Tears are Words that Need to be Written
May 6, 2016 9:26 AM   Subscribe

There are things that make me sad, and things that make me sad about being sad. For example, some things don't really merit a lot of sadness (especially when it is ill-informed or useless), but consistently and sincerely break my heart all the same...

Like people dressed as smiling mascots out in the cold (Damn you, Liberty Tax), blind kittens or puppies, a broken and discarded toy, the fact that elephants actually cry, the fact that a dog might think I'm dead if it doesn't see me for a long time....

Is there a word, phrase or concept for this non-productive sadness? Can you point me to any literature on this emotion? Does it happen to you, and if so, what use does it have for you, if any?
posted by Dressed to Kill to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
hyper-empathy seems to be a thing, if that's any help.
posted by andrewcooke at 9:46 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

I used to start crying at every "Cotton - the fabric of our lives" commercial. I have decided that it's emotional manipulation because hoo boy you are so right it is NOT productive for me.
posted by janey47 at 10:49 AM on May 6, 2016

When I am at a stressful point in my life I cry at pet food commercials, so I feel you here. I usually hear this referred to as being emotionally labile but the more I read up on that, the more it's not quite right.
posted by jessamyn at 11:29 AM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

No I'm not emotionally labile... I know what that means, and this isn't it. :) I'm not a melancholic person, even!

Let's take the Mascot example: ARE mascots even SAD? I mean, some might be, but it's a job, and I have no way of knowing whether the person in the suit is miserable, happy or indifferent. It's the thought of the possibility of a sad person hiding behind a giant smiling hard-to-move-in costume though... man it kills me every time. Those human wrists sticking out of a foam maple leaf? WHY? WHY IS THIS SO SAD?

(won't threadsit anymore)
posted by Dressed to Kill at 11:32 AM on May 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Check out the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows
posted by winterportage at 11:38 AM on May 6, 2016 [5 favorites]

Maybe empathic concern?
posted by WesterbergHigh at 12:02 PM on May 6, 2016

In the past few years, enough Real Life has happened to me that a lot of things now make me verklempt which, before this, would not have done. Movies, books, commercials, the damn evening news, sports events -- I guess that I now just have a very low threshold for "emotional toughness."

(I am dreading my daughter's weddings -- whenever they happen -- and yet there are so many things that set me off.)

(And BTW I don't think of it as a failing or a flaw, just an overabundance of empathy.)
posted by wenestvedt at 12:08 PM on May 6, 2016

This only covers some of your examples and not all but check out the "uplift" theory of what things in movies make you cry
posted by johngoren at 12:09 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Have you had a lot of loss or sadness in your life that you're not really dealing with?

I asked this question and even though people would peg me as "positive" or "pollyanna"- I'm actually really, really sad for a lot of reasons. What looks "upbeat" to other people is simply me fighting my inner demons like mad with the tools I have in my toolbox.

Since I have to fight so hard to stay in a healthy mental place, I think that sadness about things like the (possible) sadness of the Mascot (I got that reference immediately) is a way for me to feel the sadness I feel without going into my ancient depression. My fighting the inner demons constantly must continue, but I can feel sad about other things without my life falling apart, like it does when I flail around in all that sadness inside my head.

I hate it, but it seems to be a way for me to feel sadness without falling apart.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 1:08 PM on May 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

I think I experience what you mean, although I don't know a name for it. It is not the same as being emotionally manipulated by a commercial or crying at a movie or becoming emotionally stimulated by/reflecting the emotions of others. It is not really saudade, because it is not a memory of my own experience or relationship, but it seems to have a similar appreciation of loss.

Like, I sometimes will see an object that ordinarily should not have any emotional associations (for me or for anyone), and the sight of it will make me inexplicably sad. I can't think of a real example right now, but, like, seeing a person with an object that that he or she treasures or has obviously chosen, usually something cheerful or earnest (it is often something that I personally would not value, or that I imagine, rightly or wrongly, that few others would value) - I don't know, someone wearing a mystic wolf T-shirt, or carrying a tote bag with a cutesy whimsical print on it - and knowing that one day, that person will die, and that treasured object will fall into neglect, and the mind and sensibilities of the person will pass away into the forgotten. I don't think those thoughts consciously, necessarily. But the feeling is like the anticipation of loss, even though it is not a loss that is in any way personal to me.

I don't know that this feeling has any use for me. Other than maybe that it promotes benevolent feelings towards other people whom I probably would not otherwise notice or think about. And also, unlike other feelings, I am always acutely aware of it when I'm having it, so I guess it helps me re-center on what I am experiencing in that moment. And, on preview, it might also serve in the way Grlnxtdr described.
posted by tentacle at 1:27 PM on May 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

I'm really trying to think of a phrase for this, but I'm coming up dry. Something that combines triggering and moping? If you said "that always triggers some major mopes for me" you'd sound like an idiot, but at least people might know what you meant. Could you say it gives you the sads? Argh, that's not very good either!

Sigh. Failing to come up with the right phrase is sending me into a funk.

Of the sad examples you cited, you can try reframing those things so they're less sad. Puppies and kittens are born blind for example. And there are plenty of happy cats and dogs that are blind! Maybe the person in the mascot costume is some extroverted, theatrical sort who loves dressing up and getting attention. These aren't ALWAYS sad things.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:56 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

This definition of koev halev from Hebrew comes close, but it doesn't capture the fact that the empathy/sadness might be misplaced. The mascot may not actually be sad. The blind puppy or kitten goes on with life as usual and isn't sad for itself.
posted by MsMolly at 3:00 PM on May 6, 2016

Thank you! I'm so glad you're getting it!

Is there something to the idea of the abyss of disconnect? I think that might be it...? Like: blind kitten - kitten does not know it's blind. Other kittens totally do not care. Kitten will have happy life. But unnnhh... I can't watch a blind kitten walk around. WTF. It can't tell me it's okay so I feel .... really held in this position of just isolated sadness.

My girlfriend feels the same way when she sees elderly people at bus stops. There is no good reason for her to feel sad at this - and yet it persists! Maybe because she wants to connect?
posted by Dressed to Kill at 4:14 PM on May 6, 2016

Is the result of having a strong imagination, decent empathy and an inability to turn your inner monologue off and then. ..
Is called "getting the blues " you can find sadness in almost anything.
posted by Smibbo at 7:18 PM on May 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's really hard to find anything beyond this couple of paragraphs about these concepts, but what about mimpathy or transpathy as defined here?
posted by MsMolly at 8:49 PM on May 7, 2016

Maybe if we think of more examples? It would be sorrow where the object of sorrow is an imagined, unverifiable, unbreachable entity... kind of the exact opposite of the "uplift" theory because instead of that swelling that is amplified by being a shared experience, the sadness is very isolating.

Here's another example from my own life: My parents had a maple tree, and next to the tree was an old Wisteria that would climb up the deck lattice.

For some inexplicable reason my mom would wind the creeping wisteria vines around the tree, and it would gradually, over YEARS be pulling the branches of the tree down. Thick, python like vines would actually pull down the tree over time.

When I would be in their backyard in the summer for Sunday dinner, the sight of the tree was upsetting to me. The tree isn't sentient. There's no reason to feel upset that the vine is pulling it down - but the image of it, combined with my imagination, really was bothered and saddened by the whole thing. And I would find myself fantasizing about creeping back at night and cutting them apart (I never did, and they finally put the tree out of its misery this spring).
posted by Dressed to Kill at 7:41 AM on May 8, 2016

Oh! Like this thread about inanimate objects having feelings!

Some googling finds the possibily-related concept of emotional overexciteability in gifted children.
posted by MsMolly at 1:37 PM on May 8, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is a super-late answer, but I get this too. I think of them as the feels - which is an informal gimmicky memey way of putting it, but as accurate as I've found.

Cheap knockoff products and packaging with typos often make me sad for them, like it's not their fault they're crappily made. For what it's worth, I got this a lot when I was pregnant, for the silliest things.
posted by Metroid Baby at 10:27 AM on May 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

A new contender: Clueyness.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:57 PM on June 2, 2016 [2 favorites]

« Older Ethical Question -- Baby Name Edition.   |   Should I get tested for strep throat? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.