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Your Emotional Tides (You Are Not Your Sadness)

I grew up fairly close to the coast, so visiting the beach and its nearby lagoons was an important part of our family life. What amazed me, as a child, was how unpredictable the tides seemed – sometimes there’d be water everywhere, with currents coursing; sometimes the whole place looked barren and dry – always according to its own mysterious rhythms.

Perhaps it’s the same with our emotions?

Sometimes brimming with a sense of abundance or energy or hope or light. Other times, seemingly empty; bereft.

One state usually feels ‘better’, so the temptation can be to strive towards it. Or to miss it when it’s gone. Or maybe to try avoiding the barrenness; the sorrow; the grind. Or to feel desolate when they arrive.

But back at the seaside, both states revealed different (and vital) aspects of the one landscape. When the tide was out, whole new stretches of sand emerged from the deep, teeming with soldier crabs and seaweed and other life that was otherwise hidden beneath the waves. When high tide swept in, it flushed through the whole lagoon and kept the place from growing stagnant.

Emptying. Filling. Emptying again.

As kids, we just adapted to whatever these tides served up – either swimming, or exploring the newly revealed places or riding the currents in or out. Just following the whim of the place.

And, as seemingly mysterious as the whole tidal process seemed, one thing was dependable: it wouldn’t stay the same for long. The tide simply wouldn’t go out and stay out. Or always be in.

And maybe this is true of our emotional states too?

Maybe we can take heart from our interior tides in the same way?

To not fear the ebbing.
To not have to resist the sorrow or the emptying.
To not yearn to be at high tide all the time.
But, instead, to know the changes… maybe even to embrace them.

There’s a saying which reflects this.
Try as I might, I can’t remember it exactly or find it online right now. But it’s sort of about:

not standing at the water’s edge
and mourning the ebbing tide.
Nor particularly prioritizing or revering the incoming tide.
But to step back from the shore a little
and see the rhythm of both
To notice that it’s not about being full or empty,
but about the flow

So maybe, when you’re feeling some sadness in your life, it might be worth remembering this stuff. Respecting the rhythms of it.
And remembering that it’s not all that you are.

Remembering that there have been times before, when happiness lapped at your feet, too.

Seeing if perhaps even these more barren phases might have their own reason, their own rhythms, their own purpose in the greater system of your life.

Maybe even exploring the sands these ebbs reveal (which might otherwise have remained hidden beneath the surface, out of reach).

And to remember that the tide will change again…


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.

Your Emotional Tides (You Are Not Your Sadness)

Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar

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APA Reference
Gawne-Kelnar, G. (2011). Your Emotional Tides (You Are Not Your Sadness). Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Jan 2011
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