alongside her loved one and help bear the load of whatever he or she is going through. To do this we hold the intention to continually tune in with him, with her.

And to do this we must first hold the intention to tune in with ourselves.

As You Turn the Pages

I ask you to open yourself to information and perspectives that may strike you as helpful, as scary, as possible solutions, as clues to a puzzle you’re trying to figure out. I ask that you begin by preparing within you an open space to really listen to people who have walked this path—before you begin the process of discernment. I suggest that you monitor your own reactions to each chapter, and ask yourself probing questions at any time you notice a strong reaction (why did that trigger me?). I recommend that even if you discard the gist of a chapter today, that you remain open to reevaluating it another day.

May we all strive to open, to listen and to attune when it comes to adoption issues and the people who are faced with them.

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cover for Adoption Therapy anthologyAdoption Therapy: Perspectives from Clients and Clinicians on Processing and Healing Post-Adoption Issues is available in paperback and Kindle editions on Amazon and other booksellers. Like the other contributors, I donated my work and have no financial stake in the success of this anthology.

Contributors to Adoption Therapy: Marcy Axness, PhD, Karen Belanger, Karen Caffrey, LPC, JD, Laura Dennis, Lisa Floyd, Rebecca Hawkes, Jody Haywood*, Lori Holden, MA, Mila C Knonomos, Krist Lado, Lesli Maul, LCSW, Brooke Randolph, LMHC, Suzanne Brita Schecker, EdD, LMHC, Raja Selvam, PhD, Lucy Chau Lai-Tuen*, Deanna Doss Shrodes, Corie Skolnick, MS, LMFT

* Guest posters to my recent #flipthescript series.