Sadness is paying me a visit today. Per usual, she was uninvited. But I’ve always found her to be politely insistent, so I generally make accommodations when she drops by. She’s sitting right here with me now, but hasn’t made her purpose clear just yet. I’m hoping she’ll open up and talk to me soon.
When Sadness visits, she’s usually not very forthcoming about what she wants. She quietly drifts in without any regard for what I was trying to do, and she somehow draws all control of my energy and focus away from me. It is so hard to be open and welcoming to her when feelings of annoyance, resentment and anger are vying for control. Doesn’t she know I have things to do?
But I’ve learned that I can’t make a habit of asking her to leave or showing her anger or impatience. If I do that, Depression might appear in a fit of righteous indignation to take her place. And when Depression arrives, he tends to settle in for a long, bleak, painful visit. Given a choice between the two, I’ll take Sadness any day. So I’m learning how to talk with her, which requires a lot of gentle patience that I’m not used to showing…well, myself.
Sitting with Discomfort
Popular contemporary Western wisdom says that we’re supposed to practice positivity all the time. Any feeling on the “negative” end of the emotional spectrum attracts negative people, feelings and circumstances so we mustn’t ever linger there ourselves or enable anyone else to. And while I certainly advocate opting for positivity whenever that’s a healthy choice, it’s a mistake to do this all the time. Welcoming only positive feelings cuts us off from so much of life’s experience and deprives us of acquiring true wisdom and insight. Our challenges teach us so much.
Authentic living means making room in our hearts and our worlds for all of our diverse feelings and experiences. It means being honest about them, and open to them. It’s a choice we make again and again as we make our way through the world.
Giving Sadness a Voice
And so, I need to find a way to give Sadness a voice so she can work through whatever is troubling her. But up to this point, she’s been so reluctant to talk. So I imagine myself in dialogue with someone, trying to express to them what’s in my heart but struggling to get it out. What would I want?
I would want, I think, what any of us would. To:
- Know that it is safe to express my thoughts and feelings and that they’ll be heard without criticism, ridicule or rejection.
- Feel supported, knowing that my experience will be met with openness, empathy and compassion.
- Have some contact. Eye contact. Physical contact. Some sort of non-verbal support to reassure and help me open up.
So I tell her. “You are safe and supported. Please tell me what’s wrong. Let me help you.” And I offer her my hand.
I’ve never actually done this before, and I’m feeling really awkward, to say the least. But I also feel guided to do this, so I stay with it. Sadness occupies my left hand, and the rest of me occupies my right. My right hand offers gentle squeezes of support and encouragement, as Sadness gently and nervously strokes it with her thumb. Convinced, finally, that she’s completely safe and that it’s in both our best interest for her to get it out, she finally opens up.
Nothing she has to say is particularly surprising to me.
- The house is a constant mess no matter what she does, and she sees no real hope of ever catching up unless everyone moves out.
- She’s torn between spending time with her family and building up the business that she so believes in and has dreamed of for so long.
- The noise and energy of the weekend grinds on her peace-loving nerves and she feels on-edge and misplaced in her own home.
- She worries about her oldest. He’s seemed a bit sullen and withdrawn this week, and she’s never quite sure what the right balance between showing concern and providing space is.
- She struggles sometimes to communicate with her husband. She can see so clearly that they’re both searching for a connection, but just not quite making it lately.
- And it hurts her when her youngest wants no one but Daddy. All. Weekend. Long. She’s lonely.
No. No surprises here. I knew all of these stressors were present. But I hadn’t recognized that their cumulative pressure had gotten to Sadness so much.
Getting it out brings Sadness relief; she wasn’t looking for solutions and just wanted to be heard. She lingers a while as she finds her bearings, and then leaves just as quietly as she’d arrived. Sadness doesn’t apologize for the disruption, and she doesn’t need to. There’s an understanding between us that she’s helped me, just as I’ve helped her.
Sometimes loving ourselves involves a massage and a pedicure. Sometimes it’s enjoying some quiet time or a girl’s night. And sometimes, it’s being there for ourselves, willing to listen deeply, and to support our own vulnerability and heartache when no one else can. To some this might in itself feel sad and lonely. But when you can be there for yourself, you might find that loneliness doesn’t linger as long as it used to, and that Sadness just visits when she needs you to listen to yourself and care for yourself a little bit better.