Hello everybody, welcome to episode 184 of Optimal Living Advice, the podcast where we take any questions you might have about the many struggles of life and get them answered for you here on the show. Today's question is on how to help someone who's sad.
I’m your host, certified life coach Greg Audino reminding you before we begin that if you have a question you would like help with on the show, we welcome you to email it to us at advice AT oldpodcast.com
We’ve got ourselves a good boyfriend alert in today’s question. Our asker finds himself very concerned about his girlfriend. Though things are going well for her, she finds herself sad regardless and isn’t certain of why. He wants to know what he can do to help her navigate this confusion, so let’s see if we can help him out a little bit. Here’s what he has to say…
QUESTION: “I'm here to talk about my girlfriend, she's the most amazing woman in the world and I want nothing but to make her happy, but as much I “help” there are some things I understand she has to handle her own. She recently told me that despite everything going great for her she still feels sad and doesn't know why. I know she also struggles with self-acceptance whether it be physical or otherwise and it sometimes keeps her up at night. What are the ways I could better assist her or steps she could take to help herself?“
Mindful and Compassionate
Nothing better than a man who loves and wants to take care of his girlfriend. Nice to see this question come in.
You’re clearly a very mindful and compassionate boyfriend which I’m sure is included in her list of things that she feels are going great in her life. Thank you for sending this one in.
I want to start by pitching what I think is going on here, or some possibilities as to why she’s still feeling sad, because this is something that baffles a lot of people. And I think you and I exploring these possibilities would be a good precursor for her you to help her and for her to help herself.
Her Base Level of Happiness
What do you suppose her base level of happiness is? It sounds to me as though all of her deep-rooted struggles with self-acceptance have masqueraded as struggles with the other parts of her life.
So when the things she feels are going well now (maybe relationships, work, health, etc.) we’re maybe a bit rockier, it was easy to think that they were the problem and that those shortcomings were holding her back. But now that they’re going well, it’s harder for her to deflect true underlying trauma onto her outer life.
So she’s making progress by improving upon the problems in her outer life, which is good, but now she’s arrived at what was really underneath it all.
Values and Self-Acceptance
If this sounds confusing, imagine her happiness is something that was buried 10 ft. Underground. She’s dug through 9 ft. of work struggles, relationships struggles, health struggles or whatever. She’s almost there, but now there’s a solid, one foot thick boulder that was the foundation of it all, and the heaviest blockade getting in the way of her joy.
This happens to a lot of people. They don’t understand their trauma, or if they do, they don’t address it. The longer it’s around, the more normal it feels, and it becomes an underlying foundation of misery that they recognize as status quo. It’s so normalized that thy forget something is wrong and rather justify it or, slightly more nobly, chalk it up to a general sense of pessimism. And it meshes with all other areas of life.
As this happens, one also stands to become alienated from one’s own values, which may be the case with your girlfriend. What this would mean is that even though things are going well in the sense that she just got a huge promotion at work (something most people would be thrilled about and is widely recognized as a good thing), underneath, she’s actually completely unfulfilled at the company she works for.
Surely someone who struggles with self-acceptance would be less likely to accept one’s own values in favor of more widespread, shallow values.
I would guess that she’s facing some variant of all of this, barring other possibilities like seasonal affective disorder, or perhaps her being an HSP (Highly Sensitive Person) and really absorbing a lot of the pain and sadness she seems in others during these trying times.
Accepting Sadness Without Judgment
If any of this is the case, you could see how it’s rather deep-seated and, though improved by the fixing of much of her outer life, that work still needs to be done. It’s likely something complex enough that the help of a therapist would easily be what’s most effective.
That being said, in the meantime, you can both play a part in helping her heal by playing the role of therapist within the home. Mind you, you don’t have to be well-versed in psychology or the nuances of counseling to make progress together.
What this looks like is you being open with her the way she isn’t open with herself, and encouraging her to explore the parts of herself that she doesn’t accept. Invite her either with you or with herself to talk at length about her feelings of sadness without judgment.
She might not know where it comes from, so ask her to identify recent instances that have made her sad. If she came home from work the other day and was all of a sudden, inexplicably flushed with sadness, explore it.
Questions to Explore Sadness
- Did anything out of the ordinary happen at work?
- Did she have any abnormal interactions with anybody?
- What did she wish could’ve gone better in that moment?
- If there was a magic switch she could’ve flipped that would’ve made her happy, what would that switch have done to make it so?
Questions like these grant her the space to feel sad guilt-free, and realize that it’s ok to feel that way in spite of many parts of life going well. They offer her an invitation to sit down with the part of herself that is going unheard or being judged and get to know what it really wants. It may take some time, but it’s an important process, and one she probably hasn’t undergone in a long time, if ever.
Helping a Partner Who's Sad: Conclusion
All you can do at this point is give her this space and be patient with her. As she makes more discoveries either at home or in a therapist’s office about her underlying sadness, further steps will become clearer to you about what to support, what to challenge her on, and generally what to do.
For now, neither of you can ask much more than for you to try and allow her to feel her full-range of emotions. It seems as though you’ve done a lot so far and want to continue doing so. This is good.
Relationships are best tested in these moments, when one relies on the other to pick up some slack. Relationships strive in the long term when this is done right, and partners prove to one another that they will pursue them and bring their best effort to the table for the entire duration, not just at the beginning.
As long as you’re also keeping an eye on how this affecting your own mental health, I have no doubt you have what it takes to welcome these other parts of her and make the active choice to show love (not just be in love) towards everything she has to offer.
Thank you again to the man who sent this question in. As I referenced a couple of times in there, many of us go through bouts of varying lengths in which we feel this way. This is especially true of people who do have so many of life’s boxes checked. When we outrun things to fix on the outside, it can be especially scary to still feel sad but not have a “this will fix everything” trap to believe in. Many of us avoid this pain by still having stuff they work to improve upon on the outside – it’s interesting.
This question and answer is really a summation of so many of these episodes, as it offers an extreme example of what can happen when we do not communicate and allow all of our feelings to be what they are. The longer this goes on, the farther away we get from understanding where the pain is coming from, and the more we seek to change on the outside as we’re convinced that the answer somehow lies out there.
So whether it’s good times or bad, allow yourself to complain a little, make the effort to explore where it’s coming from, and strengthen that area of your life so you’ll be better equipped next time around.
And that will do it for today, so thank you everyone for being here and joining me. I appreciate you all and I’ll be back with you all for more in 185. Until then.