By Lauren Presutti
Do you ever feel pressured to be happy? Or have you ever felt like you “shouldn’t” be sad? Sadness is a painful – yet normal – part of life and fighting against it or expecting to be happy all the time only makes our sadness feel more intense. Nobody wants to feel sad, but it is unrealistic to live a life without any sadness. There are numerous times when we may feel sad, including when we don’t get what we need or want, when things don’t turn out well, when we’re separated from people or things we love, when we experience failure, when we feel hurt, or during times of grief, social injustice, loneliness, or general disappointment. It’s okay to feel sad in any circumstance. No matter what you are facing, you don’t need anyone’s permission to feel sad. There’s no reason to feel guilty. There’s no need to justify your sadness. Believing that we “shouldn’t” feel sad in any given situation sets us up for negative thinking and unhealthy responses that often spiral into further problems.
Unfortunately, we live in a social world with a huge emphasis on maximizing positivity. Smiling, being outgoing, friendly, and energetic is often responded to positively by others and considered important for personal wellness. The problem with this social norm is that it does not leave much room in society for acknowledging pain. As a result, sometimes you may feel socially pressured to eliminate your sadness because others may be uncomfortable with the expression of your sad feelings. Phrases like “don’t be a Debbie downer” or “negative Nancy” can be harmful because it might send the message that sad feelings are unacceptable. It sends the message that we are not allowed to feel sad. This usually only makes us feel more down and frustrated. You may begin to feel angry about being misunderstood by others or you may experience feelings of shame or guilt in response to this social pressure. It’s true that others may be uncomfortable with your sadness because they may not know how to help or they may find it to be difficult to witness you feeling sad, but nobody should minimize your sadness or pressure you to simply “cheer up.” In most cases, that doesn’t work.
It’s important to relieve ourselves of the pressure to be happy all the time. Remember that you have the power to step away from social pressure. You have the power to disallow social pressure to impact how you manage your emotions. If someone is invalidating your experience or pressuring you to “get over” your feelings, try setting a personal boundary with that person so that you don’t get wrapped up with viewing sadness as “unacceptable”. As much as we want to feel better, trying to “force” your sadness to go away is often ineffective, especially when the force is stemming from a desire to accommodate ourselves to others. Don’t feed into the urge to please others when you are feeling sad. Focus on yourself and your own healing process instead.
Effectively managing sadness often includes accepting the feelings and deepening your understanding of why these feelings have surfaced. It’s important to acknowledge your sad feelings and connect the dots between how you are feeling and what is happening in your life. Seek to understand your experience. Allow your experience to be valid, seen, heard, and embraced. Let the sadness move through you without fighting against it. Normalize your sadness. Remember that it’s okay to feel sad. You might want to journal about it or talk with a trusted person in your life. By acknowledging it, understanding it, and realizing that your sadness is a natural response to something that is occurring in your life, most people experience a sense of relief and begin to feel lighter. As you go through this process, it’s also important to practice very good self-care, which may include engaging in activities that you find soothing or gently allowing yourself to take a break from something. In time, you will likely shift toward regaining joy again.
But it your sadness feels chronic or unresponsive to your own self-care methods (occurring for a long time without going away), connecting with a therapist who can help you process and heal from your sadness is often helpful. If your sadness is impacting your ability to follow routines, keep up with your responsibilities, socialize, engage in activities you love, or if you find it difficult to enjoy the things you previously enjoyed, it’s important to speak up and get connected to mental health treatment. In addition, even if you are performing at your best on the outside (being perceived as “someone who has it all together”), but feeling sad on the inside for a long period of time, please speak up. Your internal experiences MATTER! You don’t have to struggle alone. At River Oaks Psychology, we really care about you and we want you to know that we are here for YOU.