Welcoming Sadness and Listening to the Message
There’s a lot you can learn from this natural and normal emotion.
By February 15 369
Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist who specializes in helping clients deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Terry has been living with a chronic condition for a couple of years now, and has tried her best to be compliant with her medication regimen and her doctor’s lifestyle recommendations. She thought she was doing well overall, though she has had some ups and downs since her diagnosis. But the news she received from her doctor this morning wasn’t very positive. She’s going to have to move to a stronger drug regimen, which will take some time to tolerate. And even then, her physician can’t guarantee she won’t experience further deterioration in the future.
After she returned home from her appointment, Terry was relieved that the members of her family were at work and at school. She was relieved because she wanted to sit alone for awhile and just feel her sadness. And to cry.
The pressure to be positive
In the past, Terry used to fight her sad feelings, even to the point of denying she felt sad. Somehow she had decided that she needed to keep “staying positive” and not allow herself to fall into sadness. As if by feeling sad, she was not being “strong,” or was letting down other people who didn’t want to see her feeling sad, a message we constantly hear in the feel-good culture we live in. But Terry realized, over time, that sadness is a normal human reaction in a difficult situation. And it comes with the territory when you’re living with a chronic condition, so why pretend otherwise?
Terry’s right. It’s normal to feel sad. I probably say this at least a couple of times a week to a client. But I also talk to them about how sadness has lessons for us. And if we allow ourselves to feel our sadness—to be with it—we can gain insight into ourselves and how to travel the road ahead.
Here are some of the lessons that being with sadness can teach us:
Being okay with being human. The last thing you need to do is to try to force yourself to be some kind of a robot that is all about making intellectual decisions and not getting bogged down by feelings. You have a right to feel how you feel, and you don’t owe anyone else an explanation or an excuse for your emotions. In fact, acknowledging your emotions helps you to make better decisions.
Not forgetting how to feel. Ever have times when facing the challenges and responsibilities of a chronic condition leaves you feeling kind of numb? And perhaps wondering how you’re supposed to be feeling? Letting yourself feel sad can be a reminder that you still know how to feel, that you are still you. That can be refreshing in its own way as you release what’s been building up inside.
You have a right to feel how you feel.
Giving up on trying to deny feelings to make them go away. And I’ll take it one step further. Fighting your feelings only makes them more intense as they grow and, over time, express themselves in a way that may have a negative impact on your wellness by causing stress.
Awareness of the good in life. Recognizing and acknowledging the sadness in life also helps us to be more aware of the joys of life, big and small. Embrace your sadness and you will be that much more able to feel true joy.
Self-understanding. This results from understanding what makes you sad. By looking at the causes of your sadness, you can learn more about your expectations, your dreams. And gain insight into how your perceptions of your chronic condition may be based on expectations that may no longer be realistic. And also look at how you can modify your dreams based on what’s possible. If you didn’t allow yourself to feel sad, you might not ask some of the hard questions that sadness can bring up.
Emotional healing. One of the lessons of grief is that allowing ourselves to really feel sadness—to show how we feel, to talk about it—is how we heal emotionally after a loss. The same principle works in how you cope with the sadness around your chronic condition. You face a new challenge, and maybe a loss as well. When you allow yourself to grieve, you gain strength to move forward.
More compassion for others. Sadness brings us back in touch with that sensitive spot we hide from others. So when you own your sadness, you also are reminded of the sadness that others experience, how we all suffer at times. The result? More patience, more sensitivity to what others are dealing with. That’s compassion. And it’s not only a lesson, but a gift.
Sadness is part of life. Letting yourself feel your sadness is not only normal, but it’s good for you. Listen to your sadness and learn from it. Use your sadness to better prepare you for the road ahead.
What have you learned from experiencing sadness? What advice do you have for someone struggling with sadness? Help others in our community by sharing your thoughts below.