Sadness is a legitimate emotion.
March 2, 2015 8:59 AM   Subscribe

Pre-therapy, this is the only thing I was ever taught, implicitly and explicitly, about sadness: It is bad.

You do not want it. If you've got it, you should definitely try to get rid of it, fast as possible. Whatever you do, don't subject other people to it, because they do not like that.

Sadness can be legitimately problematic, absolutely. If your sadness comes from seemingly no place or even an obvious place but keeps you from participating in life or enjoying anything and refuses to abate no matter how long you go on letting it express itself, you of course can't keep living like that. But culturally, we aren't allowed to be sad even for a little while. Even when it's perfectly sensible. Even when, sometimes, we need it.
Journalist and author Mac McClelland explores the relationship between recovering from PTSD and learning how to live in the presence of sadness: How I Learned To Be OK With Feeling Sad.

If you are struggling with PTSD or depression, please remember: There is help.

Other resources that may be helpful along the way: The Power of Radical Acceptance, From Suffering to Freedom: Practicing Radical Acceptance, Three Blocks to Radical Acceptance.
posted by divined by radio (54 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
 
Mac McClelland previously. I am really looking forward to reading this book.
posted by Cash4Lead at 9:03 AM on March 2, 2015


But culturally, we aren't allowed to be sad even for a little while.

I'm prepared to believe that we're too quick to see sadness as pathological or that we don't give sufficient space to sadness or whatever, but I wish people wouldn't immediately reach for these sorts of ridiculous absolutes when they're trying to float these sorts of arguments. Because it's patently false that our culture has no toleration for sadness or sees no legitimate role for sadness. The existence of tearjerker movies, for example, or most Country and Western music or what have you is sufficient proof of the falsity of that claim.
posted by yoink at 9:09 AM on March 2, 2015 [11 favorites]


Perhaps better to say our culture doesn't tolerate sadness that makes others uncomfortable. It prefers the safe, controlled sadness to the wearying, hopeless, "embarrassing" form of sadness. Tearjerkers and country music keep sadness at a safe distance.
posted by wabbittwax at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2015 [33 favorites]


I'm not a big fan of the phrase "the exception that proves the rule," but the apparent fact that we need approved times and places to feel sad absolutely seems to support the idea that "we aren't allowed to feel sad" in general, especially in response to real life stress. It's not like we take the existence of free speech zones to be indicative of a respect for free speech.
posted by knuckle tattoos at 9:17 AM on March 2, 2015 [14 favorites]


Don't shoot the messenger, greet the messenger, read the message, thank the messenger, respect the message, flow back quietly to all points, understand, respond, bury that piece and move on. With proper decorum it can be done. Revisit the memorial as a marker in time, a place of healing.

I am glad people recognize impass, and there is good help available. I don't mean highly profitable and convenient chemistry. Return to the comfort of self, is the good outcome.
posted by Oyéah at 9:22 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


A couple years ago, started seeing a therapist as part of a pain management program. He asked me if I felt depressed. "No," I said "I feel sad sometimes, and angry this [pain disorder] is happening to me. But I don't feel depressed. I'm actually pretty happy most of the time. Even with this happening." We talked about it a bit, and the difference between sadness, grieving over my own loss, and how depression can become a problem for pain patients, so there is a need to be vigil. And we discussed how easily a diagnosis of depression is thrown around. But ultimately, he pointed out that there isn't a code for sadness to bill insurance.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 9:33 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Because it's patently false that our culture has no toleration for sadness or sees no legitimate role for sadness. The existence of tearjerker movies, for example, or most Country and Western music or what have you is sufficient proof of the falsity of that claim.

Country music and tearjerker films allow you to borrow someone else's sadness for a finite and short amount of time. That's so different from experiencing your own sadness for however long your sadness lasts. Experiencing your own sadness is something that we are culturally taught to minimize.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:37 AM on March 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


A very common interaction I have with therapy clients:

"How do I stop feeling so sad?"
"By letting yourself feel sad."
posted by jaguar at 9:38 AM on March 2, 2015 [17 favorites]


This is hitting in all the feels today as I have just come off a spectacularly bad weekend in which my inability to cope with my own depression is damn near in the process of alienating everyone I love.

But today? Today is the day I decide I need to do something about it.
posted by Kitteh at 9:40 AM on March 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


Country music and tearjerker films allow you to borrow someone else's sadness for a finite and short amount of time. That's so different from experiencing your own sadness for however long your sadness lasts

That's not really true, though. That is, part of the idea of the Blues, C&W, poems about the loss of loved ones etc. is that we turn to them when we our feeling heartbroken in order to think through and understand our own sadness. Certainly there are modes of consumption which we could describe as a kind of "emotional tourism" where we get to simply observe "someone else's sadness." But if you look at our standard cultural discourse around these works the idea that they provide specific solace to those who are sharing the emotions that the works explore is widespread and conventional.
posted by yoink at 9:52 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


These 602 dots would seem to belie the idea that expressing sadness is not tolerated in this society.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:58 AM on March 2, 2015


I find it fascinating that country music is the first thing mentioned as the culturally acceptable conduit for sadness. Because most country music these days (such as it is) is about sunny days, partying, drinking -- "the way it's goin', that keg's gonna be floatin' " -- and pickup trucks, and not in a sad way at all. Broadway in Nashville is the most anti-sad place on the map. Country music has scrubbed sadness from its vocabulary, for the most part. Same goes for tearjerker films -- when was the last time one of those was a box office hit?
posted by blucevalo at 10:00 AM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


But if you look at our standard cultural discourse around these works the idea that they provide specific solace to those who are sharing the emotions that the works explore is widespread and conventional.

That still doesn't mean that the kind of sadness you feel when you listen to a blues song about someone getting dumped is the same kind of sadness you feel when you actually get dumped. Culturally, we turn to sad media when we're sad BECAUSE society frowns so much on us experiencing our own sadness.
posted by 23skidoo at 10:04 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, tear-jerker movies and songs are to sadness what camping is to homelessness.

Real sadness is almost always met with others telling you you shouldn't be sad and that you need to cheer up.
posted by rocket88 at 10:06 AM on March 2, 2015 [25 favorites]


That still doesn't mean that the kind of sadness you feel when you listen to a blues song about someone getting dumped is the same kind of sadness you feel when you actually get dumped.

Uh, yes, it does if you turn to blues songs about being dumped because you got dumped.

I mean, this is baked into the logic of lots of these sorts of songs: "Only the lonely / Know the way I feel tonight" etc. etc.

when was the last time one of those was a box office hit?


The Fault in Our Stars? 2014.
posted by yoink at 10:12 AM on March 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


Over the past, what, 150 years the concept of "melancholy" has been devalued and I'd venture is nearly extinct. Maybe it's the rise of psychoanalysis, I don't know, but it seems like there is a cultural push to always be experiencing a definable emotion.
posted by rhizome at 10:18 AM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


Speaking of hit songs about sadness.

When my cousin was five years old, his mother died in a car accident. He came to live with us. I was reprimanded for asking him if he felt sad. Instead of talking about it, he was given Happy Meals and lots of toys.
posted by zennie at 10:29 AM on March 2, 2015


When my cousin was five years old, his mother died in a car accident. He came to live with us. I was reprimanded for asking him if he felt sad. Instead of talking about it, he was given Happy Meals and lots of toys.

I worked for a few years as a grief counselor, and I worked with a number of grade-school kids there, most of whom had had a parent or parent-figure just die. One of the things I found most frustrating was that I'd spend an hour a week telling the kids it was ok to be sad, here are ways you can express your sadness, being sad doesn't make you a bad person, being sad doesn't make you a selfish person -- and then they'd go home and get the exact opposite messages for 167 hours a week. And most of the time those reverse messages were coming from a compassionate place, because of course people don't want little kids to be sad, but I just kept thinking that they were absolutely setting those kids up for lifelong difficulties with emotions.
posted by jaguar at 10:57 AM on March 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


Generally speaking, most of us freak out/melt down/try to "fix it"/whatever any time someone is sad/crying in front of us. That super uncomfortableness someone else's sad causes is why it's not socially acceptable to be sad. You're inconveniencing others and making them uncomfortable, dammit. They shouldn't have to have to hand you Kleenex and wipe your tears, it's not their fault! etc, etc.
posted by jenfullmoon at 11:02 AM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


Freud himself was pretty clear on this: he famously wrote at the very conclusion of Studies in Hysteria that his main aim was to convert 'hysterical misery into common unhappiness.'

My wife has a version which she says sometimes when she, or our kid, is sad: 'You can't fix this.'
posted by colie at 11:25 AM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


of course people don't want little kids to be sad, but I just kept thinking that they were absolutely setting those kids up for lifelong difficulties with emotions

Definitely this. It's such a common thing to tell kids not to cry, or distract them with something. Anything rather than helping them just to feel it and let them know it's ok, it's just another emotion, no less valid than feeling happy. And so we grow up with this sense that people don't want to see us be sad and we should cry in private if at all. It's not a healthy thing to deny such a human experience.

Last year I was going through something incredibly painful and was seeing a really nice therapist. But one day I totally broke down, just gut-wrenching sobs. And she couldn't hold it. She said "Are you ok? Can I get you a cup of tea, some water? Have you been to your doctor?" And I had to pull myself together and I felt so let down. No one I knew could tolerate seeing me in pieces, and the one place I should have been allowed to be truly sad - because I was fucking Sad - even there I'd crossed some kind of line. It was scary even to her on some level, and it was her job, so it says something about how most people just can't deal with real sadness. Dry your eyes, turn that frown upside down, everything will be alright...
posted by billiebee at 11:28 AM on March 2, 2015 [18 favorites]


I think it's truer to say that, culturally, we have a sense of what constitutes "appropriate" grief or sadness. There's a widespread trope in contemporary TV and movies of the person who goes through some horrible loss (a break-up, a close death) and whose first response is to resolutely declare "I'm fine!" when anyone asks them how they're feeling. The cliched dynamic of such stories is that the person must be brought to a point where they can cry and really "feel" the loss that they're trying to suppress. Culturally, then, we actually value sadness as a necessary stage one should move through in response to loss (it's a "happy" ending to the story when the hero finally stops engaging in whatever compensatory behavior they've taken up and retreats to their bedroom to listen to sad songs and cry their eyes out).

At the same time, we have a strong sense that grief and sadness can become a trap, and that it's dangerous for people to end up "stuck" in the grieving process. So if someone is still weeping alone in their room two months after a teenage break up we're likely to try to suggest they "get out more" and "take their mind of things" and so forth.

Both of these impulses, in themselves, seem reasonably healthy. The interesting--and difficult--question is "where to we draw the line"? What is "too much" grieving? What is "not enough"? I don't think it helps us to think about these inherently difficult problems by pretending--falsely--that we have a culture which simply sees no value whatsoever in sadness and always and relentlessly seeks to minimize it.
posted by yoink at 11:29 AM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


One of the things I found surprisingly powerful when I was teaching and a kid was clearly upset and they'd explain why was just saying "Wow, that's really tough. I'm sorry there's nothing I can do to help with that. That's really hard." I think a lot of my students were surprised that I wasn't trying to fix it or help them or tell them why it would be okay or talk them out of their emotions but, like, if your mom is dating someone other than your dad and you want them to be together, that is genuinely really tough and there's nothing I can do about that and it's totally legit to feel sad about it.

We spend way too much time trying to talk kids out of their emotions instead of talking to help them process their emotions. Some things can be fixed and other stuff really just can't. It's never going to be okay that zennie's cousin's mom died. We can't fix that for her cousin, but we can tell him that there's nothing wrong with him for feeling sad.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:32 AM on March 2, 2015 [25 favorites]


I'm 41 years old. I didn't understand that sadness was a legitimate emotion until I was 39.

I used to try to wall sadness off from the rest of me. That strategy frequently failed. I've since learned that the fear mantra from Dune (or, at least, my personal interpretation of it) works just as well for any of various "negative" emotions as it does for fear: anger, worry, sadness -- you need to let all of these wash over you and through you and look at them instead of denying them if you want to get past them.

I can't say I've always dealt successfully with my own sadness since becoming enlightened about it at 39. The culture of toxic masculinity still has its hooks in me when it comes to that, and I've got many more barbs to pull out. But I'm about 100 times better at it than I used to be.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:40 AM on March 2, 2015 [13 favorites]


On one side is the allopath, who can tweak your day with drugs until you are lost in the fog, but at least you don't feel like tearing your face off. One the other side is the psychobabbler who insists that all you need to do is acknowledge your sadness and then move on. Sad people are vulnerable to the indifference of others. They know the fault is in themselves, but can't really understand why. Perspective is enlightening, but not necessarily liberating. Most of us will need help to identify the root cause of our sadness. It's always in your mind, of course, but it's not always an attitude problem.

Mac's telling line was the one where she wrote that she couldn't possibly sketch out her journey in a single essay. The fact is that our emotions are the result of a chemical stew that our bodies provide so that we can establish a working metric that informs us in regard to how things are going. We like this, don't like that, and the other makes us afraid. Our emotions are both hard-wired and built on a feed-back system that compares today with yesterday and speculates about tomorrow. My perspective is generated by experience with PTSD. I imagine that sadness can be caused by either by a situation, or by a chemical process unrelated to a specific event, or both.

Pain is a physical response, panic is an emotional response. Sufferers of PTSD have their work cut out for them, because their chemistry has been tweaked. Their emotional baselines are altered. This is a large part of what makes PTSD so difficult to deal with.

On one level, understanding your experience gives you some measure of power to control it. If you recognize that your panic response often is triggered by being in the aisle of a supermarket, you may be able to minimize your panic if you simply leave the goddam shopping cart in the middle of the aisle and go out to your car until you calm down. Sometimes identifying the trigger can delay or even eliminate the response. With PTSD there are no guarantees. Some people can work through it and, over time, retrain the body so that emotional responses are no longer completely inappropriate to the situation: hyperawareness, pointman radar, paranoia, obsessive thoughts.

Sadness is one of the emotions some PTSD sufferers experience. Abiding, objectiveless sadness. Often we fill in the blanks with images just to provide some semblance of reason to our state of mind--we need to know why this is happening, and any answer is better than none. Okay, not really, but even a bullshit rationalizations sometimes seems to scratch the itch. Veterans often have a plethora of memories on tap to fill that gap. In this case, the chemical imbalance is what makes us feel sad, not the memories. Were it the other way around, truly, we would be able to "get over it," as they say.

Trauma victims are not all veterans, of course, but a thing they have in common would be extreme stress, enough to cause the body to attempt to deal with it by revising the metric it uses to inform us of our state of mind. Work done with veterans shows that no one treatment works with everyone, and in fact many health-care workers believe that while some cases of PTSD cannot be cured, in most cases, with work, the person can experience some relief.

In my own experience, years were required for me to get certain responses under control. Drugs did not work. A few basic tips on how to identify and avoid certain triggers, helped me to survive. That's to say, over time, PTSD often generates clusters of symptoms. If you assault police officers, for example, you generate a set of situations that become a part of your stressors. If you can't be around people you isolate yourself until your ability to socialize atrophies, and any form of companionship is painfully impossible. The agony of being alone is better than the results of failing relationships. Drugs (or booze) may help you slide from day to day, but they don't help you get better.

At some point many people cross some sort of line, where recovery is not possible. You are the guy who lives under the bridge, sits on the curb with the please help sign. The person you used to be is alive inside, but he won't be coming out any time soon. He is what he is, not what he was.
posted by mule98J at 11:48 AM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


The interesting--and difficult--question is "where to we draw the line"? What is "too much" grieving? What is "not enough"?
Nthing yoink's whole comment above. I read this essay after reading the NYTimes op-ed Medicating Women's Feelings -- it makes many of the same arguments.

I've experienced sadness and grief that I healed from on my own, and sadness and grief that I needed help and reframing -- psychological, medical, personal -- to get through. In some of those cases, "feeling my feelings" was what I needed to do. In others, my feelings were coming from some assumptions, thoughts and external structures in my life that needed to be changed, and continuing to feel sad was going to be a never-ending cycle of sadness begetting sadness. The problem is there's usually no clear, objective test to know which is which, except in retrospect.
posted by rogerrogerwhatsyourrvectorvicto at 12:08 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


Growing up, sadness was something you joked your way out of, ate (or were fed) your way out of, or bought your way out of. There's a long history of sadness and tragedy in my family, and not a single one of us knows how to deal with it.
posted by Room 641-A at 12:13 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


A professor taught me that "Feelings are fine. Feelings about feelings is where we get stuck." I find that's useful in figuring out the line to draw.

Last year I was going through something incredibly painful and was seeing a really nice therapist. But one day I totally broke down, just gut-wrenching sobs. And she couldn't hold it. She said "Are you ok? Can I get you a cup of tea, some water? Have you been to your doctor?" And I had to pull myself together and I felt so let down.

I'm sorry that happened to you, billiebee. I spent three or four sessions with a therapist who just was there with me while I cried for almost the entirety of those sessions, and it was ridiculously healing.
posted by jaguar at 12:14 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


I sent this text to a friend today "I need a friend that will let me fall apart and lose myself and say and feel these terrible things without trying to tell me how to fix it, I just need to say it, feel it, express it, let you know how seems, even if that's not how it is, because I know how these things are, but my body refuses to believe it and all I can do is let her speak right now, and what she has to say is not pretty or easy to be around."
posted by Annika Cicada at 12:29 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


most of us freak out/melt down/try to "fix it"/whatever any time someone is sad/crying in front of us.

Yeah, I'm always disheartened when I'm in a group therapy sort of setting (12 step in my case) and someone starts to cry, or even tear up, and there is a mad scramble to inundate the person with kleenex. It feels a little bit like "hey, we'll fix that right up!"

I have recently been repeatedly knocking up against the concept of just being a "witness." Apparently there are studies that show how healing it is to just be heard, how much it reduces PTSD and a whole host of other things, but damn if it isn't hard to just listen and not have opinions about what I'm hearing. At this point it's still aspirational for me.
posted by small_ruminant at 1:28 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


As usual, Allie Brosh neatly sums up how sharing a difficult emotion with someone sometimes somehow leads to your needing to comfort them.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:19 PM on March 2, 2015 [5 favorites]


My mother is slowly losing her mental capacity to Alzheimer's. It's hard enough to become the parent as your parent gets older, but the loss of the person who she was is a separate and additionally difficult thing. As one might expect, this is a difficult process and brings out a lot of sadness for me, particularly given that I have some unresolved issues with my mother. The only solution everybody has for my tears is therapy and meds.

I'm okay with being sad sometimes about my mom, but I'm pretty much the only one.
posted by immlass at 2:56 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm sorry, immlass. I'm also dealing with my aging mother and it took me a long time to realize my anger about certain things was really sadness. (hugs)
posted by Room 641-A at 3:11 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


Last night's post from jedicus, The Book of Life, led me to this passage from the essay "On the Longing for Maternal Tenderness":
[Guanyin] too has kind eyes and can suggest alternatives to despising oneself. In temples and outdoor plazas across the East, adults allow themselves to be weak in her presence. Her gaze has a habit of making people cry – for the moment one breaks down isn’t so much when things are hard as when one finally encounters kindness and a chance to admit to sorrows one has been harbouring in silence for too long. Like Mary, Guanyin has a measure of the difficulties involved in trying to lead a remotely adequate adult life. Guanyin does not act powerfully to solve our problems. The point is that just being heard; feeling that one’s pain is recognised, and taken seriously, is – in itself – a great help. She regards us with tenderness, when no-one else will, and strengthens us to face the tasks of life.
I have no idea how accurate any of this is, but it spoke to me of the times when I have cried with friends and been loved anyway.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:22 PM on March 2, 2015 [7 favorites]


MonkeyToes, yes, that passage nailed it. It's why if I've had an accident I actually don't want people to offer help and sympathy. I need to pick myself up and keep moving, do what I need to do to be safe and I can't do that if I'm crying and feeling horrible. Then I get caught in this coping strategy during daily life, too - just put the pain or sadness aside to deal with later. Except when does later actually come?

When I took yoga classes, sometimes I would have a lot of trouble in shivasana at the end of the class. The yoga instructor would talk us through relaxing the different parts of our stretched-out bodies and would say "and now just let all that tension, all the stress, let it all go and relax". Looking at those words, I still cannot understand why such a mundane instruction would sometimes release a flood of sadness inside me so that I had to struggle to keep it from coming out in great, heaving sobs. Having permission to feel what you feel, giving yourself that permission - it's a big thing.

And Annika Cicada, you are lucky you have a friend like that. Treasure that friend.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:53 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I saw a good therapist for a situation. She said that grief is like having a bucket of water on your head. You can ignore it but sooner or later the water has to come down, even if you wait until the bucket rusts. Better to let it down as you can bear to. The other thing was something a friend said, which was,"I promise you will get your self back." They both were right.
posted by Oyéah at 4:21 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


The interesting--and difficult--question is "where to we draw the line"? What is "too much" grieving? What is "not enough"?

I think the point of the FPP is more that drawing any line to say that a certain amount of grief is "too much" for a given situation does not actually help people recover from grief, it just makes people feel guilty on top of grieving.
posted by en forme de poire at 4:22 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


A defense of the somewhat controversial end of the "bereavement exclusion" in the DSM. (I don't find it very convincing - his strongest point seems to be that grieving people will no longer "be denied" a diagnosis of depressive disorder, as if that is some knock-down argument).

My father died when I was a child, and it came as quite a shock to me to discover that many people expected that I was supposed to be like back to normal after a few weeks.
posted by thelonius at 4:28 PM on March 2, 2015 [2 favorites]


jaguar: "and then they'd go home and get the exact opposite messages for 167 hours a week."

Oh man. I am trying so hard to stop saying to my kids, "It's okay! You're okay!" when they fall and, say, bang a knee really hard, because they're crying because things are NOT okay! I say it in, you know the voice, compassionate concerned adult voice, which means "I hope you're not badly hurt!" and "I don't like to see you hurt!" but the actual words I am saying are false. I'm trying to say, "It WILL BE okay" or "I think it'll be okay in a minute or two" which are true statements.

I mean obviously I don't want to turn my kids into the ones who break down in hysterical sobs over a banged funnybone, but I've really started noticing how often we tell children things about their internal states that are simply NOT TRUE, and we do it out of the best of motives -- sympathy, or experience (that it's not a big deal), or instruction (that saying mean things isn't good), or whatever -- instead of responding to what they actually say. So now instead of, "You're fine, walk it off!" I try to say, "You'll BE fine, walk it off!"

small_ruminant: "nd someone starts to cry, or even tear up, and there is a mad scramble to inundate the person with kleenex."

I'm a snotty crier, GIVE ME THE KLEENEX. I assume when someone comes at me with a box, that's a signal I can keep crying because they expect I am going to need several.

thelonius: "My father died when I was a child, and it came as quite a shock to me to discover that many people expected that I was supposed to be like back to normal after a few weeks."

Not that I'd want to live in the Victorian world, or Victorian clothes, but their visible signals of mourning that were socially de rigeur for a year (or even more) after the death of someone close to you really served an important social purpose that we've lost today. Maybe black armbands or mourning jewelry or something needs to come into fashion, a socially universal and acceptable way for someone to say, "I am functioning in society and going to work/school, but I am still actively grieving and I need people to know that." After the death of a parent or someone similarly close to you, it's at least that whole first year -- because of the cyclical nature of time -- and there should be a way to mark that out.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:09 PM on March 2, 2015 [16 favorites]


I mean obviously I don't want to turn my kids into the ones who break down in hysterical sobs over a banged funnybone, but I've really started noticing how often we tell children things about their internal states that are simply NOT TRUE, and we do it out of the best of motives -- sympathy, or experience (that it's not a big deal), or instruction (that saying mean things isn't good), or whatever -- instead of responding to what they actually say. So now instead of, "You're fine, walk it off!" I try to say, "You'll BE fine, walk it off!"

Yes! People always tell kids what they're feeling, which I've started to find increasingly hilarious/destructive as I realize most adults have no idea how they themselves are feeling at any given moment. I don't have kids, so grain of salt, but I've also seen recommendations for "You fell down and I think that surprised you!" More observation rather than interpretation, I guess.

....And I felt compelled to go check in Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, which is an awesome book all parents should read; he goes into a longer eight-step process (if you Google some of the following quotation, it'll pop up in Google books) more appropriate to larger injuries, but the most relevant step is:
5. Keep validating your child's physical responses
Resist the impulse to stop your child's tears or trembling, while reminding him that whatever has happened is over and that he will be ok. Your child's reactions need to continue until they stop on their own. This part of the natural cycle usually takes from one to several minutes. Studies have shown that children who are able to cry and tremble after an accident have fewer problems recovering from it over the long term [endnote that I'm too lazy to look up]. Your task is to convey to your child through word and touch that crying and trembling are normal, healthy reactions! A reassuring hand on the back, shoulder or arm, along with a few gently spoken words as simple as "That's OK" or "That's right, just let the scary stuff shake right out of you" will help immensely.
I have recently been repeatedly knocking up against the concept of just being a "witness." Apparently there are studies that show how healing it is to just be heard, how much it reduces PTSD and a whole host of other things, but damn if it isn't hard to just listen and not have opinions about what I'm hearing.

Oh, goodness, don't wait until you don't have opinions, you'll wait forever. What I call my "therapist brain" basically shuffles through all my opinions, weighs whether sharing any of them will help the crying person be more fully in their emotions, and almost always says "Nope." But the opinions are almost always there!

And I still can't quite figure out the appropriate reaction with kleenex. I don't move to offer it when someone's crying in my office, because I don't want them to feel like I'm trying to stop them from crying (this is something we were told explicitly in my training program), so I just try to make sure kleenex is visible and available in multiple locations. I was just thinking I might want to get a coffee table specifically so that the kleenex is more visible so that I can stop feeling so neurotic about it.
posted by jaguar at 6:19 PM on March 2, 2015 [9 favorites]


it took me a long time to realize my anger about certain things was really sadness. (hugs)
posted by Room 641-A at 3:11 PM on March 2 [+] [!]


Last year I finally got pregnant after years of not being able to, only to have a second trimester loss. I was (and am) very, very sad about it. A week or two afterward, after spending lots of time crying, one day I was just shockingly full of rage about anything and everything. Like, hissing and spitting mad. I could not figure out why I was so angry, because there didn't seem to be any reason for it.

Later I realized it was because for me, it was just easier to be angry than to be sad. Being sad just made me feel even more like I had no control over anything. At least being angry made me feel like I was in control of something. Anything.

I did eventually stop being so angry and went back to being sad.

My mother is slowly losing her mental capacity to Alzheimer's. It's hard enough to become the parent as your parent gets older, but the loss of the person who she was is a separate and additionally difficult thing. As one might expect, this is a difficult process and brings out a lot of sadness for me, particularly given that I have some unresolved issues with my mother. The only solution everybody has for my tears is therapy and meds.

I'm okay with being sad sometimes about my mom, but I'm pretty much the only one.
posted by immlass at 2:56 PM on March 2 [2 favorites +] [!]


immlass, your comment (and Room 641-A's) reminded me of what I recently learned about ambiguous loss and its relationship to disenfranchised grief. In the linked piece, Alzheimer's, infertility, and perinatal death are all listed as examples of ambiguous loss that can lead to disenfranchised grief. I'm sorry for your losses, both of you.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:47 PM on March 2, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm sad a lot but I rarely cry out of sadness. When I do, I appreciate tissues and having them thrust at me by therapists (or other bystanders) because I hate the mess and snot.
I agree that we're not allowed to express sadness much, especially not in public. Listening to a sad song or seeing a sad movie is not usually the same thing as being genuinely sad and expressing it. Catharsis and sentimentality have their places, but just losing your shit in public because you're hurting and sad? So not okay.
posted by gingerest at 7:58 PM on March 2, 2015 [3 favorites]


so I just try to make sure kleenex is visible and available in multiple locations.

This is my preference. Part of what makes the mad Kleenex scramble seem inappropriate is that there IS kleenex available, but if you don't grab it right away people start handing it to you. It comes across as a MAKE IT STOP! knee-jerk discomfort reaction.
posted by small_ruminant at 8:53 PM on March 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think the point of the FPP is more that drawing any line to say that a certain amount of grief is "too much" for a given situation does not actually help people recover from grief, it just makes people feel guilty on top of grieving.

That probably makes sense in your head because you're applying all kinds of "of course I don't mean..." restrictions. But if you just take what you've written, it's absurd. If you have a friend or family member who goes on a two week crying-jag because, say, they broke a $2 measuring-cup from the supermarket then it's a really, really inhumane response to say "oh well, there's no such thing as too much sadness! Just feel all your feels, baby!"

There clearly is such a thing as unhealthy sadness and unhealthy grief. It's unhelpful to push someone to "buck up" and "look on the bright side" too early, it's also unhelpful to ignore the fact that people can get lost in grief or sadness and need help finding a way out. And, as I say, the hard question is deciding where to draw the boundaries. Pretending that it's easy and straightforward is morally irresponsible.
posted by yoink at 9:40 AM on March 3, 2015


How would my saying that this hypothetical person's grief was "too much" or telling them to "buck up" help them not to feel that way? It seems like that would be more likely to make them feel embarrassed or ashamed of their reaction, without making them feel less sad.

I'm not a therapist, but my understanding is that mindfulness-based therapeutic approaches counsel people not to argue with their emotions or label them as bad or excessive or etc., but instead to work on observing them and becoming willing to experience them without applying this kind of judgment, and then, critically, to act according to one's values while allowing oneself to feel whatever emotional state is present. It seems like this is the approach described in the article. I certainly wouldn't describe it as "easy" or "straightforward," though.
posted by en forme de poire at 11:26 AM on March 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


How would my saying that this hypothetical person's grief was "too much" or telling them to "buck up" help them not to feel that way?

Um...not at all? At no point did I say that telling people to "buck up" is a brilliant strategy that will automatically solve all problems--I instanced it as a stupid reaction to someone who was justifiably in a state of grief or sadness. However, being aware that someone's grief has exceeded its "objective correlative" and taking steps to help them find a way out of their grief (recommending counseling, inviting them to participate in social events etc. etc.) is an entirely reasonable and morally sound course of action in the right circumstances.

Are you seriously trying to make the case that there is no such thing as "excessive" sadness or grief at all? That if someone spends their entire life beating their breast and weeping every single day because someone called them a "poopyhead" on the playground when they were four, that we should simply accept that this is a sane and sensible response which it is impossible for anyone other than the person involved to form opinions about?
posted by yoink at 11:41 AM on March 3, 2015


I am saying that whether or not I think a certain amount or duration of grief is "excessive" is not particularly relevant to the question of how to help someone deal with that grief. Recommending counseling and inviting someone to social events, for instance, could help someone who was grieving regardless of whether I personally found their grief excessive, appropriate, or inadequate. Telling someone that I thought their grief was excessive or that they should be better by now could likewise be counterproductive across the board.

I'm sorry if I misinterpreted you by implying that you thought telling someone to "buck up" would be an acceptable response to a person you thought was grieving excessively. I read your comment that it was "unhelpful to push someone to 'buck up'... too early" (my emphasis) as expressing that it could in fact be helpful to tell someone this as long as enough time had passed.
posted by en forme de poire at 12:22 PM on March 3, 2015


I am saying that whether or not I think a certain amount or duration of grief is "excessive" is not particularly relevant to the question of how to help someone deal with that grief.

It's enormously relevant to whether or not you think the person ought to be helped. In any given situation it may or may not be useful or counterproductive to tell someone that you think their sadness or grief is excessive (imagine, for example, that your brother is telling you a year after a break-up with a woman he hadn't been together with long and with whom he hadn't seemed particularly happy that he just can't get over feeling miserable about the end of the relationship and he finds himself bursting into tears uncontrollably most days; it might be entirely appropriate to say "You know, this seems to have been going on a little too long...do you think maybe there's something else underlying this than just the breakup? Do you think it might be worth talking to someone about this?").
posted by yoink at 12:34 PM on March 3, 2015


I agree that this would be an appropriate thing to say. If someone I knew told me that they were feeling particularly miserable and couldn't stop bursting into tears, though, I would probably still recommend that they see someone regardless of whether the immediately precipitating event seemed to me to be serious or frivolous.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:05 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


If someone I knew told me that they were feeling particularly miserable and couldn't stop bursting into tears, though, I would probably still recommend that they see someone regardless of whether the immediately precipitating event seemed to me to be serious or frivolous.

Well, no, you wouldn't, if they'd just been informed ten minutes earlier that their mother had died unexpectedly. "You need to see someone about all this crying" would be about the stupidest thing you could say in such a context.

Which is my entire point: there are times when sadness/grief are "appropriate" and not seen as a "problem" and times when they seem--quite reasonably--to be inappropriate and need to be addressed in some way.
posted by yoink at 1:13 PM on March 3, 2015


Why would it be bad to suggest that someone talk to a grief counselor if their mother had died unexpectedly, especially if they had also just told you that they feel that they are miserable all the time and regularly burst into tears? To me, those seem like very good reasons to seek counseling. I certainly wouldn't say "you need to see someone about all this crying": I agree that would be very insensitive. But I also wouldn't say that in the other situation you brought up; it seems you agree since that's not the response you suggested there.
posted by en forme de poire at 1:38 PM on March 3, 2015


I think you're missing the "ten minutes earlier" part of my comment.
posted by yoink at 1:41 PM on March 3, 2015


If you have a friend or family member who goes on a two week crying-jag because, say, they broke a $2 measuring-cup from the supermarket

if someone spends their entire life beating their breast and weeping every single day because someone called them a "poopyhead" on the playground when they were four

Yoink can you stop suffocating the conversation with extreme and absurd examples? You're making me feel really sad.
posted by billiebee at 2:13 PM on March 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


[Just chiming in that the extreme nitpicky 'but of course there's such a thing as too much' point has been made, and going around in circles repeatedly is generating a bunch of heat and very little light, so maybe let it rest now. Thanks.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 2:16 PM on March 3, 2015 [5 favorites]


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