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Inside Out and Toxic Positivity

Inside Out

a 2015 American computer-animated film directed by Pete Docter from a screenplay he co-wrote with Meg LeFauve and Josh Cooley. The film follows five personified emotions: Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust. Inside the mind, they lead a young girl named Riley through life as she and her parents adjust to their new surroundings after moving from Minnesota to San Francisco.

Definition of Toxic Positivity

Toxic Positivity is defined as ‘the overgeneralization of a happy, optimistic state, that results in the denial, minimisation and invalidation of the authentic human emotional experience’ (The Psychological Group, 2019).

How does Toxic Positivity harm your mental health

1. Brushing off problems rather than facing them

2. Feeling guilty about being sad, angry, or disappointed

3. Hiding your true feelings behind feel-good quotes that seem more socially acceptable

4. Minimizing other people's feelings because they make you uncomfortable

5. Shaming other people when they don't have a positive attitude

How is toxic positivity reflected in Inside Out?

Throughout the film, Riley’s parents ask her to remain happy- ‘Thank you, through all of this confusion you’ve stayed our happy girl. If you and I can keep smiling, it’ll be a big help’ (17:36:00). Imagine telling your 12-year-old daughter she needs to keep smiling otherwise it’ll add to the stress?

“emotional suppression”—an emotion-regulation strategy that has been found to lead to anxiety and depression

-> Joy attempts to prevent Sadness from having any influence on Riley’s psyche by drawing a small “circle of Sadness” in chalk and instructing Sadness to stay within it.

How can we deal with negative feelings (sadness)?

“mindfully embracing” an emotion

observes the emotion without judging it as the right or wrong way to feel in a given situation, creating space to choose a healthy response.

Prioritizing positivity does not require avoiding or denying negative feelings or the situations that cause them—the kind of single-minded pursuit of happiness that can be counter-productive.

Toward the end of the movie, instead of avoiding or denying Sadness, Joy accepts Sadness for who she is, realizing that she is an important part of Riley’s emotional life. It is Riley’s mind that allows her to finally grieve the loss of her old life, and as a result escape the possibility of further emotional violence.

Self-violent consequences that could come about from feeling like you have to be happy all the time, will deny you of feeling free and validated.


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