Sunday, June 21, 2015

Inside Out In The Adoptive Child

When asked what I wanted to do for Father's Day, I had one response, "Go see Inside Out." I absolutely love Pixar's films and am constantly amazed at the artistry and the talent they have for crafting stories that truly move the audience.

The film is about an eleven-year-old girl named Riley, who struggles with her emotions when her family moves from Minnesota to San Francisco. The emotions (Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust) try to help her adjust. Then Sadness touches one of the "core" memories, which changes it and sets in motion a whole big inner adventure with Joy and Sadness ending up in the labyrinth of Long-Term Memories. Like many of Pixar's best films, this one stirs up many of these same emotions in its viewers and pulls them in more than most live-action movies can. It is one of Pixar's most complex and best films.

Yet, as I watched this film, I sat there wondering, "What are Cava's core memories?"

Riley's first memory is of opening her eyes as a newborn and seeing her parents smiling at her. This became her first "core memory." It was the beginning and the basis for the memories that followed.

The core memories are what formed Riley and her perception of the world. She grew up an only child with loving parents.

But what would those core memories be for someone who has spent their life in orphanages?

Scientists even say that newborns experience great trauma when they are rejected but cannot process the loss of their biological parents. Bryan Post in his article "The Adopted Child: Trauma and Its Impact," wrote that, "Far beyond any cognitive awareness, this experience is stored deep within the cells of the body routinely leading to states of anxiety and depression in the adopted child later on."

How does this loss underlie so many of the emotions and memories that will shape these children?

And I can't help but ask:

So what memories bring Cava joy?

Or sadness?

Or anger?

Or fear?

He can definitely go through many emotions all in one day. Or one hour.

The only happy memories Cava speaks of from his life in the orphanage system is watching movies because it was his solitary escape from his surroundings. Movies on DVDs are where he discovered Spider-man and Disney.  And it sounds like he spent a lot of time watching TV.

Yet how much does that leave lacking in his emotional development?

After the movie, while we were eating dinner, I asked everyone to name a core memory they remembered from their childhood. It could be a happy one or a sad one, whatever they chose. Cava picked the day we came to adopt him as his happy memory. We all joined him in the joy of that moment and told him how that was a core memory for all of us as a family.

How can we, as his parents, now form new core memories that will shape his life?

I think one of the key things we can do is to allow those emotions to come out of him and not suppress them or deny them. One of the things we have worked on with Cava is learning to express his emotions in a positive and healthy way rather than suppressing them or releasing them only through fear and anger. It is critical for us, as his parents, to help guide him when he's stuck on a negative emotion and to help him understand that feelings come and go. We need to help him navigate the interplay of emotions so that he is able to balance them as he continues to grow, which is a necessary tool for him to develop.

This film has provided us with a way to discuss emotions and how memories can be formed by more than one of them.

We can now talk with him about the purpose of emotions like sadness. Or about the emotions he is feeling and try to understand the memories that may be connected to that emotion at that moment, as well as what triggered it to help him in the future.

How many other movies can provide parents that opportunity?

A book I highly recommend is The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, PH.D.

To read the full article by Bryan Post, in which he has 10 great ideas for helping heal the trauma in an adopted child, go to this link:

To know more about the whole-brain child, go to:

To hear a report from NPR entitled "Science of Sadness and Joy: 'Inside Out' Gets It Right," go to this link:

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