Writing Your Way Through Sadness 13

JOURNAL WRITING has many purposes, but it is probably best known for its ability to help us process emotions — especially emotions that we consider negative or painful. I believe that when we resist our emotions, avoid, suppress, or ignore them because they are negative or painful, they don’t go away but lodge in our bodies. Lodged emotion can cause us to feel irritable and to behave in ways we don’t want, such as “taking things out” on loved ones or overreacting to small things. Unprocessed emotion can cause stress, illness, and disease.

On the other hand, writing through emotions allows us to fully feel them, process them, and move (or express) them through and out of our bodies, resulting in healthier emotional and physical states of being.

One of these negatively-considered emotions is sadness. Sadness can range from general feelings of melancholy to despondency and despair, and can be caused by a variety of experiences. For example, feeling hurt by the actions or words of others, or feeling anguish and worry for a loved one, if not resolved can result in sadness. Other reasons for sadness include disappointment, shame, regret, neglect, loneliness, rejection, and insecurity. Sadness can result from feeling pity or sympathy for others, as well.

When writing about and through sadness — or any emotion — it’s important to identify the source of that emotion, if possible. Often, we have buried hurts and traumas in the past, and it may take some deep work and time to identify and heal the sadness-causing wounds.

Journal writing prompts can help you identify and work through core causes of your sadness. Here are a few:

  1. Feel your sadness. Allow it to fill you, wash in and through you. Write about how that feels. Then perform a word association: Write down the word “sadness”; then write down the next word that pops into your mind; then the next one; don’t stop, but keep writing down words until no more words come. Look back over the list of words. What does it tell you?
  2. Close your eyes and take three deep, calming breaths. In your mind, travel back in time to when the sadness began. How old were you? What was happening in your life at the time? Does the sadness seem to be attached to a particular person or event? A loss, hurt or trauma of some kind? Write about as much as you can remember about the sadness and when it first began.
  3. If you can identify a specific event, person, or loss which initiated the feelings of sadness, write with as much detail as possible about that event and how you responded at the time. Did you experience a hurt or loss of some kind? What did you do with that hurt? Did you turn it inward? Hide it from others? Feel that you had to “be strong?”
  4. Whether or not you can identify a specific event — maybe it was a series of events over a long period of time — write about what triggers that feeling of sadness for you now. Does the sadness occur when you think about certain people? When you are alone? When someone says something hurtful? Do you find yourself overreacting in certain situations? Write about every situation you can think of that triggers that sad place in you.
  5. Once you have written about the source of your sadness, re-write your story with a different ending. This is fiction, but write is as a possibility. Imagine things happening differently. Or imagine that you handled your emotion differently. Write about having expressed your hurt to someone instead of burying it inside you, for example. Re-write your story as if it had actually happened the way you imagined.
  6. Another technique is to write a different interpretation of the same event. For example, if someone said something or did something that hurt you deeply as a child, look back at that event from your adult perspective. Can you perhaps see how that person was carrying his own hurts at the time, projecting his pain onto you, and that what he said or did had nothing to do with you? Distance yourself from that hurt and rewrite the scene as though you had that kind of understanding as a child.

As always, I invite you to leave your comments about these prompts and add suggestions for writing prompts that may help others process their feelings of sadness.


Image by Mokarta Graphic

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13 thoughts on “Writing Your Way Through Sadness

  • Renee Cassese

    Amber. Thank you for this article. I have been away from my journaling for several months, thinking my morning pages were only waves and waves of griping and complaints. I’m trying to start to journal again and this morning I wrote about my doubts that I can write my way through the grief of my mother’s death. I am thinking that writing, and therefore staying focused, about sadness of any kind can only make it more intense and present in the way that writing love letter and poems and telling your loved ones your feelings deepens that love. But I’ve read so much about journaling and trained to teach journal writing workshops and so I must renew my trust that the process can be therapeutic. Your article came right on time to give me new faith in the process that I love so much and turn to often.
    With love and gratitude,

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Renee, please accept my condolences on the loss of your mother. I, too, have been writing through the loss of several of my family members and working to understand the complicated nature of our relationships. Grieving is a long process. Too often — especially we here in the States — think that we should “just get over it” after a relatively short time. It’s so important to be gentle with ourselves and allow (not resist) the grief its time.

  • Dawn Nussbaum

    I also express my condolences. I am currently working through the loss of my husband’s father to cancer and I’m finding that I lean on my journalling more than ever before to process the feelings I’m trying to cope with. I’m glad you’re seeking help in your journal Renee.

    Thanks for the article. Its timely for me too.

  • Janet Riehl


    This guidance of how to write your way through grief is much needed. American culture wants us to “just get on with it.” Your tips are far healthier ways to get on with it rather than locking the feelings away.

    Janet Riehl

  • Renee Cassese

    It sure is a modern, American attitude to get over the grief–or any other negative emotion. But I don’t believe we ever “get over” losing those who are close to us. My Dad is gone 16 years and it still hurts. Though we not remain immersed in the pain, it still lives in our hearts and can emerge at any time. Writing will get us through.

  • Amber Lea Starfire

    Janet, thanks for your comment. And Renee, I agree… our losses remain with us. And yet, as you said, writing is an excellent way to help us process the sadness associated with our loss. It also helps us to process any questions, doubts, guilt, etc. we still have about the person we lost.

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  • Elizabeth Mander

    Such wise advice. This has really helped me to think about my past and how I realise that I have never got over alot of events and how I have carried the sadness, worry into my adult life. I will follow the steps in the hope that this will allow me to let go and move on.
    Thank you so much

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      You’re welcome, Elizabeth. Journaling, and particularly writing about past events and the emotions we carry with us, has been shown to be a wonderfully healing activity. I know that I have certainly experience a lot of healing through it. Please stay in touch and let me know how you feel after working through these activities and prompts.

  • Graciela Phelps

    Hello I just found your article thanks to Blissflow, I find it very interesting and believe it can be helpful to me, I just subscribed and look forward to many more articles blogs etc.

    Thanks for sharing,


  • Trisha

    After I process these feeling of sadness through doing numbers 1 thru 5 , how do I get past and move on from this feeling of sadness I am feeling?

    • Amber Lea Starfire Post author

      Trisha, that’s a good question with a complicated answer: that depends. Prompts #5 and #6 should help some, since you are rewriting the ending in #5, which can provide a sense of empowerment. And #6 can help by distancing and helping you to write about it from a place of empathy — both for you and the others involved — rather than hurt. Additionally, I have found it helpful to write about what I have gained from going through pain or grief. You can ask yourself (and write to) the following questions: What have I learned from this experience? How has this experience made me a better or stronger person? How can I use this experience to help others? Writing about a painful experience in terms of what you’ve gained from it, however difficult it was, can shift you from sadness and emptiness to a sense of purpose and strength. I hope this helps.