Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

Response Options to
a Sad Person

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/sad.htm

Updated  01-31-2015

      Clicking underlined links here will open a new window. Other links will open  an informational popup, so please turn off your browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site. If your playback device doesn't support Javascript, the popups may not display. Follow underlined links after finishing this article to avoid getting lost.

      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An "effective response" occurs when you get your primary needs met well enough, and both people feel respected enough.

      This article offers (a) perspective on "sadness," and (b) ways of responding to someone who's significantly sad. It assumes you're familiar with...

      This brief YouTube video provides perspective on empathy, Are you empathic?


      See how you feel about these ideas...

We feel sad when...

  • we lose something we love or need on (grief) and...

  • a living thing we care about suffers pain or danger (empathy).

Sadness isn't "caused by" grief. It is a phase of the emotional level of grief. As such, it is helpful, and needs to be allowed to complete at its own pace.

Over time, normal sadness fades into acceptance and peace - i.e. sadness is usually a temporary state, unless grief becomes blocked.

Sad thoughts and feelings come from one or more of your personality subselves  who "activate." The thoughts and feelings recede when the subselves "calm down."

Non-specific sadness is a common symptoms of "depression" - which may actually be grief over some expected or actual loss (broken bond).

People who experience significant sadness in another person may become uncomfortable, and feel they should reassure and make the sad person "feel better." This is specially true of adults and kids.  Often this really aims to lower their own anxiety around the sad person. 

People who feel and show little sadness over losses or others' pain are usually ruled by a false self, and may be unable to bond and/or empathize .

People who are "perpetually sad" are probably ruled by a false self - like the Sad Child and one or more Guardian subselves. Freeing their resident true Self can allow sadness to run its course and subside. (Lesson 1) 

      With these premises in mind, reflect: how do you normally feel around a notably sad person, and what do you normally do? Now recall the last time you felt sad. What did you need other people to do? Empathize? Comfort you? Listen? Question? Reassure you? Hold you? Distract you? Talk? Be silent?

      So how can you respond effectively to a sad person?.


  • Make sure your true Self is guiding you. If not, make attaining that a high priority or lower your expectations.

  • Recall these requisites and basics until they become automatic

  • Notice what you feel with or about the sad person. Then decide what you need.

  • Estimate what s/he needs from you now, and choose from responses like these:.

"(Name), how are you feeling?"

"You seem very sad."

"Do you want to talk about anything?" If the answer is "Yes," use empathic listening.

"Can I give you a hug?"

"Do you need company, or would you rather be alone?"

"What do you need now?"

      Note the theme of these sample responses - brief, direct, respectful, focused on the sad person in the present, and acknowledging the sadness without trying to discount, deflect, or "fix" it. For contrast, consider these...

Responses to Avoid

"I know just how you feel." This is an arrogant assumption. You probably don't.

"You'll feel better soon." Focuses on the future, not now.

"C'mon (Name) - it's not that big a deal." This is a disrespectful discount.

"Lighten up, will you? You're bringing us all down with your gloom." Ditto

"Don't come out of your room without a happy face!" (Implication - "Your sadness is wrong/bad, and you're responsible for our happiness.") A shaming put-down to young kids.

"I remember when that (situation) happened to me." Shifts the focus from the sad per-son to you.

"Hey, everyone - welcome Prince/ss Gloom!" A sarcastic, unempathic put-down, and clumsy attempt to offset sadness with humor.

"But look at the good side..." This discounts and invalidates the person's sadness.

"Isn't Rosa great? She never let's things get her down!" Implication - the other person is not great (bad) for showing their sadness.

"It's more fun to be around upbeat people, don't you think?" Indirect criticism that implies the sad person is "no fun" (bad/wrong).

.      Note the theme of these responses - arrogant, disrespectful, sarcastic, judgmental, self-serving, and unempathic. Have you ever received comments like these? If so, how did you feel? Responses like these suggest a false self is in charge.


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common uncomfortable and unpleasant social behaviors. This article offers (a) perspective on sadness, and (b) examples of how and how not to respond to a significantly-sad adult or child. Effective responses are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude,

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and mutual rights, and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, assertion, and empathic listening (Lesson 2).

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

This article was very helpful  somewhat helpful  not helpful 

Share/Bookmark  Prior page  /  Lesson 2  Print page 


 site intro  /  course outline  /  site search  /  definitions  /  chat contact