The Silent Scream (Sadness part 2)
There’s sadness… and then there’s sadness.
Sometimes when you check in with your sadness you might notice it’s not about loss. Not in the most obvious sense anyway. No-one has died, you’ve not moved into a new stage of life (positive or negative), or passed a serious milestone. You don’t just feel lousy, down and flat. You feel small and… lost. You might notice if there is a message going around on a loop in your mind – because often this kind of sorrow is attached to certain thoughts. Thoughts like:
- I’m an idiot
- Why would anyone want me?
- This is so unfair!
- I’ll never be able to get it right/do this assignment/be happy in this marriage/be loved/etc
And the thoughts might be connected to a tightness in your chest, a knot in your gut, an ache across your shoulders or a very distressed, bone-deep, wordless, internal scream.
The emotions might vary around the sadness theme but the underlying sense is of deep hurt – abandonment, shame and invisibility. Does anyone see me? Am I worthy of love and acceptance? Will this hurting ever stop?
This is not the same as the sadness of loss (see last blog post), but there is a valid message here just the same. I think of this kind of sadness as the sadness of powerlessness. When we’re feeling it, there seems to be no energy to change the situation. If you ask yourself what age group these thoughts and feelings remind you of, what would it be? An adolescent? A child?
We’re never quite as powerless as we are when we are children. It’s part of the nature of a child. Pia Melody, in her book Facing Codependence says that children are dependent, immature, imperfect, valuable and vulnerable. If you possessed these characteristics as a child, then congratulations! You were behaving appropriately. (Parents please note that children, such as you once were, should not be penalised for behaviour indicative of these qualities. Just saying.)
One way to view this kind of sadness (and I’m certainly inviting you to take a good, curious look at it) is as the part of you that holds the feelings of powerlessness that you felt in childhood. That part is activated into feeling a helpless-kind-of-sadness by anything (and anyone) whose words or behaviours remind your brain of those younger, powerless times of life. This part often holds all those messages mentioned above (and more). They might have been told to you as a child or you might have decided on them as a way of coping with difficult situations, but they are stored and active in your memory, regardless. In fact, that part of your internal world truly buys into the powerlessness. It’s as if it doesn’t realise you are now an adult with choices and a voice. It’s kind of stuck in helplessness.
This isn’t because you’re bad and worthless. It’s just how brains work. The good news is that our brains are also capable of adjusting to new thoughts about this powerless kind of sadness.
It might be surprising to realise that you can let that sad and powerless part know that you are no longer a child and will never be that powerless again. You don’t have to buy into the old shaming massages. You can, instead, offer your younger self this new message. ‘You’re okay. You have a voice to speak out when the behaviour of others causes hurt’. Actually, understanding you have a voice and can speak out with love and power is an important sign of being an adult. It’s how we can soothe that part that holds the silent scream inside us.
If you’re sceptical, that’s understandable, but please experiment with this anyway. When you notice you’re feeling the kind of sadness that isn’t about loss and grief, start to get curious. Observe the part of your internal world that is jumping up and down on your head with all the shameful messages and the helpless feelings. You might say, ‘I see you there, sad one’. ‘You’re feeling powerless and invisible right now and, while its okay to feel sadness for the hurt, I want you to know that we have all the power necessary to speak about, or remove the self, from this hurtful situation.’
It’s sometimes astonishing to realise that the adult self can choose not to buy into all the old messages that usually play on loop once that powerless sadness is triggered. Choosing a new response can make a difference – and we can get better at it if we practice.
Please note: The only situation where allowing your adult self to speak out clearly about the hurtful behaviours of others won’t bring positive results is in a home or relationship where there is violence or other abuse. If both partners feel safe to speak to each other as people of equal value, then go ahead and work with your sadness in a new and respectful way.