By Emily Suzuki, MA, LAC
Have you sat and really considered your relationship with sadness?
I found myself pondering this question recently. On a run, I wondered why lately I had been feeling stuck and unmotivated to write, an activity that I usually love. On the surface, I was feeling frustrated with what seemed like writer’s block. I was repeatedly avoiding it, putting it off for a later time, and feeling resentful of the task.
As I named the frustration, I felt a softening, and uncovered another emotion. There, waiting and ignored, somewhere in my body, was sadness.
In conversation with clients, a similar process often unfolds in a session. Clients come to therapy and share their stories in which anger shows up in relationships, difficult communication patterns, injustices and racism, stress in work, home, loss, and change. Anger, frustration, and resentment is noticeable, sometimes even palpable.
When examined more closely or from a different angle, we might reveal what we are working so hard to hide or protect. After all, anger is our body’s very wise and primal instinct to defend against threat and survive. Sometimes, though, it can get in the way of identifying deeper emotions.
When there is anger or frustration, sadness is not far away.
Sadness is often confused with depression. Depression or Major Depressive Disorder is a common and serious medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think, and how you act. Sadness, however, is a core emotion and a part of being human. So, why do we fear feeling it so much?
At its root, sadness presents when we feel psychological and emotional pain. It is an uncomfortable feeling to sit with. Culturally, we aren’t provided much modeling of or support to learn how to be with sadness. Hence, we resort to doing what feels least painful, often suppressing it with denial or fighting it off with anger.
Circling back to my initial question, how is your relationship with sadness?
How do you experience it? Do you notice all the ways and times it shows up to point out a hurt that wants attention? Do you make space for the sadness to express itself? If so, how? And how much? Or is it too uncomfortable and unfamiliar? Do you avoid it at all costs?
Maybe like me, you fall into frustration or anger, and it takes a little effort and time to peel away the layers to identify the sadness underneath. In my case, I discovered that underneath the frustration was a sadness for not wanting to do something that usually gives me joy.
I came across a quote several years ago that centered me around this very idea. It said, there is more joy found in sorrow than in joy itself. This took me a minute to organize in my mind, and still does sometimes, but when I pause, I see its truth. The shadow side of sadness is joy. Through sadness, we mourn something loved, valued, meaningful, or precious to us.
As I continued on my run, these words came to me, “follow the sadness, let it be your guide.” Perhaps sadness is there on the surface, or maybe there are many layers needing to be unpacked to access it. However it lives in you now, remember that sadness is human, natural, and necessary in order to truly know and appreciate what it is we value and find joy in.
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Mindful and Multicultural Counseling Clinical Team
Therapists and psychologists committed to improving well being and mindful living.