Please Stop Sad Shaming.
I haven’t posted in a while. I want to justify this by telling you I was busy and my child has ADHD and I’m interviewing for internships and a myriad of others reasons one has for being absent. My first instinct is to make excuses and apologize for being so preoccupied. As a woman I always fight to comply with this response. The realest and simplest truth is those things have never stopped me before. I didn’t write, nay couldn’t write, because I was sad. If you read my last post you can understand how the fate of a child with my son’s heart has reopened some deep scars. I’m still grieving but I am okay. I am still grieving and just a little less sad than I was yesterday.
The immediate reaction to fix sadness implies that there is something fundamentally wrong with feeling emotions.
My son is 5, everything makes him sad. Things that make my son sad include:
- Running out of cream cheese
- Discovering dinosaurs are extinct
- Sitting in time out
- Bed time
- Homework time
- Quiet time
- Releasing captured lizards
- Dead or suspiciously missing batteries from his toys
- Poorly constructed blanket forts
- Parental failure to do exactly the thing he asked me to do the way he imagined me doing it despite vague and nonspecific instructions
I acknowledge and validate his emotions because I’m not a monster, but that’s where it ends. I don’t ask what would make him happy or attempt to distract him from his feelings. Refusing to perpetuate the toxic idea that there are good and bad emotions I embrace his sadness the way I would embrace his joy. When my son starts crying or reenacting Caesar (et tu, Mommy?) I simply nod. I tell him I’m sorry and allow him to work his way through it.
I’m a recovering addict and alcoholic. The catalyst for my addiction was not losing my son, the catalyst was emotional coping. I don’t blame my childhood for my addiction, I blame society for the increasingly unrealistic expectations of the human experience. We’ve been discussing physical expectations for a while and how damaging they are to young men and women but what about our emotional expectations?
We smile in selfies and #blessed every Facebook post. We read life hack articles about ways to make us happy but we never see anything about embracing our sad. People get sad, this isn’t a myth its part of our lives so why do we pretend its not?
When someone asks how you are, what do you respond? We have been taught to respond with positive adjectives like “great,” “good,” and “awesome,” but how often is that true? It is weird for us to respond with the reality of our current state. If someone asks me how I am, and I respond with saying “I’m sad” I have now labeled myself a Debbie downer, an oversharer or attention seeking. When we shame a person for his or her emotions we are really saying that those emotions are not okay. When we tell someone that their feelings are not okay we create a culture where individuals are forced to “fix” their feelings with outside support. Facebook likes and filters, one-night stands, and overuse of substances are only a few of the fixers breaking us and our children.
Here Are The 6 Sad Shaming Statements We Must Stop Making
“You used to be so happy.”
Wow. Its difficult to pick the worst of these sad shaming comments but this one is up there. “You used to be so happy” congratulations you have correctly acknowledged two human emotions, we have a wide range of them. Sometimes I am happy and other times I’m sad. I can also be excited and angry and lonely and goofy. I think I loathe this remark because it insinuates that we are expected to remain in one constant stream of happiness and never change. Happiness is temporary, so is sadness. The secret is we must properly acknowledge each emotion if we ever hope to move on to the next.
Instead Try: I’m sorry you’re going through that right now
“I/my friend/my sister’s horse’s former owner’s cousin went through it”
Nope. Don’t say this. Working in mental health for a decade has certainly taught me the value of “me too,” but this is not the time. Sadness is unique. It is so very special and so very personal to each individual. To imagine we know and understand another’s sadness is not only presumptuous but sometimes down right hurtful. Please stop telling people you know how they feel. You aren’t there in that heart and telling someone you are is misleading.
Instead try: I experienced ((insert personal story here)). Although its not the same, I do remember feeling (sad/angry/lonely/hurt).
“Is something else bothering you?”
By the old gods and the new, I swear I will lose my mind if one more person says this. No nosey Nancy something else isn’t bothering me, and also its rude to imply that my original problem isn’t great enough to warrant this sadness. I don’t need to validate my hurt or tears to anyone. I grieved the ending of Harry Potter for a good month and guess what? That was my journey, you don’t get to say its excessive or a front for something else. I can be sad about any damn thing I want, and you do not get to determine if it is worthy of my tears.
Instead Try: I’m so sorry.
“Lets make a gratitude list.”
In the recovery community this is the default. When we are sad or angry or hopeless the gratitude list is our handiest tool. Just jot down all the things you are happy about and then you cannot possibly feel bad. I love this idea, I try to practice it weekly mostly because it keeps me humble and grounded, but we need to remember that gratitude does not diminish our sadness. I am grateful for many things in my life and one of those things is my ability to feel the sadness; to be in emotional pain without running. I have gratitude for my willingness to learn from my tears and be present for whatever lesson they are here to teach me.
Instead Try: “You’re so strong.”
“Hey! How about this distraction?”
Never underestimate the power of a well-constructed meme to pull you out of the depths of sadness. To quote Dolly Parton in my favorite movie, “laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.” Distraction is good but watching tv while the elephant does tricks in the corner of the room is futile. He’s making a mess while you’re hoping the sounds of Golden Girls will send him packing. You have to confront the elephant, he will continue to break things until you do. Sadness is always present for a reason. To find out what that reason is you must confront the elephant, look him in the eye until he has finished his task. I promise he will leave peacefully.
What is this? Can you imagine if someone said this in response to a sneeze? Crying is the body’s response to sadness, it’s usually the best way to confront it. Allowing tears to flow actually releases happy chemicals like oxytocin through the body. Telling someone not to cry is possibly the most shaming of them all. Too often I hear parents say this to their children, particularly boys. I won’t do this to my child. I want him to cry, I want him to accept that sometimes sadness happens, and I want to support him in feeling because he will feel whether I prepare him or not.
Instead Try: “Let it out, it’s okay to cry.”
This post is not to shame the sad-shamers.
I am possibly the worst offender here. I always wanted to fix me, to fix my friends and family, to fix my kid. Our instinct is to run away from the unpleasant. As a person who has experienced the unimaginable pain of burying a baby and the subsequent numbing of the resulting grief I can tell you first hand, sadness is a screaming toddler. She is begging for your attention. She will scream and cling to your legs and cause all manner of chaos until you are ready to stare her in the face and ask “what?”
If you are sad, embrace your pain and your tears. Find out what they want and why they’ve arrived. Shut down the expectations of society, social media, and the tv. Remember you are the strongest soldier in the war that is your life. You are the leader of this pack and it is your job to confront who or whatever is standing in your way. Retreating will leave your paths blocked and your options limited. Stop allowing people to convince you sadness is a weakness. Sadness is strength and those of us who chose to feel it are the strongest.
If you feel tempted to sad shame someone, try one of these alternatives. Together we can create an environment where sadness is celebrated and tears are tough.
Cry on & feel deep.