The Wisdom of Sadness

There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone as well.
– Nicholas Sparks 

Sadness is a very important emotion, with a powerful healing wisdom.

Dr. Brené Brown shares in her latest book, The Atlas of the Heart, “Acknowledging and naming our own sadness is critical in the formation of compassion and empathy. In our saddest moments, we want to be held by or feel connected to someone who has known that same ache, even if what caused it is completely different. We don’t want our sadness overlooked or diminished by someone who can’t tolerate what we’re feeling because they’re unwilling or unable to own their own sadness.”

Wow.

Isn’t this so true?

Sadness isn’t fun, but it’s necessary for healing, and it’s helpful to have it witnessed, so we can be held in connection with another and loved through it.

I believe a part of us knows the healing energy of sadness, but it’s also backed by research shared in Atlas of the Heart, which highlights some of the biggest tear-jerkers like Life is BeautifulBeaches and Old Yeller as being some of the most beloved movies of all time.

Who didn’t love bawling every week during This Is Us?!?
Brown, and researchers Julian Hanich and colleagues, make sense of the sad-film paradox in this way:

Sad shows allow us to feel moved; they connect us to the deeper parts of ourselves and others that we often don’t to touch into; we find relatability and common humanity in otherwise isolated experiences; and they evoke compassion and empathy.

When tears are dammed, and sadness is diminished or blocked by either ourselves or well-intentioned loved ones, it easily compounds sadness with isolation. 

Over time, this repression and blockage of emotional energy can lead to the deeper and harder emotions of loneliness, despair, depression and despondency. 

However, when sadness is allowed to be there… when we can open our heart to the ache and loss it points to… when we can patiently and lovingly hold our aching hearts, just as we would a crying baby, we invite healing. 

When I do this work with clients (not to mention myself) I’m regularly amazed at how fast this process can be. 


The feeling of sadness…

In the training methodology I share in my coaching, sadness carries a frequency similar to sorrow. It is part of the same emotional house as anguish, depression, despair and grief, but carries a higher frequency. It is a component of each, but also distinctly different from each.


The function of sadness…

Sadness points to a loss – or perception of loss, and furthermore connects us in a common humanity.

According to Karla McLaren, author of The Language of Emotions, sadness carries the gifts of release, fluidity, grounding, relaxation and revitalization.

It arrives to help us slow down, to feel our loss(es), and to grieve and release that which needs to be released.

Rather than being rigid, and trying to maintain control through manipulation, to-do lists and forging forward, we’re invited to soften into the flow of life, and let go of that which is gone (or going).  


The potential message of sadness…

When sadness enters, it’s letting us know that we are feeling a sense of loss, or perceived loss.

This loss can includes the obvious, like the death of a loved one, or the loss of a marriage, friendship, health status, or career. But it can also include the less tangible or obvious, such as the loss of one’s hopes and dreams, the loss of opportunity, the loss of identity, or future possibilities. 

McLaren shares that when sadness is blocked from being processed, “it can feel like unmoving despair, without resolution or relaxation”. 


The action:

As with all emotions, sadness itself is neither good nor bad, and can be expressed either cleanly or harmfully.

When it’s in a healthy and balanced relationship with anger, we can hold the strong and protective energy of anger, while we lean into our sadness.

The sadness allows us to let go of what no longer serves us, including painful attachments to unworkable relationships, beliefs, behaviors, memories or thoughts; while the anger provides the energy and healthy boundaries required to make those hard changes. 

McLaren teaches us that when anger leads and we’re without access to our sadness, we’ll cycle through protection and restoration, but won’t be able to release what is needing to be released.

In such cases, we’ll continue holding on – even when it’s not working or serving us.

Meanwhile, when sadness leads and we’re without access to healthy anger, a struggle with physical and emotional instability, cycling depression and anxiety, unworkable relationships, and “excruciating loneliness” can ensue.

Healthy anger helps us create healthy boundaries, without which we struggle to make the deeper, harder changes that sadness is asking of us.

Sadness invites us to acknowledge the loss. To let go. To grieve. To allow the healing waters of tears to flow, so that relaxation can return. It invites us to be witnessed by another, and loved through our pain, so that we can heal and be revitalized. (If we don’t have someone to help us do this, we can do this for ourselves although it can be more challenging.)


Sadness Questions: 

1. What must be released?
Variations: What is no longer serving? What is trying to end? What part of this is no longer working and must be let go? What is trying to die, that I’m trying to keep alive? Look to outworn attachments and limiting belief patterns.

2. What must be rejuvenated?
Variations: What healthy boundaries are being called for? What is wanting to be created or renewed/rebirthed? What is my spirit longing for? What would ‘flow’ look like?

Both questions must be asked, to process sadness and receive its’ gifts.