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What Colour is Your Sadness? Sensing New Shades of the Blues

If sadness is in your life, it’s often a painful thing to be around. It aches. It tends to follow you. Or it wants to be carried. It usually whispers the painful stories over and over again so you keep remembering them (and re-living them anew).

So it seems natural to want a break from sadness every now and then. To want it to leave you alone for a while. To wish you didn’t feel it. To get it gone.

Yet it’s amazing how this can sometimes create an extra layer of challenge to deal with. Extra pain. Extra burden. For you can end up sort of feeling bad about feeling sad. (And now you’ve got two emotional companions following you around – or two things to carry).

So how else can you engage with sadness? How else can you find a way to be with it? Maybe even to learn from it?

Eugene Gendlin, the founder of a technique called focusing, suggested maybe starting by ‘clearing a space for yourself’, which he wrote was:

“…like the act of putting down a heavy burden you have been carrying. You have walked for miles with this uncomfortable bag. Now you stop, set it down, and rest for a while. Only by first setting it down can you look at what’s in the bag.

“Your body needs the rest. You load it with this burden every morning and, if you are like most people, give it no rest until you go to sleep. Perhaps there is a brief time when you awake on some mornings when your body is allowed to feel good…Your eyes open. You feel gloriously relaxed and peaceful.

“And then the load lands on you!… Each morning we load ourselves with this painful paraphernalia and stagger through the day with it.” (1)

What would it be like to stop staggering like this for a moment?
Or to stop feeling bad about carrying this stuff around.
To just find a place to rest.
To unload that burden of sadness from your shoulders.
And, when you’re ready, to maybe take a moment to have a look at what’s actually in there…

The shape of it.
The size of it.
The weight of it.
Even the colour…

When you carry this emotion, where in your body do you feel it?
Where does it sit?

What might it feel like to just acknowledge it, rather than resist it or manage it or suppress it or try to talk it out of being there?

To sort of just say ‘hello’ to it.

Maybe even to ask it what it wants.
What might help.
What could soothe.

And then just wait quietly and see what answers seem to come… which feelings emerge… which senses make themselves felt.

For perhaps we can learn what we need from these difficult emotions themselves. And from our body and the way it holds the pain.

Perhaps, as Eugene Gendlin suggested, “the very existence of bad feelings within you is evidence that your body knows what is wrong and what is right [for it]. It must know what it would be like to feel perfect, or it could not evoke a sense of wrong.”(2)

So maybe it’s ok to just rest for a while in the blues.
Maybe even to sit back on a virtual bench of the blues sometimes, like the one in the photograph above.
To unpack our burdens and actually see what it is we’re carrying.

And maybe, like in the photograph, really sitting with the blues like this might also be a way of finding your way back to a more varied emotional palette again – maybe even of gradually moving towards a more purple patch.*


* “A period of good fortune” – The Macquarie Dictionary
(1) Gendlin, ET 1978, Focusing, 2nd edn, Bantam Books, New York, p.74.
(2) ibid., p.76.


Photo: Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar (Grad Dip Counselling & Psychotherapy) is a writer, blogger and Sydney psychotherapist in private practice at One Life Counselling & Psychotherapy. Gabrielle also co-facilitates telephone support groups for people who are living with cancer, for their carers, and for people who have been bereaved through a cancer experience. She is the editor of a journal on counselling and psychotherapy and she provides regular therapeutic updates on facebook and Twitter @OneLifeTherapy.

What Colour is Your Sadness? Sensing New Shades of the Blues

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2010). What Colour is Your Sadness? Sensing New Shades of the Blues. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Dec 2010
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