Sadness is often mistakenly confused with depression. Unlike depression, sadness is a natural part of life and is usually connected with certain experiences of pain or loss or even a meaningful moment of connection or joy that makes us value our lives. Depression, on the other hand, can arise without a clear explanation or can result from an unhealthy, non-adaptive reaction to a painful event, where we either steel ourselves against our natural reaction to the event or get overwhelmed by it.
When we’re depressed, we often feel numb or deadened to our emotions. We may have feelings of shame, self-blame, or self-hatred, all of which are likely to interfere with constructive behavior, instead of creating a lack of energy and vitality. Sadness, on the other hand, can be awakening.
Throughout our lives, we are confronted with painful realities, pain from our interpersonal relationships, rejections, frustrations and the incidental hurts we experience in our interactions with others. We face the pain of existential issues, loss, diseases and deterioration and, ultimately, death. In addition, most of us harbor a lot of old pain from our past and have implicit memories of difficult emotions we experienced but were too young to make sense of. As children, we depended on others for survival, making many things, like an angry or inattentive parent, feel scary or even life-threatening. At this early stage, we couldn’t verbalize or articulate our pain and fear. Yet, we carry this sadness with us throughout our lives.
Most of us are, to varying degrees, fearful that tapping into any sadness will strike into this well of buried emotion. This fear can drive us to seek methods to cut off our emotions. As children, we develop certain psychological defenses to adapt to painful circumstances, so life may feel more bearable if a bit duller. Often, the methods we use to cut off or dampen our pain, in actuality, end up being harmful to us and those we care about the most.