So, I have been crying lately. Often. So what?
Anyone who knows me will know that this is not unusual. I am a tearful sort of person. I cry very easily – my tears appear to be (literally, figuratively, both… who knows?) on tap. My friends and family laugh at me about it. I find something to cry about within virtually every film, tv show, book, song, piece of art, that I come across.
In my case, tears can really be for any emotion; sadness, happiness, frustration, exhilaration, anger, fear, determination, hopefulness, grief, you name a feeling – it will usually make me cry.
What a soggy mess! How – with this spectrum of tearful triggers – do I, or any of those around me, know what I am feeling, exactly? All that can be seen from the outside is a red puffy face and leaky eyes! To which I answer them back with a question – do you need to know? Do ‘they’ – they being the outside world – need to know? Do I want ‘them’ to know? Well, isn’t Isn’t that what tears are supposed to be for? Letting the outside world know that there are big feelings going on inside?
Perhaps…Sometimes, for me, anyway… It is most important is that I know, surely. The thing I do seem to know, is that the tears seem to flow for me when I generally don’t know what my exact feeling is. Not only that – sometimes, i know that I am not necessarily crying entirely for the thing that started me off. Sometimes, I think, I have just hit old feelings, and triggered the tears again. Sometimes I’m not even really sure if that is the case, even. Sometimes I’m not sure that the tears are responding to MY feelings at all. Maybe they are someone else’s? Mothers will recognise the feeling of wanting to cry when their child gets hurt. That feeling that they want to deal with the pain for them. Is this a similar bodily response to that?
After many years of trying to get to the bottom of this, after having worked (as a client) with many different therapists who used many different psychological approaches, it felt that none of them managed to dive deeply enough into the place my tears originate from. I never really understood why I was such a ‘cry-baby’.
It took a long time (and needless to say, many tears), but I finally found one therapist who was unafraid to not just dive, but to hang around around and tread water with me and my tears. This was something absolutely nobody from my personal life could do. Think about it – could you just sit there and let a person you love cry and sob, and sob and cry, without trying to stop them and make them feel better? Its not a failing on the part of my people – it’s just the kind of messy thing that only a therapist (or someone else quite separate from one’s life) can help a person with (and in my experience, not all of them can do it, either). Thankfully, this one wasn’t afraid to.
So, by observing this very process, I slowly discovered that I have a tendency to unconsciously use tears as a defense mechanism. They tell those around me to stop, slow down, don’t push any harder; “Look, I’m upset, I’m crying, do you want make things any worse?”
The tears are my body and psyche working together to find a way to keep me protected from pain; “Look how fragile I am already – don’t go deeper, I can’t take it!” Possibly another ‘ancient caveman’ reason why children cry more easily than adults (apart from the more obvious and often discussed social conditioning which they have not yet received, telling them to ‘be strong’) – because their little bodies are not only more fragile, but their emotional muscle has not yet developed – they need protecting.
In my case, this actually makes a lot of sense. I was quite a physically poorly kind of kid – I hit most branches of the childhood illness tree, had some health conditions that I sense made other kids wary of me, even a little afraid, at times. My Mum has often told me of the times she was worried about me not making it through with this, that, or the other condition. As an adult – yes, I still am physically, the proud owner of several ongoing health issues (which I manage, on the whole, quite successfully), and am also proud to say that I have had some really close calls and have ‘cheated’ death several times. Another time, another blog post for that stuff… The point I am getting to, is that, although I may still physically be a bit on the delicate side – emotionally I know I have built muscle on muscle over the years. I am not ‘bigging myself up’ when I say I know I know how to cope with a lot of mental weight. I have simply been well trained for it, is all! (There is a very good reason it takes a long time to train for this profession!)
So, as anyone with a basic knowledge of psychology will tell you, the problem with defense mechanisms is that they sometimes outgrow their usefulness. Our preprogrammed self automatically goes to the standard response, regardless of how suitable it has now become to our current circumstances. Is this what I am doing when I cry? Am I reverting back to the pre-programmed self of my youth? Keeping my (what my brain thinks is) ‘still developing’ psyche safe from whatever assault is about to be thrown at it?
Yes. Partly. Although this does feel sort of right, it also doesn’t feel wholly correct. Because if this were the case, why do I still cry when I’m on my own sometimes? (Yes, I do – I’m owning that here on this public forum!)
These tears, these solitary tears, actually feel more confusing to me than any others. These tears have no direct antagonist, only myself and my inner world. These tears feels more tangly and mixed up than any others to me. They are harder to name feelings for, and often, the feelings and the tears pass through me so fast and with such fluidity that I can’t hold onto them for long enough to work them out.
What I do know about the tears, is that they hold those feelings – those uncertain, unnamed and unnameable, indescribable yet very very real and felt feelings – and they help them to move through me. They stop me feeling trapped in an unnameable hard to understand place. I shed the tears, and often (mostly) I shed the feeling. And that feels good.
Moving through feelings is a sign of emotional health. When we feel stuck in a feeling, we feel stuck in our life. Many of my clients seem to echo the ‘stuck’ feeling when they first come for treatment. So many repeated behavioural patterns can be manifestations of this ‘stuckness’. Addictions, behaviours, compulsions – they can all be ways our bodies and minds sometimes work to overcompensate for an outgrown defense which is keeping us stuck in an area of our life. My job is to help them through whatever is causing them to feel stuck. To get the feelings flowing again. Because once that starts happening again, we generally begin to start feeling better.
I guess that is why I love crying. And I love that therapist for letting me cry with her, for never trying to stop me. Because letting the crying happen is the only way to move through and feel better. Sometimes it takes a lot of tears because there is a lot to move through. I guess that could be why I am still crying, years later? Maybe I am crying my way through the old stuff, maybe I am crying for new things I am picking up along my way, and maybe I have no idea why I am crying at all? And that’s okay. It’s definitely okay to cry. In fact, more than okay – positively great to cry.