I recently viewed the animated movie, Inside Out. I had read many reviews that the themes presented in the film deal with how we are affected by our emotions. The Inside Out characters are based upon our different emotions. Sadness and Anger were particularly interesting to me! While the movie is a cartoon adventure that takes place entirely within the head of an 11 year old girl, the original look into the minds of the characters can help both children and adults understand and appreciate (each at their own level) the role that emotions play in our behavior and how our behavior affects those around us in different ways. Without going too deeply into the plot (I encourage you to go see it!), we see the main character and her family going through different life events such as a change of job, a move and attending a new school. We see the range of emotions that emerge with life changes and how these emotions play off of one another.
While I am not a psychologist, my work as a collaborative attorney and mediator means that I am working with clients to handle conflict in a healthy way. During the film, we get an “inside look” at our emotions going to work – with “Happy” often trying to force joy and happiness regardless of the situation. Throughout the movie, we see the emotions dismissing Sadness – who wants to be sad? However, we see by the end of the film that embracing all of our emotions can actually be a positive experience. I draw a parallel with this theme and family law: Feeling happy is ideal, but it is important to address our emotions rather than forcing one over the other. Instead of dismissing the negative feelings (sadness, fear, anger etc.), paying attention to these feelings and the triggers that bring on these complex emotions can be a crucial step in working through a separation or divorce. It is common, especially in separation and divorce, for people to feel that they need to mask certain emotions in an effort to get through the process. In masking true emotions, however, it may become harder to get to the root of certain issues and to really work through the process in a healthy way.
The movie is also a reminder for conflict professionals to be aware of not only the client’s emotions, but also his/her own emotions throughout the process. A family law matter can bring on very strong emotional reactions because of its delicate nature. As conflict professionals, we need to be aware of our own emotions at a deeper level in order to work productively with our clients. Coincidentally, I have been reading a book titled, Inside Out, by Gary J. Friedman. This book is geared to helping conflict professionals examine why it is important to develop greater insight into inner conflicts while managing conflict between our clients. Like the movie, the book explains why it is important not to disregard emotional reactions when working through conflict. The book also discusses how the adversary system frequently reduces complex conflicts to simplistic arguments that produce legally-based solutions that do not respond to the uniqueness of the family’s own situation. Having learned a great deal about conflict resolution from the author, Gary Friedman, and Jack Himmelstein (who has also done extensive work in this field), I feel that an understanding based model for conflict resolution that includes paying attention to inner conflict brings better results than the adversarial system.
Working through a separation or divorce can be an emotionally-charged time, and addressing emotions in a healthy way can not only help keep everyone’s focus, but it can also help to ensure a better result for everyone involved. When we develop greater insight into our inner conflict, we can work towards solutions that are more practical and long lasting.