The 8 Types Of Sadness: Characteristics, Possible Causes And Symptoms

Types of sadness

Whether for one thing or another, each and every one of us has been sad at some point. We may have suffered a loss, a breakup, we may have been given bad news, we may have had a fight with someone we care about, we may not have been able to achieve a goal, or we may simply be moved internally by someone else’s discomfort.

We may not even know exactly why. But in each and every one of these cases it is common for a feeling of suffering, pain, frustration, emptiness and inner cold to appear that can alter the way we see situations, the world and ourselves, generally with a negative vision.

Sadness, like its counterpart joy, is a universal emotion and is shared by all human beings as well as other animals. But although the basic emotion is one, the truth is that We often talk about different types of sadness depending on aspects such as what it is caused by or whether or not it is coherent or useful with respect to said origin.

And it is about these different types of sadness that we are going to talk about throughout this article.

What is sadness?

Sadness is one of the so-called basic emotions, along with joy, surprise, fear, surprise, anger and disgust. As we have mentioned, it is a universal emotion shared by all humanity regardless of their culture, race or way of life, although it can be expressed in different ways.

It arises as a partly psychic and partly physiological reaction to some type of event, which can be exterior or interior. That is, it may appear derived from events or external stimulations (or the absence of these) or from the existence of specific thoughts that are aversive to us and about which we consider that we cannot or that we have few options to do something.


It is generally defined as a feeling of discomfort, fatigue and low energy level that usually appears together with a perception of emptiness in the chest or intestines, a decrease in self-esteem and a tendency towards isolation and introspection. It is common for there to be some motor slowing and lower muscle tone than usual. It also usually goes hand in hand with ruminations about what may have caused its appearance, in addition to a decrease in the ability to pay attention to the rest of the environment.

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Sadness is a highly aversive emotion: Most people do not like to be sad, since it generally implies discomfort and mental and/or physical suffering. However, there are also people who experience a tendency or search for states of sadness, due to the lack of desire or fear of changing the situations that generate it or due to the existence of secondary benefits.

However, and although we generally all try to avoid those situations that generate this emotion, the fact that we can feel sad (as long as we do not reach pathological levels) is much more beneficial to us than one might think.

Main adaptive functions of sadness

The existence of sadness as something that we can all feel and that a large number of animals have in addition to us is not something coincidental: sadness has an adaptive function that favors our survival.

Like the pain, The perception of sadness can help us take some type of action that allows us to get out of the situation that generates the feeling of discomfort: Although sadness generally decreases energy, it also makes it easier for us to make changes in the future that prevent us from returning to aversive stimulation. That is, it can motivate us to change.

Another beneficial aspect is that the reduction in energy it generates allows us to save strength on a physical level, in addition to promoting reflection and rumination about what is happening around us. In this way, sadness provides us with a context in which we can learn about the reason for its appearance and strengthen ourselves in the future.

It also makes us capable of entering a state of introspection and knowing deep aspects of our being that we would not consider in another state of mind. Likewise, feeling discomfort allows us to train our ability to face adversity, and over time it can alter our perception of competence and self-esteem.

Finally, as a general rule, sadness generates empathy and compassion in the members of the group, so expressing sadness can lead our environment to pay attention to us and take care of us. In this sense, it also has a function of protection and group cohesion.

Types of sadness according to their functionality

Roughly we can identify four main types of sadness depending on whether its existence is functional or not.

1. Adaptive sadness

We will consider that we are facing adaptive or functional sadness when the emotion felt corresponds and is justified based on the situation or aspect that generated it. It is therefore a sadness that arises in response to an internal or external event and after which our body may need to reduce the level of activity and process the information in order to accept it and adapt.

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It is therefore a healthy sadness, and is characterized by the fact that with time or action it will begin to decrease and even disappear. The most typical example is the sadness we feel in a moment of mourning.

2. Maladaptive sadness

Sadness is in principle naturally adaptive. Now, it is possible that in some people and in certain situations the emotion remains continuously, without being able to be managed and causing persistent suffering. In these cases, sadness is an added problem that must be managed.

This is what happens when there is a blockage of emotion and its expression. A poorly resolved grief that is not fully accepted would entail a type of maladaptive sadness.

3. Pathological sadness

We consider pathological sadness to be the sensation or feeling of sadness, discouragement and lack of interest in the world in which the person shows little ability to react on an emotional level but who usually goes hand in hand with bursts of crying.

This state of mind is not congruent with any event or lack thereof, or it appears in such a proportion that it is disproportionate to the situation from which it originates. It can lead to isolation or even in extreme cases, self-destructive behavior. It is the type of sadness that can appear in depression or other disorders.

4. Instrumental sadness

We consider sadness instrumental to that type of sadness that is used in order to achieve a specific objective thanks to it. It is a voluntary use of emotion, although it may in part be sincerely felt.

On the other hand, sometimes we can also be faced with a complete simulation, in which only the externally observable part of sadness exists, and not the subjective part.

A philosophical vision: types of sadness according to Saint Thomas Aquinas

Sadness is and has always been one of the most basic human emotions, and has been studied since ancient times. In this sense, historically some authors and researchers have tried to make various classifications regarding the existence of different types of sadness. An example of this was Saint Thomas Aquinas, who started from his research and previous classifications made by authors such as Aristotle to make his own classification in this regard.

Although it may not have scientific validity, this way of cataloging the types of sadness is interesting on a historical and philosophical level and can make us think that basically the different categories it shows, although they are known as different emotions With each other, they have fundamental elements in common. Within this classification we find the following types of sadness.

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1. Sadness due to one’s own evil

This kind of sadness It is characterized by appearing based on the suffering that one feels when some type of painful or aversive situation occurs, or by the deprivation of our needs and wills. It would be linked to deprivation or misery.

2. Compassion

Under the philosophical prism established by this author, compassion could be considered another type of sadness, which in this case refers to the suffering we perceive in others. Observing the suffering of a loved one moves us and can cause sadness and discomfort.

Compassion is a characteristic that makes solidarity and helping the vulnerable possible, which is the foundation of societies.

3. Envy

Another type of sadness can come from observing how others achieve some type of good or achieve some goal that we would like for ourselves.

Realizing that others do have what we want and cannot can cause us sadness and suffering, from which envy arises. It is an emotional tension that arises from comparison with those we consider successful in some sense.

4. Discouragement or anguish

Sadness and anxiety are often deeply related. In this sense, discouragement or anguish can be considered a type of sadness that is linked to the loss of mobility or motivation when not finding anything that satisfies us or allows us to move towards our goals. It is also related to uncertainty and desire to preserve some type of asset or stay on track toward your goals. On the other hand, this psychological factor is associated with demotivation.

Depression: beyond feeling sad

One of the concepts that is generally associated with sadness is depression. And in major depression or during depressive episodes, one of the main and most important symptoms is the existence of a sad mood.

However, it would be wrong to identify depression with sadness since the former implies, in addition to being sad, a set of symptoms among which anhedonia or lack of ability to feel pleasure, sleep problems (both insomnia and excessive sleepiness), loss or increased appetite, hopelessness and passivity, seeing the world, self and future as negative and aversive, lack of energy, concentration and libido or even suicidal thoughts.