How to be sad without getting swallowed.

Last week, I got sad. Really sad.

So sad I found myself going towards making plans for not crying in public.

For a lot of us who struggle to not act impulsively on big emotions, the flipside is that when we listen, really listen to what is happening for us, we discover…

that we are very, very, sad.

Sadness is a highly stigmatized emotion is our society. The cult of positive thinking is alive and strong. However, what we are learning is that at times creating space for and listening to what can often be extremely painful emotions does not only assist us to bear them with greater ease, but can assist us in living a fuller, more meaningful life.

However, for many of us who have suffered trauma, and specifically trauma early in our lives at the hands of caregivers, painful emotions can feel enormous, sort of like a bull is charging towards us but from inside of ourselves. Living with our pain without any sort of internal boundaries or barriers for it can sometimes make it difficult to get through the day and attend to our self-care, work, and family responsibilities. It can often place our long-term goals fueled by dreams on hold, and contribute to self-sabotage our of a conscious or unconscious fear of the potential for loss when we achieve what our hearts desire.

Long story short? Being sad is hard. But the sadness also serves as evidence of our humanity. If we didn’t care, we would never be sad. If we didn’t empathize with others in pain, we would never be sad.

So…how can we allow ourselves this piece of our human experience without allowing it to swallow us whole?

Here are some techniques based upon Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and Compassion-Focused Therapy I invite you to try.

1.)Focus on creating space for the sadness instead of forcing it to change.

If we take breaths, and allow the feeling to be, sometimes we can watch the emotion transform itself into something meaningful and poignant as opposed to a monster to be feared. If you feel your emotions getting bigger, find a safe space (even if it is your car or the bathroom) and take several breaths. Keep your eyes open if you find yourself spacing out and find a posture that allows you to take full breaths into the chest and stomach areas while remaining comfortable.

2.)Say compassionate phrases to yourself to honor your sadness.

When clients come to me experiencing sadness and shame, I often invite them to say something compassionate to themselves. We are learning that self-compassion is a key aid towards healing from trauma and depression, especially connected to feelings of shame. I often invite clients to reflect on the lives of their hearts and remind themselves that their heart’s pain is evidence of their striving to be a better person. Utilize this self-compassion technique in a way that makes sense for you.

3.)Seek support from someone who accepts you as you are.

This third piece of guidance is pretty self-explanatory and seems simple but at times, our friends and family can often be in the midst of their own pain and suffering and struggle to see us for who we are. Therapy can be an invaluable tool and your therapist should be challenging but accept you and create space for you to be who you are in the moment.

What do you do to soothe and remain compassionate towards yourself when you are sad, mad, or otherwise in your feelings?