THE INHERENT MEANING OF SADNESS

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Sadness is an emotional state associated with pain from the loss of someone or something important. According to the psychologist and leading researcher in emotions Paul Ekman, sadness is one of the seven universal emotions experienced by everyone around the world (the six other universal emotions are - anger, contempt, disgust, enjoyment, fear, and surprise). Ekman also suggests that sadness involves a range of emotional states, which are disappointment, discouragement, distraughtness, resignation, helplessness, hopelessness, misery, despair, grief, sorrow, and anguish. Sadness, therefore, ranges from mild disappointment to extreme despair and anguish.

The aspect of pain and loss describing sadness indicates a need for help and support. It gives the individual a realization that things are not going well and perhaps something needs to be done about it. In this way, sadness helps in adaptation, and it helps to understand what is important in life.

The acknowledgment of sadness means that negative emotions and experiences are not ignored, which allows not indulging in toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the belief in always having a positive mindset, no matter how bad the situation may be. It involves avoiding, suppressing, denying, and rejecting negative emotions and experiences.

Denying negative emotions makes them unprocessed, which leads to the underlying problem to be unresolved. Sadness indicates a sense of loss, but denying would make the person not realize it. Not acknowledging it will lead to avoiding the action associated with it, which can help in overcoming the loss, and eventually developing insight and growth. 

Denying sadness leads to the inauthenticity of experience associated with it, which results in a sense of emptiness. The person may experience a sense of discomfort, but may not be able to truly understand the reason behind it, making it unexpressed, unresolved, and internalized. In the long run, it leads to a sense of confusion and self-doubt.

The process of acknowledging sadness leads to radical acceptance. Radical acceptance involves accepting circumstances that cannot be changed and cannot be controlled. It is about recognizing and accepting reality even if it includes a sense of pain and discomfort. This does not mean that the person starts feeling better. It is, instead, about letting go of the idea of wishing that life could be better, without the pain that has occurred.

The psychotherapist and creator of dialectic behavior therapy (DBT), Marsha Linehan, suggests that radical acceptance is letting go of what is not possible. She suggests that radical acceptance involves letting go of control and a willingness to notice and accept things as they are right now, without judging it. Linehan also suggests that radical acceptance can be broken down into three parts, which are accepting reality as what it is, accepting that the event or situation causing pain has a cause, and accepting that life can be worth living even with painful events.

Radical acceptance in not allowing the pain to change into suffering. It helps in not intensifying and exacerbating the pain. Radical acceptance involves the idea that instead of avoiding and ignoring something that is painful, accepting it and observing the unwanted experiences leads to reducing the frustration associated with it. It involves the notion of the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, that acceptance is the first step towards change. 

Radical acceptance helps in coping in a better way, it allows emotional regulation, develops psychological wellbeing, and gives the realization that life can be both painful and worth living at the same time. On the whole, radical acceptance gives the understanding that pain is inevitable, and the more resistance to accepting reality the more suffering is experienced.

Radical acceptance, eventually, helps with tragic optimism. The term tragic optimism was coined by the psychiatrist and existential psychologist Viktor Frankl. According to Frankl, tragic optimism is the ability to find meaning in life despite the inevitable and inescapable pain, loss, and suffering. Tragic optimism involves viewing pain and sorrow as an opportunity to change for the better.

Tragic optimism helps to develop a perspective about the loss that has been experienced. It allows placing the loss in a context and make some sense about it. It gives the realization that negative experiences, loss, and suffering are a part of life. In doing so, it helps to deal with adversity with a lot more resilience and cope with it in a better way.

Tragic optimism gives the understanding that tragedies are also a part of life and that they should not be viewed as endpoints. It allows in reframing the situation that helps to find a way through the sorrow. It makes the individual take responsible actions, eventually leading to growth. Tragic optimism, thus, helps individuals to grow from difficult experiences.

Therefore, acknowledgment of sadness indicates a need for support, allowing acceptance of the loss and pain experienced, which reduces the suffering associated with it. This, eventually, helps in developing a perspective about the loss, leading to growth, and being able to find meaning in life, despite the difficult experiences.

Saif Farooqi

A PhD in Psychology (from the University of Delhi). I have been blogging about psychological issues for more than ten years. I am extremely passionate about teaching psychology. I'm a writer, podcaster, and TEDx speaker. I also conduct workshops and awareness programs in schools and colleges. Currently, I'm also working as an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Social Sciences, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, India

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