Embracing Sadness as Part of Healing

We live in a culture that considers individuals’ happiness, satisfaction, joy, elation and delight as signs of health and wellbeing. Though these emotions are desirable states that are sought by all, they certainly are not applicable to many life’s circumstances and their absence in some conditions is certainly not a sign of pathology, illness or abnormality.

The dictionary definition of sadness is, “A state of sorrowful; mournful; affected with grief; gloomy.” Anyone who has suffered a loss of a cherished object, employment, a home or material possessions, a relationship, or a loss of a loved one in separation or death, certainly appreciates the depth of emotions associated with these events and the process of recovering from the void.

Our culture has specific rituals and procedures that are intended to highlight the finality of the loss, such as monetary compensation to car owners in an accident, a discussion leading to the firing of an employee, insurance remunerations to injured individuals, and burial and memorials for the deceased. Commonly, after these events occur some closure is presumed to have taken place. Yet, the principal individual who suffered the loss, may or may not have ended his/her grieving promptly after the concluding chapter of the above events.

In the book, “The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Sorrow into a Depressive Disorder” Authors, Allen Horwitz and Jerome Wakefield, point out that “though depression can have biological roots, the erroneous attribution of sadness to a form of a mental disorder, are now misdiagnosed and treated as depressive disorder.” The new “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual” used by professionals to diagnose mental disorders, does make an exception for bereavement, “If you have recently lost a loved one, excessive symptoms are not considered disordered.”

In a “Time” article titled “When Sadness Is a Good Thing” author, John Cloud states, “We might want to return to a simple definition of mental illness offered by Aristotle, “If fear or sadness lasts for a long time, it is melancholia. In that case, see a doctor. But if your boyfriend just left you and you can barely get out of bed, don’t assume you are ill. Your brain is probably doing exactly what it was designed to do.”

All religions have recommendations for the grieving families and their consolers. There are acts that both mourners and families are advised to follow in the process of grieving. The wisdom of the recommended conduct parallels the natural inclinations of the bereaved individuals and their families.

Respect the process of grieving:

  • Understand that sadness, tearfulness and emotional pain are normal manifestations of grief.
  • Expect the griever’s sorrow to take time to heal. Do not personalize his/her need for solitude.
  • Express condolences to the bereaved and abstain from judging his/her conduct. Everyone grieves in his/her own way.
  • Stay in touch with the bereaved individual and honor his/her comfort about activities, visits and availability for socializing.
  • Use kindness while the bereaved heals.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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