It’s o.k. to be sad, even very, very sad. Sadness, like anger, is a very fine emotion. But, like anger, not all of us are comfortable feeling it or being in the immediate vicinity of someone else who is experiencing it. We can be so averse to it that we respond with anger or erect walls and seek distance when sadness enters the scene. We don’t want any of that sticky mess to get on us and we can feel intense resentment when someone introduces it into our world.
Sadness can be a one of the toughest emotions to feel, and to express, because we’ve learned that it is bad. It is categorized as a negative emotion. Culturally, happiness is what we seek, so sadness is rejected. Sadness is failure, it’s scary and if we succumb to it, it may never go away. We may become completely enveloped, drown in its depths, never to surface again. Historically, it’s been cast as destructive, we’ve seen sadness used as a weapon, or a threat. My kids don’t even like it when I pretend to cry to get them to do something – even though they know it’s meant as a joke.
What makes it especially intimidating is we don’t know what to do with it. We don’t have the skills. So, we push it away, and mask it with any means possible – alcohol, work, drama, deflection, drugs, anger -we just want to make it stop. And we will go to all necessary extremes to do so.
By nature, we don’t like seeing people hurt, and we don’t like feeling out of control. And when we don’t know how to manage our or another’s emotions, that’s just what we feel. We are a culture of doing and fixing. We want to make it all o.k., and we want to do so as quickly as possible. We don’t want to sit with an emotion that makes us feel uncomfortable. It’s awkward and disconcerting. So we shame ourselves and others into “shaping up” or try to prematurely cheer up to ease our discomfort with feeling sad, and we all end up the worse for it.
Sadness arrives with noble intentions. It is the energetic expression of our internal experience of loss, hurt, or disappointment. And it’s here to do us some good, to convey an important message. It allows us to fully process an experience and transition though it. Our job is to allow an honest and complete expression of that emotion for ourselves and others. By fostering a full expression of the internal experience, we support our well being and promote satisfying and fulfilling relationships.
So, when sadness comes bubbling up at your door, or the door of someone close to you, don’t run for the hills, allow the river to flow. Feel the depths of all the emotions that surface and stick with them, ride them out, until the feelings naturally pass. Don’t try to stifle or cut short the expression. As with any important communication, if we don’t allow the message to be delivered and acknowledged (to be fully expressed) the message ends up getting sent in louder, and louder, more persistent, unproductive and unhealthy ways.
When sadness shows up and settles in, it’s beneficial to be respectful and not try and force ourselves to do “fun” things. Instead, try to support yourself by doing comforting things, to ease through the emotion while you wade through its ripples. Be kind to yourself. If you’re British make a nice cup of tea, hunker in, or go for a run, but let the feelings flow. Once the message has been delivered, and you have heard it clearly and explored its edges, it’s time for resilience to step up and lead the way to smoother shores.
Don’t expect a predictable or constant trajectory of the expression of your sadness. Your level of emotional intensity will ebb and flow. Don’t impose a timeline upon yourself, or others, to get through the experience. “That happened ages ago!” or, “Aren’t you over that by now?” are not appropriate or constructive responses. Withhold judgment; there isn’t a right way. Don’t dictate parameters, instead seek a complete and authentic experience and expression.
You don’t have to understand or agree with another’s emotional experience or response to a particular circumstance to be supportive. We are unique individuals and feel and express our emotions in very different ways, at different frequencies and at varying times, and that’s o.k. Let’s leave the shoulds behind and do our best not to dictate or impose expectations when it comes to the experience of being sad – a hug and a box of kleenex will do.