When Joy is at a Loss of Words

 The world could use more pink fluffy elephants. I know I, for one, could use an imaginary friend like Bing Bong in my life. This is not the first time I have referenced this film and I am sure it will not be the last. It has been far too long since I have used this medium to let readers into my head and heart, but here goes…

I think my favorite scene in Pixar‘s Inside Out is when Bing Bong is grieving the loss of his rocket and he thinks it is gone forever. Joy does what many of us do when we try to cheer someone up and try to change the mood. The fact is we can’t be happy all the time. Sadness steps in when Joy is at a loss for words. She sits with him and gives space for feelings to process. Joy tries to interfere while Sadness shows us she has some magic of her own. Bing Bong embraces Sadness, cries candy tears, and feels ready to move forward with their quest. Throughout the film,  Joy is increasingly irritated by Sadness and quite uncomfortable when a situation presents itself as less than joyful. Like many of us in real life, sometimes the discomfort of grief can cause us to try to rush into any action which would manufacture a smile or break the ice. Negative feelings are often times too difficult for many to process. So Sadness embraces Bing Bong as he cries and Joy looks on to watch this uncomfortable situation unfold. The viewer watches Joy‘s expression soften as Bing Bong wipes his tears, saying “thank you. I feel better now.” Fast forward to one of the final scenes, when Joy and Sadness discover how they can influence a hybrid of memories which are both sad (blue) and happy (gold) memorable moments. Every feeling works hard to ensure that Riley is happy, and looks to Joy as the primary feeling. The more they try to avoid negative emotions, life for Riley continues down a scary path which breaks down the way she thinks and feels about core beliefs.

I remember when my son and I watched this creative masterpiece the same year as his mother’s and my divorce. He was five and I think I got more from the movie than he did. The other day I was able to tell his birth story with actual joy, without getting choked up by pain or resentment. Had this conversation taken place a couple years ago, I don;t know that I could’ve made it through without a negative emotion. Sadness is still there, but joy opted to take the driver seat for me in that moment. This isn’t always the case, and sometimes fear, anger, or sadness are controlling the dials. Some feelings are difficult to process in general and some of us feel things stronger than others while others try to run interference on feeling anything at all.

Today is one of those days I am reminded of fond and silly memories held together with both sadness and joy – one of those gold and blue hybrid core memories. Sometimes experiencing momentary pain helps me appreciate joy all the more. Life cannot always be happy and I’m grateful it doesn’t always need to be sad.

Dear friends, may you allow yourself space to hold the sadness together with joy. Be compassionate with yourselves by allowing yourself to feel whatever you are feeling in the moment, and do not feel pressured to rush into a more pleasant feeling, unless of course, it is causing harm to yourself or others. Allow sadness to work together with joy and fear and anger. There is a reason we are equipped with these emotions. Be gracious with yourself and others while trying not to cause harm or destruction.

joyI recently ended a relationship before feelings had a moment to settle. While I am convinced it was the right decision in the bigger scheme of things, I fear my timing could have been better. It is evident there is work to be done individually should this relationship ever circle back around and healthier boundaries would need to be established.

What is frustrating to me about this is I work with parents who are doing their best to support their youth through moments of crisis and escalated emotions. I am continually having conversations with parents encouraging them to try and avoid logical reasoning or making permanent decisions while in the “Red Zone”. Borrowing behavioral intervention concepts from Zones of Regulation, my colleagues and I are becoming better versed in this tool for helping adolescents develop skills for emotional regulation. It is a model which is also being utilized in more and more school settings. The premise is based on four colors. Green is baseline, yellow is the trigger zone, red is anger or crisis, and blue is more for recovery. I also use this in creating safety plans for  youth with high needs and difficulty regulating emotions.

Why does this matter?

mom-riley-dad-inside-outBecause, in spite of the fact that I work in this kind of environment on a daily basis, I am also presented with situations which remind me of the humanity of myself and others, and my own regulation skills are put to the test.  I have the tools and forgot to use them. I could’ve benefited from my own advice. I became frustrated and tried to tighten a bolt by enforcing the hammer. This all happened last week when I was provoked by someone I love to meet them in the Red Zone and none of the tools in my toolbox came to the rescue. Like Riley’s internal reaction when dad threatened no dessert. While being verbally attacked and emotionally spewed upon are not acceptable behaviors, I panicked and made a decision to cut-off the relationship in the heat of the moment. I felt there was no other choice. I was feeling pushed to my limit and I didn’t feel as though my boundaries were being respected. While it is important to set healthy boundaries, my timing could have been better. Had I waited until we were both out of the Red Zone, there would have been a better opportunity to listen to respond and not just to react. A friendship could still exist, and a process of healing could potentially have been reconciled. Even if I had made the appropriate decision, neither logical reasoning or concrete decisions need to be made in haste. For this I am truly sorry. There are those moments when communication receptors are malfunctioning, all the feelings are fighting for control, and anger takes a lead at the control booth. I regret this is not the moment for making permanent decisions, not to those we love.

Time and time again, hurt people hurt people, despite the best of intentions. While there are lessons to be learned through love and loss, and patterns to pay attention to, I sincerely wish this did not result in a lost friendship or miss the opportunity to walk with them in pursuing their own personal health. I am saddened Bing Bong wasn’t around to change the mood and that my tools and learned skills didn’t come to the rescue in a moment of feeling pushed to my limit. Perhaps taking personal space would have been a better route to take.

I know I am not alone when I wish there were certain things which cease to exist in this world. Trauma depression, personality disorders, and the entire slew of mental illnesses would not be allowed in my Utopia. This would just be the beginning, I can go on and on about equality, justice and pink fluffy elephants. Nonetheless, as you and I are living in this world of pain, we can always do our best to start again and shine a light to move forward. We don’t need to fight against feelings as they surface or try to by joyful all of the time. We can allow feelings to be processed and hold space for one another. We can allow joy to embrace sadness and inspire healing and growth from here.

Good night, my loves.

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