Sadness is our next basic emotion, for it tells us about hurt and loss. We live in a world where we get hurt and lose things. We need it to help us grieve and let go. If we repress and deny sadness, there is inevitable depression. Unresolved sadness always leads to depression and often other symptoms.
Sadness is always the way to joy, because sadness says that there is a hurt of some kind that needs to be processed, and usually it involves a loss.
When people deny their sad feelings, they "harden" the heart, and that is to lose touch with tender grace-giving aspects of who they are. They become unable to love and be tender, and to feel grief over their wrongdoings. This state leads then to become insensitive persons. In addition, it leads to all sort of symptoms – depressions, physiological problems, substance abuse, eating disorders, and the inability to get close to others.
Here's a story:
Susan was in her mid-twenties when she began to have panic attacks. She would wake up in the middle of the night fearing that she was dying. If she saw anything on television about death or heard about death in any way, she ceased to function. The panic and dread of death overwhelmed her. She was referred to me when the panic rendered her unable to work.
"I feel ashamed that I am so afraid to die," she said in the first meeting. I will never forget the confusion and hopelessness that she showed over the problem, she didn't know what to do.
She had grown up very isolated in her family, with the exception of feeling some love from her sister, who was a few years older than she was. Her parents were non-relational people. When Susan was fifteen, she got up one morning and tried to get her sister out of bed, to no avail. Her sister had died during the night.
Understandably, her grief was enormous. But her father told the family that day, "There will be no more discussion of this. We must all be strong. Let's forget the past and move on." That was the way the death was handled.
As it turned out, Susan had many unresolved grief feelings about her sister. She was very sad that she was gone, and because she didn't work through the grief, she still had a very deep wish to be with her sister, her only source of love. The wish was registering in her conscious mind as a fear; in reality, it was what she wanted, to be with her sister.
We began to talk about that loss, and she went into the long-awaited sadness and grief. She was able to talk out all of the feeling she had been denying for so many years. Over a period of months, she went through a normal grief cycle, letting go of her sister. That should have happened when she was fifteen, but because the family had a rule against sadness and weakness, it was delayed.
She lost her fear of dying as well as the vague depression she had experienced off and on for years. She also regained some loving parts of herself. The loving part that was sad and buried, away from time, was again available to get to grow and nurture. In addition, her sexual feelings returned, which she had not been able to feel either.
Whenever trauma is not worked through, the development stage present at that age gets affected. In her teens, it was love and sexuality. By processing her pain, she regained herself. There was joy after sadness.
When we lose our ability to feel sad, we lose our tenderness. It is a major aspect of the ourselves that must be protected at all costs. If we can't feel sad, we get coldhearted.
Sadness does not equal weakness. Rather, processing sadness leads to strength.