There are valuable upsides in allowing ourselves to experience feeling sad and the so-called negative emotions.
Over the past couple of decades, there has been an increased labelling of emotions as positive and negative. As part of this, sadness has been seen as a negative, and something to be avoided at all costs. And, happiness is seen as a positive emotion, and one we are all striving to achieve. But, in order to live balanced, well-adjusted lives, we need to experience both emotions.
Let me first clarify a few facts about emotions, particularly about sadness and grief.
- Sadness and grief are not interchangeable terms or emotions. They are related but different.
- Grief often has sadness has one of the emotional components, but can also have anger, guilt and physical pain associated with it too.
- Like any other emotion, sadness and grief are personal experiences. That is, the feeling of sadness for one person can be very different to that of another person.
- Feeling sad from time to time is a natural, normal part of life.
Sadness as a Positive – lessons we can learn
There are few big lessons we can learn from allowing ourselves to experience sadness.
Firstly, being okay with feeling the sadness. Just letting ourselves BE in the sadness and not try to cheer ourselves up. Learning to accept that we all have feelings, and there aren’t ‘negative’ or ‘bad’ emotions; they are just emotions. Oftentimes, we will find that if we allow ourselves to BE in the sadness, it passes more quickly.
Secondly, many of us find that during times of sadness we experience greater insights into our own needs, desires and wants. (more about this below).
Thirdly, the feeling of sadness can be message that there is something we need to work on, or resolve. When it’s pure sadness, it can simply mean we need to be a little kinder to ourselves, or we need to delve a little deeper to determine why we are feeling this way. It can be an opportunity for self-discovery and greater self-awareness.
Lastly, although it can seem like an internet meme, there is truth in the saying ‘we cannot experience great joy if we do not know the contrast of great sorrow’.
We NEED to know what sadness feels like to know what joy feels like.
Sadness, and more particularly, grief, can become destructive when we deny it, suppress it or otherwise attempt to squash these emotions. Often by trying to ‘push through’, ‘be strong’ or ‘solider on’, when we finally pause, the result can be emotional overload and breakdown. Or, more seriously, depression.
Sadness or grief can become destructive when they are used as a rationale for behaviour that harms. Either harming of ourselves (self-harm activities) or others (emotional, psychological or physical abuse, or neglect due to the depths of grief).
In these instances, professional help must be sought immediately.
Using sadness and grief positively
When we have felt deep sadness or grief (not feeling sad because it’s rainy today, rather sadness and grief because someone we love has died, or a long-held dream has been thwarted), we experience change. Many people feel different as a result of their experience, and after some time has passed, feel there is a chance to start again. A sense of “waking up” after the sorrow and grief.
There can be a message in our sorrow; a reason WHY we are feeling it. It can require a little thought or introspection to determine what that is, but by allowing yourself to actually feel the emotion (and not deny it), you can have some clarity as to the reason why you are feeling sad. Taking a mindful approach to feeling sad can bring meaning.
Additionally, with time, many of us do find something positive in our sadness. Often this comes later; not at the immediate time, but with hindsight as we realise what we have learned about ourselves through the experience and process of sadness and/or grief. We often find that the sorrow (or the event or circumstance that lead to the sorrow or grief) helps us;
- Re-prioritise our life goals (purposeful)
- Learn the value of living in the present (mindful)
- Become more sensitive or thoughtful (compassionate)
- Have greater appreciation for life and the things that matter (gratitude)
- Realise personal strength and resilience (strength)
- Have a renewed appreciation for the value of relationships (love)
How to Help yourself – a suggestion
It is possible to help yourself when you are feeling deeply sad or grieving. Here is a suggestion to get you started.
An ideal action is to journal. Journaling, which is writing freely without judgement or constraint about your feelings, has a long history in helping people cope and heal from their grief, and is used in both psychology and coaching to great benefit. All you need is a pen and some paper, and then start writing.
By allowing a free-flow of words to come pouring out, and writing them, you can tap into your emotions and uncover what your sad feelings are telling you.
This is a useful exercise if you, or someone you care about, is feeling sad and overwhelmed with emotion and can’t really work out why or feels there are too many reasons.
Acknowledge and take action
Once you have tapped into what your sadness is telling you, it’s about acknowledging that. Acknowledge the pain that is causing you to feel sad. Often, this simple act of identification and acknowledgement is a turning point and you gain insight, which lends itself to action and moving out of the sadness.
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