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Sadness: The Gift We Resist

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But when denying our sadness becomes something more than temporary, it can extract a great cost. This was illustrated in an exchange I had at a training a few years ago.

My dad was sick at the time, and his doctor (not knowing the measure of the man he was dealing with), didn’t expect him to live, and called in hospice. (This was the first of several times over the following three years in which he was given weeks or days to live.) I left my father’s bedside to conduct a training.

At the training, I was getting to know one of the coaches attending. I shared with her that my dad was in hospice. She laughed. (That’s right. She laughed.) I looked at her, speechless and puzzled. Seeing my expression, she explained, “My father was in hospice a year ago, and he died. Six months later, my mother was in hospice, and she died. And now, my sister has cancer. You have to laugh.”

What I thought at the time was, “No, you have to laugh. I want to cry.”

I can’t imagine the overwhelming loss this coach must have been experiencing. Perhaps to access all of the sadness within that loss would have been incapacitating. Perhaps she was coping with all that loss as best she could by denying the sadness of it. And by denying her own sadness, she could not be with me in mine. And, though unintentional, she invalidated my sadness.

When we can not, or do not, allow ourselves to access our own sadness, we can not be with others in theirs. Hence, the risk of not accessing our own sadness is insensitivity, invalidation and disconnection. Insensitivity to the pain of others, invalidation of the sadness of others, resulting in disconnection from others.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

 Sadness is an emotional muscle that when exercised is more easily recruited. Once we’ve experienced loss and the accompanying sadness, it can be much easier to access. As we age, we tend to access sadness more easily because we’ve had more life experience, and experienced more loss.

Some people too easily access too much sadness. People who access high levels of sadness:

  • May have experienced great loss and not have not found a way to process, accept and/or reframe their experience.
  • May be emotionally and/or physically fatigued and not attending to their own well-being and self care.
  • May (consciously or unconsciously) believe that sadness is a more ‘acceptable’ emotion than other distressing emotions, and so substitute an acceptable emotion (such as sadness) for an “unacceptable” one (such as anger). (Note: The EQ Profile reveals that sadness is the most easily accessed of all of the distressing emotions.)
  • May find that sadness is more comfortable to access, particularly if they fear disconnection from the boundary-setting of anger. (That’s another way anger can be bundled under sadness.)
  • May be suffering from depression. (Which is a wholly different subject.)

People who have high access to sadness (that falls short of depression) may benefit from reflecting on their sadness and what’s underneath it, using the bullets above as a guide.

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