LIFE GOES ON: Sadness Not Madness


Anger is contagious.

An angry voice fills us with fear, stress, anxiety, and anger. It’s abrasive, unattractive, repellant, and we want to get away. Flight or fight. React with fear or aggression. But beneath the surface of anger, there is usually sadness. It is much easier to feel angry than sad. It’s a less vulnerable emotion.

In a recent couple’s session, I observed how anger separates and inflames. The divorcing couple was trying to negotiate child visitation. Both were yelling, accusing the other of being unfair. Right when I was about to jump in, my little therapy dog, Teddy, ran over to the couch, stood on his hind legs, and barked at them. They both started to laugh, and the angry spell was broken.

At this point, I pointed out that underneath their anger was the sadness and fear they felt that they would not see their children as much as they wanted. Both were sad about the divorce, both were sad about not having full custody. Both were afraid that the other was trying to get more. More money, more child time, more stuff, more of their old life.

When they were vulnerable and honest, each expressed that what they really wanted  was fairness for each other and their children. They were then able to agree with compromise and respect for their futures. Because they will know each other for the rest of their lives as co-parents, they realized they will need to be truthful with their emotions. If sad, express sadness. If fearful, express fear.



Kathleen Cairns, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in West Hartford, Connecticut. She works with adults, adolescents, and couples. You may call her at 860-236-5555 to make an appointment. She is the author of “The Psychotherapy Workbook.”  You may email her at and she will try to answer as many of your questions as possible.

Life goes on… and every day matters…


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