How to create a positive relationship with sadness

Dinner Confidential: “Dealing with Sadness and Pain”

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When preparing for this Dinner Confidential, I thought about all the moments in my life in which I experienced sadness. The oldest memory was from when I was 5 or 6 years old — my cousin was in a car accident and I remember crying myself to sleep that night, listening to some cheesy Latin pop singer. The emotion felt overwhelming, but for some reason I didn’t cry in front of my parents and instead, I chose to deal with it alone.

As I continued to remember my “sad moments,” I noticed three things:

1) I’m good at denial — many times I found myself “pretending” I was OK. Relying on my overly optimistic self to push away the sadness or numb myself (with that extra glass of wine). When I deny my feelings, I feel powerless and dull, like my light is sucked out of me.

2) When I deny it, it manifests in a physical way — sadness is a very stubborn emotion, and will show up in my body if I don’t face it. Like the time when I was heartbroken and instead of crying or talking about it, I felt pain in my chest, dizziness and exhaustion.

3) The “hole” is a frightening place — when the sadness is all consuming (the moments in which I’ve been scarily sick), I enter a hole so deep I can’t see the way out. In this cave no one is invited, partly because I like to process alone and partly because I feel embarrassed that others will see me in that state.


Over the course of the evening I realized I wasn’t alone — we all shared our deepest moments of sadness: horrible breakups, family loses, challenges with pregnancy, abusive relationships, etc. and I noticed that many women experienced being sad like I did.

Sharing our sadness is not easy.When we are sad, many of us become self-absorbed and create a cocoon to keep us safe. In some cases this can help us make sense of our feelings and “get to the other side,” but I wonder, does the isolation actually take us deeper into the dark hole?

There’s a lot of shame in sadness. Sadness is often associated with weakness, making it more challenging to share it with others. Some situations are culturally deemed worthy of or even require sadness, such as a death in the family. But other common situations, like going through a breakup or divorce, can be associated with failure and weak moral character, which only increase our shame and humiliation. And on top of that, the notion of: “everyone goes through it so it can’t be that bad,” makes us question our feelings — am I wrong to feel this sad?

Being a Victim vs. Being Sad. There is an important distinction between being a victim vs. being sad. A “victim” blames others for what is happening to her, she loses her confidence and pride instead of owing her feelings. Blaming others perpetuates our victimhood. When we take responsibility on how we feel, we can own our sadness. Even when someone has done something to hurt us, we — and only we — can relieve our pain by owning those emotions.

We feel EVERYTHING more intensely. Many of us realized that when we are sad we experience the world more deeply: our senses awaken and we hear messages coming from everywhere — movies, stories, songs are all talking to us, manifesting our sadness. Similar to when we first fall in love and we find “signs” everywhere connecting us to that person, sadness operates in a state of mysterious serendipity — how can we use that to our advantage?

Most of us process sadness alone, while some need to share their feelings with their close friends and family (or the world through digital communities). Regardless of what’s our default mode, it is important to carry out self-inquiry.

To be whole we must learn how to be sad. We must learn how to take pride in our sadness without becoming victims or let ourselves be completely defined by it — experiencing sadness doesn’t mean we are sad people.

By owning it we become more resilient. We grow. We can find courage to take on big risks “I survived the worst year of my life and I’m still here…”

Let’s find our wholeness in our pain. Let’s find its light.

Things to experiment with

Notice the patterns on how you experience sadness. Ask yourself: is the way I experience sadness empowering or diminishing me? How do I want my relationship with sadness to be?

Written by Dinner Confidential

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