How comfortable are you dealing with feelings of sadness?
Do you allow yourself to be present with them, or do you do everything in your power to run away from them and pretend they’re not there, busying yourself with distractions?
In my experience, many people do the latter.
There appears to be a collective discomfort around owning our sadness, facing it, and allowing it full expression. Perhaps more than any other emotion, it’s one that people tend to deny.
This denial is often a form of self-protection. Many of us fear that if we reveal our distress others will see us as vulnerable or unstable, and therefore weak. We fear losing control over ourselves, believing that the smallest chink in our armour will cause it to collapse and we’ll be unable to cope.
And so, when painful feelings arise, we adopt what seems to be the safest strategy in the moment: push the emotion down, smile, and carry on as though nothing is wrong.
In the short term, this strategy may well be appropriate and is unlikely to cause us harm. However, if suppressing sadness becomes our habitual mode of behaviour, over time it can cause us serious damage. Here’s why.
Sadness is a natural and necessary human emotion. It arises any time you experience loss, whether it’s a significant or life-changing loss such as a bereavement or a small inconsequential loss like an unfulfilled expectation.
The loss may be tangible, e.g. losing a home, job, loved one, income, status, health, material possessions, or it may be intangible, such as losing face or your sense of security and safety. Sometimes the loss is merely perceived, something you never really possessed in the first place – having feelings for someone who doesn’t reciprocate or a cherished dream being dashed, for instance.
The function of sadness is to help you cope with these painful experiences; to heal the internal ruptures that emerge when you’ve been hurt.
Sadness also reveals what it is you truly care about and value in life; who or what you hold dear, what motivates you, what gives your life purpose and meaning. Without this emotion, we would not be able to love and care for anyone or anything.
Now, like all emotions, in its purest form sadness is simply energy (e) in motion. This energy needs to flow through your body.
Any time you deny, avoid or suppress your sadness, you stop the energy from rising to the surface and being released (usually in the form of tears). The energy doesn’t dissipate; it sits there like a heavy dark cloud over your heart, waiting for expression and getting heavier and heavier as time goes on.
If you are carrying long-denied, unexpressed sadness in your being, the accumulation of this energy will eventually erode your physical, mental and emotional well-being, and undermine your capacity to create the life you desire.
Suppressing this emotion can:
Create a pattern of stuckness, a life that’s weighed down by regrets, disappointments and missed opportunities. Just as a hot-air balloon whose base is laden with rubble cannot get off the ground, it’s impossible to create all that you aspire to without first clearing out the emotional debris lurking in the basement of your being.
Manifest in physical symptoms such as fatigue, muscle pain, heaviness in the chest, jaw pain and tension in the throat muscles.
Cause a persistent bad mood and negative outlook on life, often showing up as anger, irritability or apathy and a pessimistic, bitter, resentful attitude.
Trigger untimely emotional outbursts, with a seemingly unrelated event causing a disproportionate level of distress; as, for example, in the person who receives news of a neighbour’s death and even though they barely knew their neighbour suffers a breakdown because of their own unresolved grief.
Give rise to addictive behaviours: overworking, perfectionism, substance misuse, overeating – these are all attempts to keep unpleasant feelings at bay.
- Drain all joy out of life. Without feeling your so-called ‘negative’ emotions, you cannot truly feel the good, positive emotions of love, joy and passion either. You end up experiencing life in a constant shade of grey, devoid of its full colour and depth.
There’s no doubt, then, that it’s vital to safely express and work through any sadness you’re holding onto. Here are seven easy-to-practise ways you can do this.
1. Tune into how you’re feeling every day.
Take ten minutes to be alone and ask yourself, What am I feeling right now? Then in whatever form feels most natural note what comes to mind. It may be a single word, a sentence or several paragraphs. If you’re more visual, it might be a colour, a shape or an image. Doing this exercise daily will give you the space to acknowledge your feelings a little at a time so they don’t build up.
2. Connect with the energy of suppressed emotions in your body.
To move through sadness, you have to fully feel it in your body. One effective way of doing this is by using a body scan meditation – you can find one that I’ve created here. This 28-minute practice will help you connect with the energy of the buried emotions in your body and bring them to the surface.
3. Offload your feelings onto the page.
The process of writing releases the emotions by taking the energy out of your mind and body and transferring it onto paper. Journalling is a form of free writing where you give yourself permission to just let go and write down everything you’re feeling exactly as it shows up for you – without censoring yourself. This is especially useful if you’re struggling to understand why you’re feeling upset.
4. Pen some poetry.
For some, giving poetic expression to their pain comes more easily. You may find that feelings that are difficult to voice can be rendered more accurately through imagery and metaphor. You don’t have to be a seasoned poet to benefit from this.
5. Vent your feelings through music.
Music has the power to rouse strong emotions in us, so listening to a tune or, if you’re musical, playing a piece of music that evokes feelings of sadness can be cathartic. So many of the world’s greatest songs have been inspired by heartbreak and anguish!
6. Talk to someone you trust.
Voicing how you feel to a friend or confidante can not only provide a space for you to witness and own your feelings, it may also help you see your experiences in a different light. The key here is to confide in someone who’s non-judgemental; someone who can hold space for you to honestly share whatever you need to.
7. Ensure you have some mood-boosting remedies at the ready.
If you’re afraid you’ll sink under the weight of all your pent-up heartache and never climb back out again, then make sure you have some self-soothing activities you can turn to once you’ve faced and processed your feelings. It could be taking a hot bath or going for a walk, for instance. My e-book Feel Good Now: 21 Easy and Natural Ways to Lift Your Mood has a whole menu of options for you to choose from.
By courageously facing our disappointments and sorrows head-on, we eventually come to recognise their hidden gifts: healing, greater self-knowledge, a deeper connection to self, and an increased empathy and compassion for the suffering of others.
As Maxime Lagacé says,