Who Are You Sadness?

By Kat Giles BSW, MSW, RSW  |  February 6th

We have all experienced sadness at some point in our lives. The death of a family member or pet, a difficult health diagnosis or missing out on an important event, sadness is part of everyone’s life.

As with the rest of our posts in the Who Are You Emotions series, let’s look at (1) externalizing sadness and (2) understanding what sadness communicates to us.

Externalizing Sadness: What Does it Look Like to You?

Have you ever watched the Pixar movie Inside Out? This movie explores the core emotions of the main character Riley and personifies each emotion inside of her brain.

Sadness is a blue character, wearing a thick cozy sweater, and thick-rimmed glasses. She is often hunched over, looking at the ground, and talking in a slow, deep voice.

When I think about externalizing sadness, I think about this character.  What does your sadness look like?

What Is Sadness Communicating to You?

If you have not watched Inside Out, it is a great movie to watch.  More than just giving us a picture of what emotions look like, it has a great message about how we need all our emotions – including sadness. Sadness, like our other emotions, is communicating something important to us.

Sadness tells us that we have lost or are missing something. 

Sadness wants to remind us that something that really matters to us is now no longer there. For a child, this might be losing their favourite toy or missing their best friend’s birthday party. Perhaps as an adult, a deteriorating relationship, a poor performance review at work, or the death of a family member.

Like all emotions, coping with sadness can be done using our three Rs:

  1. Recognize – recognize what you have lost. Remember that no loss is silly, and no loss is unimportant. If sadness has come, it is about something that you care about and that is worth looking at. If you are supporting someone else (such as a child) it is important to not criticize or minimize the loss that someone else is feeling. Do not try to fix it – just be present and verbalize what you see. For example, you might say, I see you’re feeling sad.  It sounds like this [person/object/event/etc.] was really important to you.
  2. Regulate – spend some time regulating this emotion. Take some deep breaths, go for a walk, have some time alone journaling, whatever works best for you to regulate your emotions. If you are supporting someone else, offer ways that you can support them in regulating their body, such as taking breaths together, holding their hand, putting your arm around them, or offering to give them space.
  3. Respond – here is the time to respond to sadness. For yourself, maybe honouring what you have lost in some way (i.e. visiting graveside of someone you lost). If you are supporting someone else, maybe asking – what would feel like a good way to honour this loss?

We know it takes work to recognize, regulate and respond to emotions. If you need some help, reach out, we are here when you are ready.