Inside Out

Inside Out Dinner TableIf you haven’t seen Inside Out Trailer yet, the new Pixar 3D movie, you must. It clearly illustrates the life of an 11 year old girl from the creative and sassy inner workings of her mind and all the parts of her that interplay in how she views and interacts in the world. Here’s a message from Richard Schwartz, founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS), on how closely this movie depicts the work done using the IFS model.

Message from Dick

I watched Pixar’s new movie, Inside Out, through several different eyes simultaneously. Parts of me were caught up in the drama, excitement, and pathos of the story. I found myself crying at different points, and enthralled throughout. These parts of me easily identified with Riley, the story’s protagonist, who as an 11-year-old girl is forced to move and becomes sullen on the outside but is hiding her inner sadness and fear. Those parts could also identify with Riley’s parts that we come to know well because they share the spotlight with Riley as central characters and have their own trials and adventures.

Other parts of me were simply amazed. It was as if I was watching my life’s work played out before my eyes in ways that I could never imagine creating. I came to the film worried that the five emotions would be the only inner characters, would be unidimensional, and would not evolve or change, both individually and in their relationships. Instead, (in keeping with IFS) each part was like a human being– a full-range personality, albeit, like each of us, with a basic emotional temperament. Each part had the ability to feel and express many different emotions and to evolve from an extreme and rigid state to a non-extreme and valuable and flexible state. In addition, there were multitudes of other parts, who were less central characters and were in roles comparable to our managers, firefighters, and exiles. There was actually a territory for exiles called “the Abyss” which included a delightful imaginary friend who had been left in the dust along with many childhood memories.

Inside Out Joy SadnessThe most amazing plot line for me was the evolving relationship between Joy and Sadness. In the beginning of the movie, Riley is having a fine childhood in Minnesota and Joy is a big player in her life while the other key parts, sadness, anger, fear and disgust come and go naturally in response to events in her life. Then, when she’s 11, the family suddenly moves to San Francisco.

Riley’s parents are distressed and preoccupied and Riley’s fear and sadness are triggered in a big way.  Joy shifts into the role of what we call pseudo-Self and becomes a Self-like part, frantically trying to cheer up the others. Like a parentified inner child, Joy desperately tries to keep a happy mask on Riley’s face so she doesn’t burden her parents who clearly have little emotional bandwidth to deal with an unhappy child on top of all their other worries. Riley’s mother praises her for being so upbeat and asks her to continue to do so.

As is true in internal families, parts polarize with each other in crises. Joy increasingly polarizes with Sadness and both become rigidly one-dimensional and extreme. Joy is now an irrepressible cheerleader who has to resort to distorting reality to try to sell her upbeat message. But we also see the toll this takes on her– her frustration and fatigue as she has to remain in this unnatural role to help Riley make it through her new life far from all she loved in Minnesota and full of new, scary kids. Sadness becomes a constant, burdensome downer that Joy has to drag around and contain, and who has the ability to turn core memories sad (blue) by touching them.  This shows how much our managers have to strain and distort to keep us afloat and why they want to get rid of exiles who’s emotions have become dangerously contagious.

Through a series of events however, it begins to dawn on Joy that Sadness can be useful. Sadness and JoySadness’ vulnerability and honesty elicits nurturance and understanding from others, and Sadness’ ability to empathize helps others when they are down in a way that Joy’s cheeriness can’t. Joy begins to get that the upbeat thing isn’t always necessary, begins to respect Sadness, by the end of the movie, Joy hands over the controls to Sadness who is able to bring the family back together. Joy is relieved to be out of her unbearable responsibility and can be her relaxed, lovable self.  Just like in external families, when parts come to see each others resources rather than each others extremes, they depolarize and collaborate. We are left with one big happy internal family that is paralleled in the renewed happiness in Riley’s external family.

The only aspect of IFS that isn’t overtly represented in the film is the Self as an active inner leader or inner parent. It is clear by the end of the story that Riley and her parents are each much more Self led, and I’m not sure how I would have portrayed the Self as a character in the movie since Self is the seat of consciousness and not an image we can see when we do inner work. Inside Out RileyAs one person in our post-film discussion suggested, when you watch the movie, you become the Self– as if you are watching your parts interact and you want to enter and help them. I’m astounded that Peter Docter, who knew nothing about IFS when he wrote it with his team, had such amazing intuitions about many aspects of inner systems that have taken me 30 years to glean. The absence of a Self in Riley’s system seems quite excusable.

There is an aspect of Riley’s psyche that we don’t include in IFS and is intriguing. Over time she seems to construct inner “islands” which seem to be structures in her mind that  contain memories, emotions, and beliefs related to specific areas of her life. So she has family island, friendship island, hockey island (hockey is her passion), honesty island, and goofball island. These seem to be core pillars in her view of herself and of the world that are maintained by core memories. When they are intact and functioning, Riley can turn to them as reminders that there is good in her and the world. As things get worse for Riley each of them begins to crumble, her mind becomes darker and more barren, and she resorts to an extreme, firefighter-like solution in her external life.  The good news is that these structures are quickly restored as her inner and outer families reunite.  It does feel correct to me that we construct such clusters that we come to call our self-concepts or our world views. Perhaps they are neural circuits that organize parts’ actions. I agree with Jim Hopper of Harvard Medical School that this is an aspect worthy of further discussion in our community. It would have been interesting if, as I find with clients, the good islands don’t just disintegrate but are also replaced with negative ones that drive her self-concept.

This film was so suffused with subtle elements of intra-psychic life that it will take several more viewings before I feel like I fully comprehend it. I loved that the central parts took turns using a control panel to organize Riley’s behavior and sensations because that is the way I’ve always conceived of the way parts operate. Inside Out CharactersI totally identified with the little managers with the vacuum cleaner who were cleaning any unnecessary memories out of Riley’s memory banks. Similarly with the dream-makers and what it took to wake her up. In addition, the family dinner scene that included the parts of each family member were amazingly accurate portrayals of how parts interact across people and trigger problematic inner and outer sequences of interaction. I’ve shown that clip to a number of audiences now and people immediately get it.

Finally, I hope and expect that this movie will be a big hit and as such will bring awareness of the existence of and new respect for parts. It will make our jobs so much easier because we can refer to the movie when we try to introduce the idea of parts to clients. In ways I never dreamed possible it can reverse the pathological way that parts have come to be viewed in our culture because of various theories of psychology and psychotherapy. Wouldn’t it be cool if people stopped fearing or hating their parts and instead starting spending time inside getting to know and love them?

Yours Truly,

Nourishing your hike

White MountainsSpring means opening windows, cleaning out winter from the pantry and closets, and getting outside. For some, that’s neighborhood walks, composting fall leaves to let spring tendrils shoot forth, and planting flower boxes. Others get into the woods. Whether it’s a local reservation like Blue Hills or Middlesex Fells, or the Skookumchuck Trail in the White Mountains, packing nutrient dense snacks is essential.

Check out these energy-rich ideas for hiking, camping and backpacking. Mix and match per your taste buds.

  • Frozen quinoa
  • Avocado (especially good in the quinoa)
  • Pro Meal Bars and other high carb granola bars (caution inulin, carrageenan and sugar alcohols like sorbitol unless a bathroom nearby)
  • Gorp (trail mix)
  • Nuts like almonds, walnuts, pistachios, peanuts
  • Cereals in Zip-loc bags
  • Bananas and other lower FODMAP foods, like berries
  • Hummus and white bean dip
  • Cottage cheese, string cheese, Babybel cheese
  • Peanut or almond butters
  • Bagels, bread, English muffins
  • Chocolate (good, expensive chocolate is best)
  • Oatmeal or muesli with dried fruit and high-quality yogurt
  • Jerky, beef or vegan 


See Your Story

Kickball Our stories about ourselves say a lot about how we perceive our history and experiences. They highlight our beliefs about who we are and what we think we can become.

I’ve had a belief most of my life that I didn’t belong – either to a group, or ironically, to my biological family – that possibly stemmed from Janis Ian’s similar belief in her song lamenting “Being the last one called for basketball.”

As a child, I placed meaning that I wasn’t liked and no one wanted me on his or her team when I was the last not chosen for kickball. That’s right, not just the last called but the teacher had to make someone take me. That created the belief, while mistaken, that protected me from the shame of not being wanted or liked. That belief hid the fact that I was chosen to be in a play and did have friends who really liked me.

That mistaken belief was a coping mechanism that drew me further toward being a wallflower until I had the capacity to notice it as a mistaken, moral meaning to an experience I had when a child.

That belief was useful, logical and very true at the time it formed. Yet it became a huge limiting factor as I grew older.

Sometimes our beliefs prevent us from establishing healthy, honest relationships with others and even ourselves that say, “Oh, I can’t handle group sports … or conflict … or do any kind of math … or communicate effectively … or be seen as anything but as a confused person.

Events don’t inherently contain meaning. It’s the meaning we give to past experiences that matters because these meanings create the story about us. Our external circumstances almost always reflect our stories about what’s possible.

Guess what? We can recreate an entirely different meaning for our experiences. We can re-write and form new beliefs that support us in personal growth.

Our yoga or meditation practices allow us the opportunity to externalize the parts of us that created our inner stories. To ask them to be outside of us where we can spend time and create space to reflect upon them, to see and acknowledge them. We give permission to see it differently, perhaps in a more positive context.

To continue to overemphasize our perceived failures and traumas, enforces those beliefs and lessens the faith that is there for future capacities.

Open your heart toward the parts of you that have held those mistaken beliefs to create the space for transformation to begin. Extend appreciation to them for how hard they worked to keep you from feeling badly about yourself. Acknowledge their intention for you. Then see if they’d rather go play on that team instead of keeping you pulled in to fear.


Umami-based soup soothes your chill

Kale and White Bean SoupIt’s that time of year where winter is holding on with icy talons taunting the warmth of spring and daring her to do her daffodil dance. She’s not shy. She extends her embrace to trees and perennials and the snow is receding from their bases.

Until it’s all gone, until the frigid air settles to a more temperate state, you simply must try this soup. It’s rich, umami-filled broth soothes and satisfies even the coldest bones. Bright, fresh carrot pennies lend an al dente bite with perfectly soft kale. Beans sate even the strongest appetite.


Makes 6 main-course servings

Prep time: 1 hour

Total time: 3 hour


  • 1 onions, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound dried white beans (navy, cannellini or Great Northern), rinsed and picked over
  • 5 tablespoons Vogue-brand Instant VegeBase (or other vegetarian broth powder)
  • 2 quarts and 5 cups water
  • 4 tablespoons vegan Parmesan cheese
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon low sodium Spike seasoning
  • 2 whole bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 8 carrots, sliced into pennies
  • 1 pound lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur or Tuscan kale), de-stemmed and coarsely shredded


  1. In a medium-sized pot, cover beans with 2 inches water and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and let stand, uncovered, 1 hour or more. Drain beans in a colander and rinse.
  2. In a large enamel-coated cast iron Dutch oven, cook onions in oil over medium or medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, 10 to 12 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beans, broth powder, water, vegan Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, Spike, bay leaf, and rosemary and carrots, and simmer, uncovered, until beans are just tender, about 1 hour (if time, 90 minutes).
  3. Stir kale into soup and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until kale is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.

Bonus: Soup is at its premium when made a day ahead. Cool completely, uncovered, then chill, covered.



Get Off The Scale!

Hamstring opening classYou are beautiful. Your beauty, just like your capacity for life, happiness, and success, is immeasurable. Day after day, countless people across the globe get on a scale in search of validation of beauty and social acceptance.

Get off the scale! I have yet to see a scale that can tell you how enchanting your eyes are. I have yet to see a scale that can show you how wonderful your hair looks when the sun shines its glorious rays on it. I have yet to see a scale that can thank you for your compassion, sense of humor, and contagious smile. Get off the scale because I have yet to see one that can admire you for your perseverance when challenged in life.

It’s true, the scale can only give you a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. That’s it. It cannot measure beauty, talent, purpose, life force, possibility, strength, or love. Don’t give the scale more power than it has earned. Take note of the number, then get off the scale and live your life. You are beautiful!”

― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Truer words are none. The women I work with who struggle in their relationship with food also have a scale. It tells them immoral lies about themselves. It sets the precedent for a good or bad day. It binds them with rules that are impossible to follow. It defines them by their weight, which as Steve said is nothing more than a numerical reflection of your relationship with gravity. Which is more important? Your relationship with gravity or with you?

A lifetime of mistrusting your own inner intelligence is a huge hurdle to jump. Join me and others on the journey toward jumping higher into Self-trust. To go deeper into exploration of the why’s and why not’s and should’s and should nots. It’s not easy, it’s usually not fun, but it reveals relief and healing and physical and emotional happiness as you move through the passage of your history, complex stories, moral meanings and judgments that have been branded into your psyche. Little by little, like an onion, peel back the layers of self-doubt so your inner worth is revealed. Pulse with pleasure as you mindfully explore the body you will have for the rest of your life – come to love it’s strength and finesse through yoga postures, feel your inner body expand with fullness of breath, allowing you to rely on your own intuitive wisdom in making food choices.

Click here to learn more about this process. 

Good Measures