‘That’s disgusting!’ What ‘Inside Out’ teaches us about disgust.
A child life specialist and why disgust has value
In the summer hit movie, Inside Out, the five main emotions leading the way for Riley are joy, anger, fear, sadness and disgust. Out of all those emotions, disgust, is probably not one that many of us would initially recognize as a being a top five feeling. In the movie, Disgust is impatient, sassy, and sarcastic; but she is also honest, well-meaning, caring and protective.
She is especially protective of Riley when looking out for her well-being. She’s on vegetable alert. Remember the peas and broccoli pizza? Disgust also acts as Riley’s social situation monitor, helping her make new friends.
So what really is the value in our children's everyday lives of feeling disgusted? To feel disgust, means we are offended by something, or have an extreme dislike.
When was the last time you said, “That’s disgusting!”? Was someone acting in a way you felt was inappropriate, or was there food on your plate that you truly didn’t want to eat? We can see disgust acted out in kids all the time.
Food sometimes just has to look like it doesn’t taste good, for them to turn up their noses and say, “yuck, not eating that!” Think about all the times you’ve tried to get your child to take medicine that they refuse, or spit back out at you. Those may not seem like the most positive examples, but they’re probably the most realistic. But, if disgust is protective, then it may also keep your child from eating something they shouldn’t, such as bugs, plants or medicine that’s not theirs.
Disgust in the role of acceptable social behaviors has the potential to be very important. If we teach our children there are certain values that are important, and morals to follow, they have the potential to be offended (disgusted) when behaviors opposite to their values are displayed. It may keep them from getting involved in substance abuse, risk taking actions and becoming sexually active. If disgust helps them to live up to the expectations they know are important, then it plays a very positive role with the voices inside their heads.
Disgusted behaviors aren’t always the most positive if you look at sarcasm, being snarky and generally thinking they know everything. We may laugh when we see children react to situations with some level of egocentrism, except maybe when they are our children and we think they’re being rude. So, lesson learned, how children (and adults) display their disgust is important. Just like anger, it’s OK to feel disgusted, but there may be certain behaviors that are unacceptable, such as throwing peas, when we are expressing our disgust. Providing examples of what is acceptable behavior when disgusted, such as using words, not actions, is definitely a teachable moment.
Disgust, in all her green-ness in Inside Out adds a certain level of humor that is probably better understood by adults because it’s subtle and mature. But, don’t we all want to have a little bit of her humor in our heads every day? I know I do.
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About the author
Jill Koss is director of Family Support Services and Child Life at Cook Children's. We know that a child’s illness or injury can impact a family physically, emotionally and financially. Fortunately, you don’t have to face these challenges alone. We provide a growing number of services for patients and families, all designed to help support, heal and encourage you through every step of your journey.