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Inside Out 2 – Perspective from a trauma therapist and mom

Upper Bodies of Three Abstract People with Grunge Texture representing insights on Inside Out 2 by childhood trauma therapist, Annie Wright

I share insights about Pixar’s sequel Inside Out 2 and how it might apply to those who come from traumatic backgrounds.

Upper Bodies of Three Abstract People with Grunge Texture representing insights on Inside Out 2 by childhood trauma therapist, Annie Wright

Inside Out 2 – Perspective from a trauma therapist and mom

Two weeks ago I shared my reflections about Inside Out when I introduced my five year old daughter to the movie for the first time (and saw it again for the first time since 2015!).

Introducing her to it was the precursor to taking her to our favorite theater to see the sequel Inside Out 2, and in today’s piece, I’m going to share my insights about the sequel as a mom and trauma therapist, specifically with a lens as to how this might apply to those of us who come from relational trauma backgrounds.

Do you come from a childhood trauma background?

Take this 5-minute quiz to find out (and more importantly, what to do about it if you do.)

A trauma therapist and mom’s thoughts on Inside Out 2.

  • Obviously, I was happy to see an inclusion of a broader range of emotions represented in this film. It’s like expanding beyond the primary colors of a paint palette to create a more beautiful nuanced picture when a broader, more complex range of emotions comes online. 
  • But, realistically, research shows that the onset of more complex and nuanced emotions – like anxiety/worry, shame, envy – can onset much earlier than what was modeled in Inside Out 2 when these emotions got introduced to Riley’s “emotional control headquarters” when she turned 13.
  • And gosh, I’d be remiss in saying this but for any child who experienced relational trauma or any iteration of childhood neglect, abuse or dysfunctional that caused them to feel unsafe or that compromised their dignity, anxiety would have likely “come online” a heck of a lot sooner than 13 and, as research suggests, been at the helm of the proverbial control panel alongside anger as the dominant feeling states.
  • So that’s another thing that struck me as I watched Inside Out 2 – adolescence is inherently, painfully uncomfortable (I could see so many of us middle aged parents there with our kiddos who have yet to journey through puberty) squirming uncomfortably at certain moments having that lived experience under our belts. So puberty is pretty painful and sucky, we can agree. Now imagine doing that in a family system devoid of the safety and stability Riley’s family provided and imagine how much more painful still that becomes for folks with relational trauma histories. Indeed, research shows that childhood trauma significantly increases the risk of various mental health conditions during adolescence, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Adolescents who experienced multiple traumatic events show higher levels of these symptoms as they journey through puberty.
  • I felt deeply, uncomfortably seen by that scene where anxiety is losing her sh*t trying to manage Riley’s critical soccer scrimmage performance. That scene – with a hurricane of anxiety whirling around with fear and frozenness at the center leading to Riley on the verge of a panic attack – will likely be hauntingly familiar for any of who live with anxiety full-stop and/or as a result of our trauma histories. Between that scene and Louisa’s anthemic “Surface Pressure” you basically have my autobiography. Anyone else out there relate? 
  • I was so delighted to see the concept of the architecture of personality concretized into an image in Inside Out 2. Research tells us that personality development involves both temperament (natural tendencies) and character (individual differences in goals and values shaped by experience). These multidimensional components interact to form a coherent personality structure. So that’s why we see one version of Riley’s personality architecture early in the movie up in headquarters, replaced by another structure more informed by anxiety, and then finally a cohesive one that contains both the pre-anxiety and post-anxiety experiences and emotions. Again, bearing in mind those from relational trauma histories, I’d make a case that the architecture of this personality may likely be maladaptively formed in response to their traumatic experiences even more so than their non-traumatized peers.
  • And I loved how, at the end of the movie, Joy (and the other emotions) gave Anxiety a concrete, time-sensitive job (as well as soothed her via hot tea and a massage chair) to occupy her instead of attempting to run the show with bigger issues. This is a smart behavioral intervention tool – use the anxiety and don’t pretend it’s not there but instead give it a task and outlet. In the case of Inside Out 2, it was studying for the Spanish test. For you, it could be making a list, developing a project plan, etc. As the saying goes, the antidote to anxiety is action (just don’t let it be the action that takes over the whole show).
  • Finally, per my last essay on Inside Out, I DID see what I had been hoping for: a blue/red memory ball that captures the nuance of dual emotions being held and experiences at the same time. And since I personally experience and professionally witness this dual emotional often, I was delighted to see it represented.

I honestly loved this movie. I love the Inside Out series. I wish Pixar would just develop a whole slew of them (cough cough, I’d particularly love to see a middle aged mom inner life expanded upon!).

Do I think they’re the whole of what’s needed when it comes to emotional psychoeducation? No.

Do I think they do a marvelous job at starting the conversation so more emotional psychoeducation can happen? 100% yes.

If you haven’t seen Inside Out and Inside Out 2, I hope you’ll prioritize doing so.

Whether you come from a relational trauma background or not, they’re truly delightful and helpful and validating little films. 

And now I’d love to hear from you in the comments below:

Did you get to see Inside Out 2 yet? If so, what did YOU love about this movie? What’s one observation you took from the movie that would be helpful for someone from a relational trauma background to hear?

If you feel so inclined, please leave a message so our community of 30,000 blog readers can benefit from your share and wisdom.

Finally, as you contemplate beginning relational trauma therapy to recover from your own trauma symptoms, I would strongly encourage you to work with a licensed mental health professional who is also trained in an evidence-based trauma modality (like EMDR).

If you live in either California or Florida, and you would like tailored, expert support, either myself or my talented team of childhood trauma clinicians at my boutique, trauma-informed therapy center – Evergreen Counseling – can be of support to you. 

Please just book a complimentary 20-minute consult call with our center’s clinical intake director and she can match you to an relational trauma therapist on our team who is the best fit for you clinically, relationally, and logistically (and it very well may be me who is the best fit for you as a therapist!).

And if you live outside of California or Florida, please consider exploring my online course specifically designed for childhood trauma recovery.

Finally, if you’re still not sure if this content applies to you, if you’re still not sure if you come from a relational trauma history and may deal with childhood trauma symptoms, I would invite you to take my signature quiz – “Do I come from a childhood trauma background?” 

It’s a 5-minute, 25-question quiz I created that can be incredibly illuminating and will point you in the direction of a wide variety of resources that can be of further help to you.

Plus, when you take the quiz, you’ll be added to my mailing list where you’ll receive twice-a-month letters from me sharing original, high-quality essays (with accompanying YouTube videos and audios you can stream) devoted to the topic of childhood trauma recovery and where I share more about me as a person, my life, and how I’m deep along on my own childhood trauma recovery journey.

My newsletters are the only place where I share intimate glimpses into my life (including photos), the resources that are supporting me, the things I’ve discovered that delight me, words that are uplifting me, the practices that nourish me, etc. 

So please be sure to sign up for my mailing list whether or not you want to take the quiz as it’s the best way to be in touch with me and hear all the things I only share with my newsletter subscribers.

So thank you. 

And until next time, please take such good care of yourself. You’re so worth it.

Warmly, Annie



  1. Russell, J., & Paris, F. (1994). Do Children acquire Concepts for Complex Emotions Abruptly?. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 17, 349 – 365. https://doi.org/10.1177/016502549401700207.
  2. Kaltiala-Heino, R., Marttunen, M., Rantanen, P., & Rimpelä, M. (2003). Early puberty is associated with mental health problems in middle adolescence.. Social science & medicine, 57 6, 1055-64 . https://doi.org/10.1016/S0277-9536(02)00480-X.
  3. Suliman, S., Mkabile, S., Fincham, D., Ahmed, R., Stein, D., & Seedat, S. (2009). Cumulative effect of multiple trauma on symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and depression in adolescents.. Comprehensive psychiatry, 50 2, 121-7 . https://doi.org/10.1016/j.comppsych.2008.06.006.
  4. Cloninger, C. (2003). Completing the Psychobiological Architecture of Human Personality Development: Temperament, Character, and Coherence. , 159-181. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4615-0357-6_8.
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  1. MT says

    Loved it! I’m a survivor of childhood trauma and now a psychologist working with children. I’m also a mom of three girls in very different stages of development. I had my first child as a teen myself. My second in my 20s. And my last in my 30s. We all saw the movie together–a 43-year-old, a 24-year-old, a 15-year-old, and an almost 6-year-old. I’m sure we each took something away, but I kept turning to my middle child, my teen daughter, who has been really going through it with anxiety. And I hoped so many of the things I’ve been saying to her all her life–but more intensely lately–were resonating off the screen. That everything she’s going through is part of being human. That I love her at her core because she has a beautiful core that is evolving as it should. She was at the forefront of my mind but I’m looking forward to re-watching to connect them to the other parts of me.

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