I had lunch with a friend the other day and he told me about one of his staff members and the problems they were currently experiencing. He asked me if this “normal” behavior.
He related the travails of one of his employees, i.e., recent death of a husband, damage to her home from local flooding, and the constant effort required to care for an adult special needs child. The question was, is crying for a moment during the day a normal response to her current situation? My comment was that I couldn’t imagine any other healthy response to the recent tragedies in her life.
I wrote a blog recently about emotions and received several comments asking if I would write more about them. So, with my friend’s situation and the requests in mind, I decided it was a good idea to address healthy sadness.
Back in 2000, the York University psychology research clinic developed a list of 15 categories of emotion relevant to psychotherapy. They are just as relevant to coaching:
- Anger and Sadness (both present simultaneously)
- Pride (self-assertion) and Anger (both present simultaneously)
Sadness from Loss
It is easy to see why sadness is first on their list. We feel sad when we leave or lose a loved one. Sadness tells you that you miss them when they are gone or when you are temporarily separated. Without this kind of sadness, people would not feel the connections that that keep us together. Healthy homesickness brings people back to the security of their family and what they are familiar with. In short, people need to be encouraged to feel healthy primary sadness without anxiety or shame.
Healthy sadness helps a person look for comfort or withdraw when all hope is lost.
Aamiina recently immigrated (refugee status) from Somalia. She is talking to her coach/counselor about her experience at the airport when she was leaving her homeland to escape the injustices and violence prevalent in her home country. She is 25 years old and eager to live her new life here in the United States. She mentions how she wept as she said goodbye to her family at the airport, and she begins to cry again. These are heathy tears. They suggest that Aamiina will return to her homeland when her need to reconnect with her family and childhood friends overcomes her hatred and fear of the horrors of her homeland. A therapist would say that this is healthy and adaptive sadness. If Aamiina suppresses her feelings, she is likely to have problems adjusting to her new life. An emotion coach could help her to let herself to feel her sadness and grieve her loss of the tears continue.
Sadness from Failure
Sadness at the failure and subsequent loss of a relationship is another big source of sorrow. People naturally can grow sad at how difficult their struggles are. They can be sad about the pain of life, and/or sad for not loving or feeling loved enough. You can be sad about being misunderstood, when you are feeling isolated, when someone you love backs away, or when you lose a person forever, or even for a little while. This kind of sadness from loneliness is natural, and can be both wide and deep.
Mark and Brittney
Mark and Brittney came for couples coaching. Their issue was whether or not Mark would ever commit to marriage. Mark was a 42-year-old consulting engineer who had never been married. Brittney was a 35-year- old nurse who was married earlier in her life for about two years. She was 22 when she married the first time. Brittney feels the ticking of her biological clock and wants a commitment from Mark, and a child. After four sessions, Mark decides to end their relationship, in my office, with pain. Brittney weeps in her chair, while Mark feels relief, guilt, and sadness. I feel sad as well.
Healthy Primary Sadness
Healthy primary sadness occurs as a short moment, a flash, in the middle of the complex happenings of life. You can recognize it by a kind of momentary feeling of loss, hurt, or feeling touched by a goodbye, or an ending of something important. At times, you can feel the passing sadness of surrender or the sadness of giving up some kind of struggle that was important to you in one way or another, and the acceptance of the inevitable. In other situations, sadness can be felt deeply and fully. People cry at loss and share their grief or disappointment with others around them. This healthy sadness is free of blame and is often one of the longer lasting emotions.
People cry at loss and share their
grief or disappointment
with others around them.
Karen (name changed), a local add executive here in town, had just received news that the proposal she had worked on for more than a month was flatly rejected. She had pinned all her hopes for advancement—perhaps even a partnership—on this account. She is disconsolate, devastated. Her partner in couples’ coaching reaches out to comfort her in her moment of distress. She cries. The tears flow freely as she feels the heathy sadness that will help her let go and move on with her job and life.
Why The Tears
Sadness usually involves some level of tears. The general biological function of crying is to signal to yourself and others around you that something is distressing you. Your tears motivate you and those around you to do something about the upsetting event or situation. Crying is one of the first things we do as babies when we enter this world. It is motivated by the desire to survive. It tells you and others that you are suffering. When the crying stops, it signals that the suffering has ended. Crying, within limits, is healthy. Being able to cry as an expression of emotions helps to promote intimacy with others.
Your tears motivate you
and those around you to do
the upsetting event or situation.
The positive effects of healthy crying should be made clear to people who struggle against their own or the tears of others. When they are struggling, as a coach, I say, “It’s okay, just let those tears come. There is a lot to get out.” Crying is a way of communicating in a non-verbal way. It adds meaning and richness to the experience. You may have noticed that crying is a way of expressing feelings when words fail you. They can mean a variety of things (your tears), such as, “I’ve had enough,” or “I care,” or “I am feeling hurt.” On top of that, there are times when crying expresses other emotions like joy, happiness, or even fear or anger.
Sadness and Loss Experiment
That being said, crying excessively to the point that you are unable to communicate at all, can become unhealthy. I ask my clients to complete the following experiment to assist them in figuring out what is their primary sadness.
Think about a situation or time when you experienced a loss. This can be the loss of a person, a relationship, or some other kind of disappointment. Look at your feelings, identify them. Find a word that describes your feeling. Do you feel in in your body? Do you have a physical response? Describe in words or write down how your body feels. If you usually feel like moving your body in a certain way when you are sad, find some way to express it. Let your body speak; sigh, droop, curl up, or let your face express your sadness.
Crying excessively to the point
that you are unable to
communicate at all,
can become unhealthy.
You will discover that sadness and anger frequently occur together. In grief, and in separation, such as an infant from mom, or one partner from another, there is often anger at the separation, followed by sadness for the loss, or the other way around. People often feel angry at the person they feel is responsible for their loss, feeling sadness and pain about the very loss itself. Coaching often involves helping the client to separate the two emotions from the jumble of spaghetti that is their feelings, so that they can easily identify the source and need in each, and express each emotion to its fullest—and to completion.
So the next time you feel sad and cry, for whatever reason, just remember that you’re not overreacting, you’re not weak. You are expressing a perfectly normal response to an overwhelming sadness which results in tears. However, if you find you are crying way too much and are unable to determine why, please do get some help from a trained professional coach. It is necessary to become whole and happy again, which is what a coach will help you do, by identifying the source of your tears.
Does sadness have a grip on you and your life? Leaving it behind is a process of learning and experimentation. Let me know how it is going for you. If you would like to talk, schedule a time for a call and let’s give it a go.
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