I Have a Reputation for Making People Cry
Or, how a sea of salty tears could save 7.442 billion lives
I have a reputation for making people cry.
It’s one of the few things of which I am most proud.
Frequently Heard Comments:
“I knew I shouldn’t have put on my eye makeup before coming here!”
“Two blocks from your office and the tears are flowing!”
“Sorry, I just used your last tissue.”
“My face feels strange … as if it’s wet ….”
“This doesn’t happen to me.”
“Will the crying ever stop? I can’t go back to my office like this!”
Sniffling. Sobbing. Weeping. Wailing. Keening. Screaming. I’ve heard it all.
Not everyone can take it.
Crying comes in many forms, facial expressions, body language, and vocal tones, and all of them pull at a sensitive, responsive heart. It should be a prerequisite for all mental health professionals to be empathetic, and have a sensitive, responsive heart. Most do.
What distinguishes honorable professionals from laypeople is that we’ve done our emotional healing work. We’ve connected with our personal history deep inside our own bodies. We’ve survived raw emotion and learned how to flow through it. We’ve cried. This gives us the capacity to care deeply for others while giving space for tears to flow. Because we know unimpeded tears are powerfully healing.
Friends and family are under the misguided impression that the sooner they stop you from crying, the sooner you’ll feel better. This is nonsense, of course. Actually, the sooner you stop crying, the quicker your friends and family stop feeling uncomfortable and helpless. Meanwhile, you’ve aborted your healthy catharsis and are stuck with rancid unwept tears festering inside you. Word of advice to friends and family: Tolerate your discomfort and open your arms to offer a hug. Absolutely do not say, “Don’t cry.”
Some people cry easily. Others not so much.
There are those who are mortified that no matter where they are, they cannot control their tears. Others are emotionally constipated. In my experience, being a leaky faucet is preferable. At least your heart is open and your physiologically is flowing. Believe it or not, your vulnerability is good for society. So rather than feeling embarrassed, try to know that your tender heart makes you a good role model and a compassionately healing force.
People who find it difficult to cry are in a similar predicament to those who cannot achieve orgasm. They range from numbed out to the ability to get close, but not actually climax. When you need to cry and the tears won’t come, there’s an emotional and hormonal logjam in your body.
My job as a psychotherapist was to help people feel safe enough to pour their hearts out to me rather than drink too much or slice open a vein. Frequently this involved crying. Those who cried got better more quickly than those who did not. I think crying helps you complete a cycle. You hurt, you cry, you experience relief. Rinse and repeat until you cleanse the painful emotion, and the story which accompanies it, from your system. The story will remain, but your relationship to it changes.
Same Story, Much Happier Ending.
When I was 16, my father gave me a 10 pm curfew. The first time I put it to the test, I made sure to arrive home five minutes early. I walked in the house at 9:55 pm and my dad was agitatedly pacing around the living room. I smiled at him, pleased that I had followed his rules to the letter. My nature was cooperative and I had no desire to rebel or cause trouble. Despite this, my dad tapped his watch vigorously and said loudly, “You’re cutting it too close!”
Although my heart beat faster and an inner protest flooded my system, there was no room for me to point out the injustice. My father’s intensity insisted that I was the one who was wrong. This led to a dysfunctional pattern of self-doubt and second-guessing myself.
Years later, when I told this story to my psychotherapist, I could feel the cognitive dissonance and emotional discord I was carrying. But I didn’t know how to sort it out. My therapist listened. I expected to him to side with my father, even though that made no sense. My therapist understood my plight as a 16-year-old with an authoritarian father. He let me know he believed me. I started to realize that when my father didn’t believe I was justified in my decisions, I stopped believing in myself. What happened next?
Only after crying, and more crying, did my mind clear and my body release the misplaced guilt I had been carrying. The story that had been trapped in my psyche, my heart, my muscles, my gut, and my cells rewrote itself.
Instead of me being the guilty daughter with poor judgment, I became the considerate, reliable, cooperative, responsible, gracious and dependable daughter who had been misjudged due to my father’s fears and flaws. This boosted my self-esteem in crucial ways. It was a liberating, empowering insight, deserving of tears. Tears of joy. If you can’t cry the painful tears, chances are you’ll never enjoy tears of gratitude, wonder, beauty and joy.
Most people apologize when they cry, as if they’re hurting me in some way. Far from it. What a relief it is for me to witness you letting it out. I believe if all men cried freely, violence would end. Their hearts would be pliable rather than calloused. Hormones self-regulate after a good cry. Less cortisol. More serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. Less pent-up aggression. More natural tranquility and healthy self-expression.
You could call this the feminine aspect of human nature. It would profoundly alter how politics and business are conducted. These systems would become circular rather than hierarchical; ruled by consensus rather than self-seeking greed and self-serving power.
Save 7.442 Billion Lives
We are all connected energetically. Let’s pray that the hearts of those in power soften so that they may cry. This includes world leaders, political honchos, corporate decision-makers, outliers and entrepreneurs, union bosses, gangster and mob kingpins, crime lords, terrorist factions, and military brass. Crying melt the internal body armor they rely on in order to remain heartless. May they cry, not just for their own, not bitter tears that lead to revenge, but enlightened tears that reveal all human hearts are the same; tears of wisdom that make obvious that to wound another is to wound yourself.
Most therapists proffer tissues.
Tissues are usually an intrusion. Once in a while a soft tissue seen through blurry peripheral vision is a symbol of kindness. But more often than not, it pushes in too soon, showing that even the therapist is unattuned to the rhythm and flow of the person’s needs.
Especially for a person who has difficulty accessing their tears, they need breathing room for the inner saline production pump to get going. When a person is dry and crusty from lack of tears, it takes subtle attunement to discern whether a kind hand on the shoulder, perhaps, will turn on the spigot … or inadvertently tighten it back up.
It takes finesse to notice that most humans, while crying, benefit from the sensation of tears welling in the corners of their eyes, overflowing the rims of their lids, then spreading across their cheeks or running down along their nose. Salt water, seeping into one’s mouth, is an elixir. The face becomes a riverbed, dispersing tears in waterfalls as the body and soul is relieved of grief, betrayal, shock, distrust, and so much more.
The patterns of teardrops on your face maps out new life possibilities that a good psychotherapist can help you decipher, like a fortune teller reading the lines on the palm of your hand. As you heal, you begin to know that love is the greatest cure for everything. And one day, when you’ve allowed yourself to receive the love you need, you’ll overflow with love for another. And another. And another. And you will find they love you right back.
The Sweetest Privilege
It is the sweetest privilege to be the one who witnesses your tears. Your trust is priceless. My ability to be present, absorb your pain, and yet remain unharmed, is the greatest gift I can give you. To see for yourself that it is possible to release family secrets, the parts of yourself you deemed too shameful, the “failures” and the losses … this is what relationships are for. This is what your heart is for. And this is why, when just the thought of me reduces you to tears, I say, “Thank you” rather than “I’m sorry.”
As a Gestalt psychotherapist turned Transformation Coach, and an AWA Certified Creative Writing Teacher, I’ve developed unique ways for you to delve deep, find your inner truth, and the courage to express yourself in the world before it’s too late.