Depression, Intrinsic and Extrinsic Sadness

There are two categories of sadness: intrinsic and extrinsic, or internal and external. Within those categories there are is all manor of sadness, but for our purposes, we will make this single distinction.

Depression is Intrinsic Sadness

Intrinsic sadness is sadness from within and without cause.[push]Intrinsic sadness is pain without cause. It is without beginning or ending. It is sea you fall into without shore.[/push]

It typically presents itself in a clinical sense as depression. In a physiological sense, it’s misfiring (or not firing) neurotransmitters. Research suggests that a serious deficit of this type (depression) rarely rights itself without proper medical intervention. Intrinsic sadness is the stuff I feel most of the time in varying degrees thanks through my bipolar. Luckily most “normal” folk will only experience very limited intrinsic sadness and it’ll probably lead to just a blue day, and not depression.

Extrinsic Sadness Can Turn Into Depression

Extrinsic sadness is the type with which everyone is familiar. It’s the type of sadness you feel when you hate your job, feel trapped by your marriage, or find out someone you love has died. It is defined as extrinsic because it has an external source. There is something you can point to and say – that’s what’s causing my sadness.

fix depressionYou Can Actively Do Something About Extrinsic Sadness, Prevent Depression

Extrinsic sadness is a relief for me, because it means there is actually something I can do about it. Don’t like your job? Get a new one. Unhappy in your marriage? Try a separation (OK fine, therapy). Your father just died? Time will heal that wound. You can change your external factors. You can affect your sadness. You can change your perspective. You have control over that which saddens you. It isn’t necessarily fun, or easy, but there is something you can do.

There is actually a danger that extrinsic sadness will turn into intrinsic sadness and finally depression. There is evidence to suggest that if a person dwells too long in a sadness, no matter how external the source, it can actually lead to full blown depression. The extrinsic sadness essentially “trains” the neurotransmitters of the brain to behave in a depressed manor. These people do tend to recover better and more quickly from their depression, but really, I don’t recommend it.

People Don’t Understand Depression and Intrinsic Sadness

This fundamental difference between intrinsic and extrinsic sadness is what people do not understand about depression. Depression has no external cause. If I am notably sad, the question someone will always ask me is why. When I tell them there is no reason, that the sadness is intrinsic, that it is simply driven by depression, they look at me with disbelief. People are looking for logical causes. It’s human nature. The logical answer is, I’m sick. I know I’m sick in a way you don’t understand, but that doesn’t make it untrue.

People Don’t Seem to Want to Fix External Factors of Sadness

People don’t seem to want to take responsibility for making their own happiness.

I’m an extreme example, but my life is actually crafted to defeat sadness, decrease depression. Of course, I have far too many strikes against me so it doesn’t really work, but your average person has no such excuse.[push]If you’re lucky enough to have a brain that works, and neurotransmitters that run around pretty much as advertised, then for gosh sakes fix the extrinsic crap that makes you unhappy. Prevent depression.[/push]

Yes, there will also be choices that suck, and potholes you can’t avoid, but happiness is there, waiting for you. It’s practically holding the door open for you. You can’t see it, but I can. I can see your smile. You think you’ve lost it, but really you’ve just misplaced it. If life had a desire, it would be for you to be happy. Sadness isn’t a natural state of being, it’s a detour. We all take them, but then we get back. (Well, un-sick people in general get back.)

Get Back to Happy

So it seems to me, that if you’re lucky enough to have a brain that works, and neurotransmitters that run around pretty much as advertised, then for gosh sakes fix the extrinsic crap that makes you unhappy. Oh, it might be hard, but believe me when I tell you, it’s much easier than bipolar me just trying to not get more unhappy.

(It goes without saying that the depressed should also fix extrinsic unhappiness factors too. I like to think if you’re depressed, you’re already be on top of that. But perhaps not.)


About Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.

Natasha’s New Book

Find more of Natasha’s work in her new book: Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. Media inquiries can be emailed here.


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