Sadness and Depression
There are two emotions which can be utilized in the process of healing from trauma: anger and sadness. Sadness can be a very effective vehicle for healing. The only problem with sadness is that it is such a short leap from there to depression. Sadness heals; depression does not.
Depression can keep a person stuck in the same place for years without any progress. You must be very careful not to fall into depression when you decide to explore your feelings about the negative experiences of your life. Unfortunately, many people find the difference between sadness and depression to be obscure at best, and they often vacillate between the two. We encourage you to be very careful of depression because this thought disorder has an addictive quality to it. Depression actually keeps a person from getting better and can be a defense against real feelings.
True sadness is when you reflect on the negative event, cry, and grieve over what happened. Afterward you feel a little bit better. Each time you feel sadness, you are one step closer to being well. Real sadness heals.
Depression on the other hand, occurs when you get into a downward spiral, or in a rut of negative thinking. It is a sensation of drowning in feelings of hopelessness. Depression only hurts and destroys. After an episode of depression you do not feel any better. It does not cleanse you. In fact you are likely to feel worse because of decisions you made while you were depressed.
Depression usually starts by dwelling on the event, but soon goes beyond sadness about what happened and begins to color your attitude in a broader sense. Depression is characterized by negative self-talk, including guilt-laden and hopeless messages. For example you may tell yourself “X” happened because “I’m so stupid” or keep repeating inside your head “it’s all my fault.” Whether it is or not, that is not going to heal you.
You may even start assigning significance to the event beyond the appropriate scope. For example telling yourself “I will never be happy again. My parents totally messed me up and now I’m a hopeless case” or “I don’t deserve to be happy” because of the failure of a particular relationship or effort to reach a goal. Or maybe your self-talk takes a less personal tone such as “the world sucks! People are cruel! You can’t trust anyone! Life is meaningless!” or “I want to die!”
An example of healthier self-talk would be: “Oh! This hurts so bad!” If a mistake that you made is the source of your pain, add “I really messed up. I hate it when I mess up!” (Then do Anger Work) and tell yourself “I am going to make real sure this doesn’t happen again, because I don’t like the way this feels.” If your pain is caused by something out of your control, then you can tell yourself “this too shall pass. I will survive somehow, and someday things will look better again.” In the mean time do your Anger Work to keep from falling into depression.
We recommend utilizing Anger Work over sadness, for the bulk of your healing work. Certain situations lend themselves more to sadness than others. For examples, see Dr. Puff’s book Anger Work: How To Express Your Anger and Still Be Kind available on this website. In these cases letting the tears flow is an important part of the healing process. However, if the sadness starts to become overwhelming, it is time to get mad again. Anger work empowers you to stay out of depression.
Remember that like addictions, depression can serve the roll of distracting you from your true feelings. It is evidence of suppressed emotions. If you struggle with depression, stress-related illness, or find that you need to use constant activity, alcohol, or other drugs to keep disturbing fears, worries, or self-doubts at bay, these are indicators that you have unresolved issues. They are not going to go away until you find a way to deal with them directly. Applying Anger Work skills to your daily lifestyle can start you on a journey of healing that will lead you to a place of emotional freedom you’ve never known before.