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Overheard: a comedian feels sad

The comedian Louis C.K. appeared on the Conan O’Brien show last year. I think his reflections on the damaging effect of cell phones on the developing empathy in children, went viral for a while.

When I first watched the clip, I felt completely in awe of this man. He beautifully describes experiencing the thing that is most difficult for the majority of my clients: letting oneself experience the fullness of a feeling, especially sadness.

He’s driving in his car and a Bruce Springsteen song comes on the radio. He hears a “faraway” quality to Springsteen’s voice that connects him to a deep, existential loneliness, and a sadness wells up inside of himself. He describes his immediate compulsive desire to text loads of people, as a defense to the feeling. And then he makes a clear and conscious decision to not reach for the phone. He describes pulling over his car, and surrendering to the sad feeling, allowing himself to sob as the song played to its completion. He experiences himself as alive – he recognizes the extreme beauty of feeling a sad feeling to its completion,  and the gift of a full, well-felt, life.

I am totally moved by his courage in describing the beauty in deeply-felt emotions, on a live, national, comedy show. This type of emotional maturity is foreign to a lot of people, and many clients come to psychotherapy precisely because they don’t know what to do with their emptiness or their sad feelings, and because they are afraid of really, truly, feeling anything.

What’s great about Louis C.K.’s story is that he models how we can all make a simple decision – a decision to be aware of our feelings, notice out defenses as they arise, decide in favor of the feeling though we know it will be hard, and then reap the reward of feeling really alive, and perhaps even joyful, as he did.

And if you can’t do this alone, because you have difficulty regulating your feelings when they arise, make an appointment and do this with a therapist. One of the main benefits of psychotherapy is emotional regulation (having and surviving your feelings), and just listening to music and allowing it to affect you, can be a wonderful way to practice just that.