What Can Disney and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Tell Us About Emotions?

So you know those grocery store truck carts? The ones with the plastic pick up truck cab attached to the front so your toddlers can be even further away from you while you grocery shop? When my kids were little they begged me to ride in those, but it always went wrong. One day when my daughter was in Kindergarten, I succumbed to the begging. And, as always, I quickly regretted it. We had recently watched the Disney Pixar movie Inside Out, with the personifications of different emotions inside the girl’s mind. In the movie, the character Sadness turns everything she touches blue. There is a scene where Sadness is walking along rows of memories, touching every one and inadvertently turning them all blue. (Docter and Del Carmen) That’s exactly what my daughter was doing, and I was irritated. I’ve been “that mom” in the store - you know the one - and I wasn’t going to be her that day. So I took a deep breath, chuckled to myself, and said, “If you were Sadness, you’d be turning the entire bottom shelf blue right now! Please keep your hands inside the cart!”



The entire message of Inside Out is a valuable one, and I think it’s actually biblical. Every emotion the girl in the movie experiences has a purpose. Fear keeps her from doing dangerous things. Disgust helps her determine what she likes and doesn’t like (including broccoli). Sadness helps her mourn the lost friendships and the comforts of the home she always knew when her family moves away. It also signals her friends and parents to sympathize with her. I’d like to propose to you that our emotions are not negative or positive, they are merely comfortable or uncomfortable. They are signals (Freedman) that something needs our attention, signals that God wants us to respond to something. What we do with those signals is what makes them negative or positive.


Let’s take a look at anger for instance. If Martin Luther King Jr. never felt angry about racism, do you think he would have stepped out to promote a movement of peaceful protest, successfully changing some unjust laws in favor of African Americans? What if he had responded differently to that anger by acting out in violence? Instead of peaceful protests and forward progress, he’d have promoted further division and hatred. Because he acted on his anger in a godly way, he paved the way for others to do the same. In contrast, the riots in the capitol were an unhealthy and unhelpful response to anger which incited further division in the body of Christ. I’m sure I will even get some angry responses to that statement, but I stand by it.


How does this relate to ADHD? We all, whether we have ADHD or not, have to learn what to do with our emotions. For those of us with ADHD, it’s even more challenging because of emotional dysregulation. Further exacerbating the issue, society sends us mixed messages about emotions. On one hand, we are told to follow our hearts, to live in the moment - essentially do whatever we feel like. On the other hand, we are given subtle messages that displays of anger, sadness, frustration, even joy or excitement, are bad and we shouldn’t be vulnerable. No wonder we are confused about emotions!


So how can we respond to our emotions in a godly way and train our kids to do the same? I think it starts with three important questions:

  1. What am I feeling right now?

  2. What thoughts am I thinking that are causing these feelings?

  3. What does God want me to do with these feelings?

We will talk more specifically about each of these questions, but for now, try keeping a journal handy and asking yourself these questions when your emotions feel overwhelming. Begin training your children to think differently about emotions by asking them the same questions. Perhaps if we learn to understand our emotions and respond to them biblically, we will see positive changes in our world.



Bibliography

Docter, Pete, and Ronnie Del Carmen. Inside Out. Disney Pixar, 2015.

Freedman, Joshua. “Integrated Emotions: Rethinking feelings as allies so we can escape the ‘negative emotions’ trap.” Six Seconds, 2020, https://www.6seconds.org/2020/08/17/integrated-emotions/. Accessed 28 01 2021.



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