Focusing Tip #320: Holding on to Sadness

Focusing Tip #320: Holding on to Sadness
February 21, 2012 Ann Weiser Cornell

“I am addicted to sadness, longing, self-pity, wishing, dreaming, etc…”

A Reader writes:
Recently I identified myself as being addicted to the emotion of sadness, and all of the concomitant feelings/behaviors like longing, self-pity, wishing, dreaming, etc. Coming from an alcoholic home, I retreated often, drew inward to a sad place that was at least safe. My life choices all seem to have taken me to one sad situation after another. And other very unhappy life circumstances like the death of my young child many years ago have kept me stuck in this sad place.

Now I find myself working toward divorce from my second husband, a very functional alcoholic who is not a bad person. I’m asking myself, is it the sadness I’m feeling over losing this current relationship, or is it the habitual sadness from childhood? How do I separate the ‘sad parts’ as ‘sad from life situation’ part with ‘sad from old childhood habit’ part?

Dear Reader,
I appreciate the self-compassion I hear in your email. You understand why that younger you, growing up in an alcoholic home, would have needed to retreat and would have found sadness a safe place to retreat to. At the same time, I would say it in a slightly different way, because the concept of being “addicted to” sadness, etc. might be keeping the process static, not allowing the movement that is possible.

“Something in you” is holding onto sadness, preferring to retreat into sadness, finding safety in feelings of longing and self-pity. Can you feel the difference when we say it that way? “I am addicted to…” doesn’t turn toward the place itself, with an inner relationship of interested curiosity. “Something in me…” invites YOU to turn toward that one, to start listening.

Please don’t assume that you know all about why “something in you” would want to hold onto sadness. “I already know” is another stance that makes change more difficult. You know a lot! But there is more…and by freshly being with the “something in you” that is holding onto sadness (or whatever words it wants to use for itself) and simply being curious…and then acknowledging what it lets you know…this whole situation can begin to shift.

How to Separate Old Sadness from Fresh Sadness

In the situation you describe, it sounds like the current experience of sadness at losing your relationship is very intermingled with the old sadness. They are not that separate from each other in your experience right now…and that always has to be the starting place: how it is now.

My sense of it is that after you acknowledge both, the older sadness will need the first turn. As you give company to “something in you holding onto sadness” from earlier times, there will come a sense of burden lightening, and more space. From there, the current sadness won’t be as hard to be with.

I also suspect that there may be some unfinished business with the sadness of losing your young child. Our culture rarely allows people to spend enough time with grieving. You don’t have to deliberately go there. Just don’t be surprised if that is what comes…and let it be welcome.


  1. jadedpencil1925 10 years ago

    Hello! I read here a lot at and glad to be a part of the forums.

  2. Author
    Ann Weiser Cornell 10 years ago

    Glad you are enjoying the blog!

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