(Psychology Today) The Joy of Sadness
Grover L.C.S.W. Posted Mar 15, 2019
Studies find that sadness is actually good for you.
Recently, a woman visited my psychotherapy office for a consultation and expressed concern that she was feeling sad since her mother passed away.
“When did she die?” I asked.
“About three months ago,” she said, “From cancer. “
“Isn’t it appropriate to feel sad?”
She sighed impatiently. “I don’t have time for this. Can you prescribe antidepressants?”
Sadly, sadness isn’t valued very much these days. Pushed aside by the dazzling smiles and gleeful selfies that bombard us on social media, the message is clear: Happiness is for winners, sadness is for losers.
Studies on the Positive Effects of Sadness
According to 10 studies on sadness reported by Research Digest, there is more value gained from honoring sadness than disowning it. The studies found that people who experience bouts of sadness benefit in many ways.
1. Sadness enhances empathy.
2. Sadness triggers self-reflection.
3. A good cry discharges toxins, relieves tension, and lowers stress.
4. Sadness induces greater patience.
5. Sadness awakens gratitude by reminding us of the fragility of life.
Many types of theater, art and music celebration sadness. They touch us deeply because they give us permission to mourn, to grieve, to feel heartbroken, hurt, or disappointed. Such experiences deepen our humanity and often fuel our hunger for positive change. They cause us to assess our lives, our relationships and consider new choices.
Alternatively, suppressed or denied sadness frequently erupts in a flurry of psychosomatic symptoms such as muscle tension, headaches, or backaches. It can also disrupt our sleep, cause erratic moods and weaken our concentration.
Learning to Honor Sadness
The goal of psychotherapy is not to eliminate uncomfortable feelings, but to expand our capacity to feel. We seek to honor all our emotions without placing a value judgment on them or labeling them as positive or negative. The more that we embrace and welcome all our feelings equally, the more attuned we are to others and the world around us.
Jackson, a young man in weekly group therapy, suffered from a multitude of nervous tics. He always seemed filled with worry or on the verge of tears. Yet each time he felt the urge to cry, he released a whirlwind of self-criticism and apology.
“Sorry! I’m too sensitive, I’m just being dramatic.”
Week after week, the group watched as he disowned his sadness. Finally, one of his fellow group members protested heatedly,
“I can’t stand how cruel you are to yourself,” she said. “You’re allowed to cry, Jackson.”
Jackson was shocked, “Why are you so angry with me?”
She explained, “You’re abusing someone I care about.”
It was the first time someone embraced Jackson’s sensitivity and welcomed his tears. Throughout his childhood, his sadness was met with impatience and intolerance; his siblings mocked him, his parents responded with contempt. When he cried his father barked, “Go to your room and don’t come out until you’ve fixed your face!”
The negative voices of his family became his own inner critic that prevented him from honoring his sadness. He no longer needed his parents or siblings to shame him. He did that himself.
Overtime with the support of weekly group therapy, Jackson discovered it was okay to cry. It wasn’t shameful or unmanly. In fact, it made him more attractive and interesting and expanded his emotional intelligence. When sadness became a valid part of his experience, his nervous tics faded away. He no longer shied away from conflict or avoided expressing uncomfortable feelings. In fact, in honoring his sadness, Jackson discovered a wellspring of strength.