A discussion of narcissism and Beauty and the Beast wouldn’t be complete without making mention of Belle’s suitor Gaston, who she understandably rejects. Gaston is Textbook NPD and seems to possess all 9 criteria. Unlike the Beast, there is no room in him for redemption. He’s way too far gone.
A few days ago, I was thinking about the wonderful 1991 Disney animated movie, “Beauty and The Beast.” I was always moved by the Transformation scene at the end when the evil spell on the Beast and his castle is finally lifted after he nearly dies and Belle finally declares her love for him. In my opinion, it’s one of the best moments in animated movie history. That scene has haunted me for a long, long time and the other day, I felt inspired to watch it again, and was as–or even more moved by it–than the first time I saw it. And this time I knew why–the entire story of the Beast in this movie is a metaphor for a man suffering from NPD–who healed from it.
As the movie opens, we are shown a series of stained-glass images telling the story of how the Beast became that way. He wasn’t always a Beast. His real name was Adam and he had been a handsome young prince, but extremely arrogant, entitled, and lacking in empathy (sound familiar?). One cold and snowy night, a beggar woman came to the castle begging for a place to sleep for the night to escape from the bitter cold. In exchange she offered him a single rose. Adam sneered at the rose and refused her a warm bed and coldly sent her on her way, but not before the beggar woman suddenly transformed into a beautiful enchantress, who in her righteous anger at the callous young prince’s heartless actions, put a spell on him, turning him into the physical manifestation of the Beast he had become inside, and at the same time transforming the trappings of his former grandiosity and entitlement (a well-appointed and beautiful castle and loyal servants) into a dark and frightening prison and common household objects. The rose she had left him–which I believe represents Adam’s True Self (and he had sneered at it because it represented the vulnerability he had rejected)–would continue to bloom for a decade. If Adam failed to learn to love another (and earn her love) in that decade, the woman had warned him the rose would die and he would be forever doomed to his fate (unable to heal from his narcissism, he would become malignant). Adam’s only window to the outside world was the magic mirror the woman had left him, but all Adam can see in it is his own hideous reflection.
The Making of a Beast:
No longer receiving any narcissistic supply, Adam falls into depression, despair, and self hatred. He attacks his own image in a painting and refuses to look at himself in the mirror anymore. He is consumed by anger and self-pity until the day a beautiful young woman (Belle) comes by the castle to rescue her father, who The Beast has imprisoned for trespassing.
Belle is the opposite of The Beast in every way. Not only is she physically beautiful, but she is poor, the daughter of the town eccentric who is a laughing stock and considered crazy, even though he is actually a brilliant inventor. Belle is kind and loving and has a high level of empathy. The first thing she does is offer to take her father’s place in the castle’s dungeon if The Beast will only free him.
The Beast takes her up on her offer on the condition she stay there in the castle with him forever. Belle reluctantly agrees, even though she is at the mercy of The Beast’s terrible temper and frequent narcissistic rages. Her father is freed, and Belle dutifully obeys whatever the Beast tells her to do, but because she is an empath, she can see through his frightening facade to the broken young man he really is. Early during her stay, she is wandering around the Castle and comes across the enchanted rose under its glass dome. The Beast catches her and quickly covers the rose (evidence of his vulnerability) and rages, bellowing “Do you realize what you could have DONE?? Get out!” But as the months pass, the Beast begins to look forward to their time together, and slowly learns some manners and social graces. Belle works on humanizing Adam and finds she is slowly falling in love with him, and as he begins to accept her love (mirroring), he reluctantly begins to reveal his true self to her.
Meanwhile, Belle is being pursued by a very arrogant and probably malignantly narcissistic young man from her town named Gaston. Belle can’t stand Gaston, and refuses his proposal of marriage in which she would be nothing but an object and slave to him. Consumed by rage over her rejection of him, one night Gaston and his buddies plan an attack on the The castle to kidnap Belle. In the ensuing battle, The Beast is falls to the ground from a high elevation and is left for dead. A grieving Belle finally proclaims her love for the Beast, just as the last rose petal falls.
The spell is broken and The Beast is transformed back into Adam, the handsome Prince he used to be–only with a difference–he is no longer entitled or arrogant and he is now capable of being able to love, thanks to Belle’s empathic kindness. The castle (which I think represents the quality of Adam’s life) is also transformed to its former glory and the household objects turn back into loyal servants (who can now be his friends too). Note that a narcissist regards other people as mere objects and not human.
When I talked to some friends about writing an article about this movie being a metaphor for healing from NPD, it was mentioned to me the dangers of making such a comparison. First of all, this is a fairy tale and in real life, things don’t normally work out this way. A woman who falls in love with a narcissistic man is far more likely to be abused and exploited than loved in return–and she almost certainly isn’t going to be able to “fix” the narcissist. Just as problematic is the idea that in order for a narcissistic man to change, he must earn the love of a woman. It was pointed out that this could be construed as sexist.
But because this is a fairy tale, the underlying moral is of course more compelling (and entertaining) if there’s a romance involved. I think of this romance as a metaphor for the relationship between a self-aware and willing narcissistic patient and his or her therapist. Belle’s looks don’t actually matter–her beauty is a metaphor for her pure soul and empathetic nature. She is giving the Beast the reparenting he probably never got from his own family. The Beast’s ugliness is a metaphor for his narcissistic personality, but in this case, it’s not so deeply ingrained in him for it to have become malignant–which is why the enchanted rose is still alive until the spell is broken. The rose represents The Beast’s true self, which is integrated back into the Beast’s psyche during the Transformation.
Last weekend I went to see the Pixar animated movie, “Inside Out,” and reviewed it in this article. In researching the article about positive thinking I just posted before this one, I saw an interesting New York Times article describing the science behind the five emotions in the movie, especially the important role that Sadness played in 11 year old Riley’s mind. The article states that our emotions, when working together in harmony, fuel rational thinking, rather than interfering with it. I think I agree. Rational thinking isn’t the absence of emotion. It’s when one or more of the emotions is sleeping on the job or overpowering the others that we become irrational.
FIVE years ago, the writer and director Pete Docter of Pixar reached out to us to talk over an idea for a film, one that would portray how emotions work inside a person’s head and at the same time shape a person’s outer life with other people. He wanted to do this all in the mind of an 11-year-old girl as she navigated a few difficult days in her life.
As scientists who have studied emotion for decades, we were delighted to be asked. We ended up serving as scientific consultants for the movie, “Inside Out,” which was recently released.
Our conversations with Mr. Docter and his team were generally about the science related to questions at the heart of the film: How do emotions govern the stream of consciousness? How do emotions color our memories of the past? What is the emotional life of an 11-year-old girl like? (Studies find that the experience of positive emotions begins to drop precipitously in frequency and intensity at that age.)
“Inside Out” is about how five emotions — personified as the characters Anger, Disgust, Fear, Sadness and Joy — grapple for control of the mind of an 11-year-old girl named Riley during the tumult of a move from Minnesota to San Francisco. (One of us suggested that the film include the full array of emotions now studied in science, but Mr. Docter rejected this idea for the simple reason that the story could handle only five or six characters.)
Riley’s personality is principally defined by Joy, and this is fitting with what we know scientifically. Studies find that our identities are defined by specific emotions, which shape how we perceive the world, how we express ourselves and the responses we evoke in others.
But the real star of the film is Sadness, for “Inside Out” is a film about loss and what people gain when guided by feelings of sadness. Riley loses friends and her home in her move from Minnesota. Even more poignantly, she has entered the preteen years, which entails a loss of childhood.
We do have some quibbles with the portrayal of sadness in “Inside Out.” Sadness is seen as a drag, a sluggish character that Joy literally has to drag around through Riley’s mind. In fact, studies find that sadness is associated with elevated physiological arousal, activating the body to respond to loss. And in the film, Sadness is frumpy and off-putting. More often in real life, one person’s sadness pulls other people in to comfort and help.
Those quibbles aside, however, the movie’s portrayal of sadness successfully dramatizes two central insights from the science of emotion.
First, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — rational thinking. Traditionally, in the history of Western thought, the prevailing view has been that emotions are enemies of rationality and disruptive of cooperative social relations.
But the truth is that emotions guide our perceptions of the world, our memories of the past and even our moral judgments of right and wrong, most typically in ways that enable effective responses to the current situation. For example, studies find that when we are angry we are acutely attuned to what is unfair, which helps animate actions that remedy injustice.
We see this in “Inside Out.” Sadness gradually takes control of Riley’s thought processes about the changes she is going through. This is most evident when Sadness adds blue hues to the images of Riley’s memories of her life in Minnesota. Scientific studies find that our current emotions shape what we remember of the past. This is a vital function of Sadness in the film: It guides Riley to recognize the changes she is going through and what she has lost, which sets the stage for her to develop new facets of her identity.
Second, emotions organize — rather than disrupt — our social lives. Studies have found, for example, that emotions structure (not just color) such disparate social interactions as attachment between parents and children, sibling conflicts, flirtations between young courters and negotiations between rivals.
Other studies find that it is anger (more so than a sense of political identity) that moves social collectives to protest and remedy injustice. Research that one of us has conducted has found that expressions of embarrassment trigger others to forgive when we’ve acted in ways that momentarily violate social norms.
This insight, too, is dramatized in the movie. You might be inclined to think of sadness as a state defined by inaction and passivity — the absence of any purposeful action. But in “Inside Out,” as in real life, sadness prompts people to unite in response to loss. We see this first in an angry outburst at the dinner table that causes Riley to storm upstairs to lie alone in a dark room, leaving her dad to wonder what to do.
And toward the end of the film, it is Sadness that leads Riley to reunite with her parents, involving forms of touch and emotional sounds called “vocal bursts” — which one of us has studied in the lab — that convey the profound delights of reunion.
“Inside Out” offers a new approach to sadness. Its central insight: Embrace sadness, let it unfold, engage patiently with a preteen’s emotional struggles. Sadness will clarify what has been lost (childhood) and move the family toward what is to be gained: the foundations of new identities, for children and parents alike.
Yesterday I decided to take myself to the movies for a change, and chose to see “Inside Out,” the Disney Pixar animated summer fantasy blockbuster.
Seeing “Inside Out” was a serendipitous choice, because I just happened to have enough money to afford a ticket (which is a rarity for me), and also because, although I didn’t know it right away, this movie has a beautiful message about the way Sadness and Joy, though seemingly polar opposites, when working together make human connection and unconditional love possible. Just as the light can’t exist without darkness, or good without evil, joy cannot exist without sadness. When working in sync with each other, these two emotions create a beautiful life affirming thing called Empathy, and that’s what connects us to each other and keeps the human race from becoming extinct.
Sneak Preview–Teaser Clips
Riley Andersen is a young girl of 11 who becomes severely depressed after her parents’ decision to move from Minnesota to San Francisco. The movie begins at the moment of Riley’s birth in Minnesota, shown from Riley’s point of view. Her first Emotions (depicted as loveable anthropomorphized characters) are Joy (feeling secure in her parent’s love) and Sadness (when she needs something or feels ignored or in pain). As Riley grows into early toddlerhood, sometimes her needs and desires are thwarted and Anger takes over and she throws a tantrum. Around the same time she is also capable of feeling Fear or Disgust (both necessary for her survival), and it’s at those times those characters become dominant in Riley’s growing mind.
When the five Emotions work together in harmony, not overstepping each other’s boundaries and only doing the jobs assigned to them, this teamwork manifests in Riley as a well-adjusted little girl able to feel all her emotions at the appropriate times.
The five Emotions work in Headquarters, which is the conscious part of Riley’s young mind. Joy is responsible for making sure Riley’s short term memories are sent to Long Term Memory deep in Riley’s subconscious. Her memories are depicted as glowing colored orbs containing a ghostly image of the actual memory. The color of the orbs represent the dominant Emotion Riley felt at the time of the event. Transporting Short Term memories into Long Term Memory happens during Dream Production as Riley sleeps, and sometimes the other Emotions are needed to help Joy do her job getting the memories there (and sometimes discarding certain irrelevant or painful ones.) Occasionally the other Emotions (as well as Riley’s imaginary childhood friend, Bing Bong, who is a jokester) like to play little jokes–and certain irrelevant memories like an annoying gum commercial jingle are sent to Long Term Memory along with the important memories, which causes Riley to occasionally hear the gum jingle in her head at random times years later.
At the center of Headquarters is the vault which contains Riley’s Core Memories–important but happy long term memories that are responsible for Riley’s happy go lucky personality. The orbs that represent these are colored gold (Joy’s color) and for Riley’s continued mental health, these core memories must not be contaminated by the other Emotions, which is why they are kept locked in a vault. Each of the Core Memories has a long glowing tube that leads to one of Riley’s Five Islands of Personality: Family, Goofiness, Hockey (which she loves to play), Friendship, and Honesty. Maintaining these islands is necessary for Riley’s continued normal psychological development.
The crisis in Riley’s mind is set off when her family moves from her beloved Minnesota to San Francisco. Moving away is always a traumatic event for even the most loved child. Feeling isolated from her old friends and lonely in a place she doesn’t know, Riley’s Emotions begin to make mistakes and not work in sync. Joy and the other Emotions have never been sure of Sadness’s purpose because she just seems to be a Debbie Downer who is always in the way and always making mistakes. It’s Joy’s job to keep Riley’s happiness intact, but one day shortly after the traumatic move, Sadness goes around touching Riley’s happy memories, turning them blue (sad). Joy frantically tries to undo the damage but the memories already touched cannot be repaired. Desperate, Joy tries to isolate Sadness to prevent her from doing any more damage.
On Riley’s first day at her new school, Sadness takes over and Riley begins to cry in class, which creates a new but painful core memory. Joy frantically tries to keep this new core memory from reaching the central vault, but in her struggle with Sadness, who seems to keep contaminating more memories, she accidentally knocks out some of Riley’s untouched happy core memories, which fall off into the abyss. These memories are almost impossible to retrieve once lost to Riley’s Unconscious. Worse yet, both Joy and Sadness are sucked through the Long Term Memory Tube themselves, and are both lost deep in Riley’s vast and labyrinthine Unconscious.
During Joy and Sadness’s absence, Anger, Fear and Disgust attempt to run Headquarters in their place and make a holy mess of things. They attempt to provide “joy” but of course it’s faked now, rather than genuine. Sadness too is absent, so Riley can no longer longer cry or even feel grief over her loss. Anger, Fear and Disgust manifest in Riley’s new insolent and angry attitude toward her parents and loss of interest in the things she used to love. With the core memories now missing or contaminated, one by one the Five Islands of Personality crumble and fall into the abyss of the Memory Dump, a place deep in Riley’s mind where old memories are forgotten. The first Island to crumble into oblivion is Goofiness (Riley’s sense of humor), followed by Hockey (which she quits), and then Friendship (she no longer has any desire to make new friends).
Joy and Sadness find themselves adrift after falling through the Long Term Memory tube deep into Riley’s unconscious mind.
Desperate, Anger decides to insert in Riley’s mind the idea to run back to Minnesota. He plugs this into the Control Console, in the belief this can produce new happy memories. This requires Riley to steal money from her mother’s purse in order to fund her trip back to Minnesota, and then she lies about the theft. As a result, the second to last Island left, Honesty, falls away in ruins into the Memory Dump.
Back in the abyss of Riley’s deep Unconscious, Joy and Sadness run into Bing Bong, Riley’s long forgotten childhood imaginary friend. Bing Bong wants to reconnect with Riley, so he tells Joy and Sadness they can all get back to Headquarters by riding the Train of Thought. After a series of failed attempts, they eventually catch the train, but it becomes derailed when the last personality island, Family, falls into the Dump.
At this point, giving any more away would be spoiling the plot, but gradually Joy and Sadness, who have always been at odds with each other, realize that in order for Riley to return to her normal happy state of mind, they must work together as a team and Sadness has the biggest job of all. Riley must be able to experience–and receive–empathy and love (which comprise both joy and sadness) to heal from her near-catatonic depression.
As a blogger about narcissism and personality disorders, I see Riley at this point in grave danger of suicide or developing a personality disorder, even NPD or BPD. Her trauma-induced depression has caused her to become apathetic and unable to feel anything at all. What happens next is so magical and touched me so deeply I sat there in the darkened theater with tears running unchecked down my face and my nose running. I wasn’t alone–I heard sniffles and nose blowing all over the theater, and there’s a safety and sense of connection with total strangers that comes from that, and that’s why going to see a good movie never gets old. There’s something wonderfully liberating about being able to cry in a public place yet unseen by others and unjudged for it because everyone else is crying too. I think that’s why “heartstring tugging” movies are so popular. But the emotions elicited in “Inside Out” feel real–there’s no sappiness or fake sentimentality in this film that make you feel manipulated by the producers.
The five Islands of Personality.
But for all its poignancy, “Inside Out” has plenty of humor too, and all the jokes are clever and well timed. At times during the movie I was both laughing and crying at the same time. The Five Emotions are all funny characters with their own unique charm. Even Anger is loveable and hilarious in his own irascible way, and the Tinker-Bell like Joy, who could have been incredibly annoying for all her upbeat perkiness, has a depth you don’t expect and over time you realize she is the only Emotion who can feel all the other Emotions. I pictured Joy and Sadness as really being the same person–the two sides of Riley’s True Self–and when they were lost in Riley’s memory dump, Riley’s behavior became quite narcissistic. It wasn’t lost on me that both Joy’s hair color and her “aura” are colored blue–Sadness’ color.
Pete Doctor, the film’s director and screenwriter, was inspired to develop “Inside Out” while trying to come to terms with his own daughter’s psychological changes and mood swings as she approached adolescence. To give the complex psychological concepts presented credibility, well-known developmental psychologists were consulted during pre-production. It’s obvious that a deep knowledge of the way the human mind works fueled both the story and the landscape of Riley’s mind. Kids will adore “Inside Out” because of its lovable characters, fantastic animation, humor, its engaging story about a regular girl, and impressive special effects. In the theater I saw it in, there were plenty of children there, and all of them were rapt in the story.
But adults will love it just as much because of the movie’s deep message of Empathy being born from pain and loss, and the necessity of “negative” emotions to exist in a healthy person’s psyche, working in tandem with “positive” ones. Understanding the movie at this level requires an ability to think in an abstract way about the mechanisms behind personality development and psychological disorders. “Inside Out” is a rare movie that celebrates the human ability to feel, and to love, cry, connect, and laugh. It tells kids that all their emotions are okay, and experiencing them is normal and just part of growing up.
Parents, if you have children ages 4 to early teens, please take them to see “Inside Out.” Both you and they will leave the theater feeling great, and the ideas presented in the story can open up honest discussion about emotions between parents and their children. I’d even go so far as to suggest teachers show this movie to their students, and engage them in discussion afterwards.
I find it encouraging and heartening that such an honest and touching movie with a positive message about genuine emotions and empathy has become the hit of the summer, instead of the usual mindless dreck that passes for summer blockbusters.
“Inside Out” is rated PG. I would not recommend it for children age 3 and younger, due to several quite scary moments that could give a young child nightmares.
Riley with her concerned parents at the dinner table.
“Inside Out” is a 2015 American 3D computer-animated comedy-drama film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and released by Walt Disney Pictures. Directed and co-written by Pete Docter, the film is set in the mind of a young girl, Riley Andersen (Kaitlyn Dias), where five personified emotions—Joy (Amy Poehler), Anger (Lewis Black), Disgust (Mindy Kaling), Fear (Bill Hader), and Sadness (Phyllis Smith)—try to lead her through life as she moves with her parents (Diane Lane and Kyle MacLachlan) to a new city. The film was co-directed and co-written by Ronnie del Carmen and produced by Jonas Rivera, with music composed by Michael Giacchino.
Docter first began developing Inside Out in 2009 after noticing changes in his daughter’s personality as she grew older. The film’s producers consulted numerous psychologists, including Dacher Keltner from the University of California, Berkeley, who helped revise the story emphasizing the neuropsychological findings that human emotions are mirrored in interpersonal relationships and can be significantly moderated by them.
After premiering at the 68th Cannes Film Festival in May, Inside Out was released on June 19, 2015. It received universal critical acclaim, with many film critics praising the voice performances (particularly for Poehler, Smith, and Richard Kind), its concept and poignant subject matter. The film grossed $90.4 million in its first weekend—the highest opening for an original title, besting Avatar ’s previous record.