Recently I have been giving a homework assignments to some of my patients with autoimmune issues and past trauma. The assignment is to watch the beloved Pixar/Disney Toy Story series that began in 1995. There are four movies in this computer-animated world that includes Woody, Buzz Lightyear, their friends, and the villains and allies that help them grow and develop as more compassionate, wise, and loving beings.
The actual assignment is to study the characters in the movies and see which ones resonate with parts of your own personality. All of us have “parts” that were developed in childhood to help us navigate our own individual life circumstances, familial and other relationships, and traumatic events. Each of these parts learned its role, which ultimately is some form of protection for the innocent psyche that was you as a child. These parts are created by the child’s mind and make sense of the life experiences your younger self lived. However, they become outdated when they remain in charge in your adult life.
Each of your parts may or may not be aware of the other parts in the playroom. Just like the Toy Story bedrooms of Andy’s (older brother) and Molly’s (younger sister) homes and the more chaotic and traumatizing home of Sid (older brother) and Hannah (younger sister), we each have very distinct parts who can either work together as a team (Andy and Molly’s toys), or may take charge and dictate to the rest of the group, or throw each other under the bus (the toys at Sunnyside Daycare) in order to survive. These parts comprise your ego and what you think of as your personality.
Each of your personality parts wants you to be safe. You will have created several parts who are all focused on making sure no one can see behind the masks you wear that let the world know you are loveable, deserving of respect, trustworthy, intelligent, honest, strong, courageous, funny, and law-abiding. Any of the traumatized parts who believe themselves to be weak, sickly, undeserving of protection or love, deceptive, stupid, crazy, murderous, addictive, lazy, fat, ugly, cowardly, worthless, and otherwise overwhelmed are called your exiles. They are like disowned, orphaned parts of you that you don’t love or like and keep hidden away from yourself, as well as the rest of the world. Your managers, protectors, and judges make sure they can’t be found by you or anyone else…until this strategy no longer works.
How will you know the strategies created by your child self no longer work? You crash. You might find yourself drunk and driving a car that literally crashes and forces you to come face to face with these exiled parts of yourself. You might discover your marriage has fallen apart for a whole variety of reasons that ultimately create an opportunity for compassionate self-inquiry and curious self-confrontation. You may have a wrecking ball take apart your business/career/job. You might have experienced an existential crisis with the loss of a loved one, your status/reputation, finances, home, a beloved dream, your self-image, or your health. My crash came in the form of an autoimmune disease (rheumatoid arthritis) and later breast cancer.
So why watch Toy Story? These movies contain archetypes of personality parts that must learn to work together for optimal happiness and life functionality. Once you begin to see parts of yourself reflected in the characters, begin to ask yourself who is in charge of the inner playroom of your mind? Each of your parts are covering who you fundamentally are at core-in the essence of your divine being. You are none of your personality or ego parts in this core. In fact, your well-practiced parts are occluding who you fundamentally are; a whole and complete compassionate, loving being with a mind whose luminous nature contains infinity and beyond.
For example, do you have a compassionate, loving, loyal, problem-solving nurturer like Woody in charge or do you have a vengeful, ruthless, cruel despot like Sid in charge? Notice that the journey through Toy Story 1 for Woody’s character is peppered with jealousy, dishonesty, and self-deception. By the end of the movie, he has gone through a process of self-confrontation that motivated him to shift from looking out only for himself and his status in the playroom to being able to think of the needs of others and finally adopting the character traits of loyalty, generosity, compassion, and honesty that he retains for the next three movies.
Do you have access to a warm mothering energy like Bonnie and her mother in Toy Story 3 or does the warmth for yourself evaporate when you don’t succeed or get what you want like it did for Woody, Jessie, and Bullseye at the hands of Stinky Pete in Toy Story 2?
Are you anxious that you really are undeserving of love, protection, and care? Do you have Forky in charge of your mind? In Toy Story 4, Forky appears as the existential spork who was made by Bonnie in her kindergarten orientation with bits and pieces of art supplies found in the garbage can by Woody. Forky, with his pipe cleaner arms and mismatched googly eyes, insists he’s not a toy and not of value…and in fact is trash. Whenever he’s the least bit overwhelmed, he heads for the nearest trashcan and throws himself in it, wrapping himself in garbage like it’s the best of comfort blankets. Woody takes it upon himself to mentor Forky, attempting to help him to see himself as Bonnie sees him, to stand up and lean into his worth and value as the favorite toy of this beloved child.
Is there someone in your life who have taken you by the hand and repeatedly tried to show you the ways you throw yourself away when you are anxious that you really are unworthy, unlovable, undeserving of care? Is there someone who calls you to be the luminous, unbounded, and infinite loving being that you actually are? Yes, you have flaws. Yes, some of your parts will show themselves to be in the way of your divine nature. Yes, you will make mistakes. It is up to you to cultivate the one you want in charge of the nursery in your mind. It is up to you to give a severance package to those parts, like your harsh inner critic and judge, so they might retire in a field of self-compassion for the rest of your life.
Your heart’s protector not only thinks it’s protecting your heart from hurt, but it’s also keeping you from feeling fully loved and being able to fully give love. Do you show up as Bo Peep or Barbie in distress and ask for
toxic masculinity to save you…like Stretch the octopus, Emperor Zurg or Utility Belt Buzz Lightyear? Or do you learn to be overly self-sufficient like the Bo Peep of Toy Story 4, relying on no one and becoming jaded and cynical like Lots O’ Hugs? Or maybe you have learned to create a posse that surrounds you and keeps you locked into your story like Gabby Gabby and her ventriloquist dummies.
No matter who’s in charge of your mind, one thing is certain. We all came out of the box (into this world) not knowing who we really are, just like Buzz Lightyear. We create ways to get our needs met and we believe our own stories…until life gives us opportunities to look into the mirror and discover we are so much bigger than we thought. We are so much more important than the roles we have limited ourselves to. In adulthood we no longer need to remain constrained by our parts. We can teach them to get along with each other. We can teach them to stop covering up our light and allow us to shine in the unique ways we are each meant to shine. You are like no other being on this planet. Who is in the playroom of your mind that is still whispering in your ear to keep your uniqueness covered up? Don’t let Forky be in charge!