Amy is in her early 50’s, married and has four children. She has written to me because she hasn’t been able to experience sadness for the last 18 years. She finds it strange that whenever her friends discuss tragedies, whether distant (such as the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia) or close at home (such as the abduction or murder of schoolchildren), she does not feel sad. In fact, even when a family member mentioned that they had thought about committing suicide, she couldn’t feel sad or cry.
She has no problems with the other emotions and is happy most of the time. She’s actively involved in sports and is preparing to go to college to gain more skills. So, Amy’s problem is not debilitating, for she has no problem leading a normal life. However, she’s troubled by her inability to feel sad and wonders if affirmations can help.
Before offering suggestions, it may help to define and clarify the meaning of SADNESS. This word simply means “unhappiness,” which, in turn, means “dissatisfied by what is.” In other words, we feel sad when people or circumstances fail to meet our expectations or demands. People set themselves up for unhappiness (sadness) by making demands. For example, if someone were to say or believe “I expect (demand) to be treated with respect” they are also saying “I cannot be happy if I am not treated with respect.”
The above expectation or demand is foolish. Why? Because it makes our happiness dependent on the behavior of others. Since we cannot control others, and because someone, someplace, at some time will disrespect us, when we make such a demand, we guarantee our own unhappiness. That isn’t smart, is it?
If I walk in the sun, I feel warm. Feeling warm is caused by an external reality, the sun. Feeling sad, however, is not caused by an external reality. Rather, it is a fabrication of our own mind. It is a decision we make. It is like a child throwing a temper tantrum and saying, “I refuse to be happy if you disrespect me! I refuse to be happy if I lose a person or object I love! I refuse to be happy if I cannot feel sad! (How sad that I’m not sad!)
When we appreciate what we have, we are able to accept life without making demands. No longer distracted by demands, we will be in a position to enjoy what life offers. And the more we are thankful for what we have, the more we will have to be thankful for.
Returning to Amy, what is sad is not her inability to feel sad, but her inability to accept herself as she is. You see, we are all unique, and part of our uniqueness includes our faults or weaknesses. When we refuse to reveal our genuine nature, we deny everyone we meet of experiencing our own uniqueness. Consider these words of Joseph Campbell (1904 ~ 1987), “Both the artist and the lover know that perfection is not lovable. It is the clumsiness of a fault that makes a person lovable.”
The problem with thinking we have a problem is that it creates stress. And when stressed, the harder we try to do something, the harder it is to do. This is called the Law of Reverse Effort.
Others express the same idea by saying “What we resist, persists.” So, the more Amy tries to feel sad, the more elusive the feeling becomes. Rather than trying to force herself to become what she thinks she should be, she will be better off letting go of her expectation and allowing herself to become the person she was meant to be.
Of course, when Amy says she wants to feel sad, she doesn’t mean she wants to be unhappy; she merely means that she wishes to experience sorrow at the right occasions. Obviously, she wouldn’t want to appear cheerful at the funeral of a close friend. So, it is okay for her to wish her sadness will return, but instead of trying to WILL its return, it is more effective to INVITE it to return at its own leisure. Also, avoid asking questions such as “How long will it take to return?” For that question indicates lack of patience, which invites stress and resistance.
But is it all that bad not to be able to feel sad? Hospice doctors and nurses, for instance, may emotionally detach themselves from their patients. After all, mourning for the deaths of their patients would be too draining and make them unable to help those in need. Besides, by deliberately dissociating from their feelings, they can remain objective and clearheaded.
Enlightened Buddhist monks also do not experience sadness because they do not cling to or desire anything. Their lives are one of acceptance, compassion, and serenity. But their state of mind is not something they seek after, but something they awaken to.
Getting back to Amy, when her friends talk about tragic events, she may mistakenly believe that they are feeling sad. Yet, like the Buddhist monks, her friends may feel compassionate without feeling sad. Remember, not only do we have a right to be happy, we have a duty to be happy. For there is already too much sadness in the world and others are counting on us to spread our happiness.
Does what I’ve written so far mean we should avoid being sad? No, because grief over the loss of a loved one is usually needed before we can move on with life and continue helping others.
Also, sorrow increases our repertoire of emotions and adds to the richness of life.
Now that we’ve considered sadness at some length, let’s look at some steps Amy can take to move on.
1. Let go of the need to feel sad. That wish is merely blocking the way. Surrender to the will of life and sorrow will come of its own accord when you least expect it to.
2. Yes, affirmations can help. But what you need are not affirmations on feeling sad, but on accepting yourself. When you learn to accept yourself as you are today, you create the space for sorrow to move in.
For more about affirmations, see:
Here is another worthwhile web site to visit:
3. Stop trying to be like other people and don’t feel guilty for being you; celebrate your own uniqueness.
4. Visit this site on psychological self-help to pick up some good ideas: http://helpyourselftherapy.com/topics/index.html
5. Because of the mind-body connection, an improvement in one area brings about an improvement in the other. By heightening your ability to tune in to your bodily sensations, you will expand your emotional awareness as well. What I’m getting at is a wonderful technique called FOCUSING. This technique allows your body to communicate with you, providing you with a new level of intuitive understanding. You have inner wisdom that would like to speak to you. If you’re interested in tapping into this resource, pick up a copy of this small, but valuable book: FOCUSING by Eugene T. Gendlin, Ph.D., Bantam New Age Books, 1981.
6. For another good book, see: MAKING PEACE WITH YOURSELF, Turning Your Weaknesses into Strengths, Harold H. Bloomfield, M.D. and Leonard Felder, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, 1985.
7. You may also be able to pick up tips from a support group specializing in emotions, such as Emotions Anonymous. To find out more about them, see http://www.emotionsanonymous.org/ or to find meetings near you, visit http://allone.com/12/ea/ .
8. Rather than using the presence or absence of sadness to depress you, you can use it as a springboard into a fascinating investigation of melancholy. Try reading the 1,338-page THE ANATOMY OF MELANCHOLY by the eminently delightful British scholar Robert Burton (1577 ~ 1640). The book is published by New York Review Books, 2001. Once you start reading it, you may find that you can’t put it down, and you certainly won’t have the time to be sad about not being sad.
9. Focus on and be grateful for all the blessings you already have and you will find your nearly perfect life will grow even more so. I wish Amy, and all readers, a happy and peaceful life.