Bring back the tears.
I still remember the day I learned it was okay to cry — I was attending a parent talk at my daughter’s preschool by Deb MacNamara, PhD, clinical counsellor and author of best selling book “Rest, Play, Grow:Making Sense of Preschoolers”. She came to the part in her presentation where she was outlining something called “tears of futility” — essentially the path that frustration can take if one can feel the futility of the situation.
Really there’s nothing left to do to change anything but cry.
My revelation was, that the tears that are shed are actually important in order for the brain to rewire and find adaptation to the situation that can’t be changed and that the tears had a myriad of other stress reducing benefits.
As I contemplated this I literally welled up with tears myself as she spoke — it was as though I was being seen for the first time — and this person speaking was actually validating that it was okay to cry — in fact it was IMPORTANT to cry.
Growing up, crying was not okay. My parents had little room for tears — my dad would tell us “stop crying” or “no need to cry!” and my mom indirectly sent this message by trying to get me to stop crying by distracting me and “trying to make it all better”.
I don’t want to vilify my parents here — they were just doing what their family system taught them. For my Dad, living out a poverty-stricken childhood, the middle child of 7 kids — there was no room for tears. For my mom, “always finding the lighter and funny side” to everything was a way of coping with anxiety in her family system.
However I was a sensitive kid and things moved me to tears easily — I still vividly remember many times “swallowing” and holding back tears as they were not acceptable.
I tried so hard to keep myself from crying — I often gave myself the hiccups.
When Deborah validated my tears — it was like a leak had sprung in the dam. All my tears all these years had built up and had nowhere to go…. It made sense now that I developed a chronic serious depression in my 20s. Holding in all my frustration, with no outlet, the toxins that would have been released in crying, building up in my system… at it’s worst leading me down a path of suicidal ideation.
There are other factors that contributed to to my depression (of which I’ll speak to in future posts), however this piece was a huge part of my puzzle. I began a very slow and long process of re-introducing tears into my life…the biggest obstacle being the shame that I associated with crying. A kind of shame that sadly, our society today still enables by the messages we send about crying: that it’s a weakness; that tears should be hidden; that we should “grow a thicker skin” or “find the bright side” of things. I especially feel for the boys and men to whom this message is the strongest. We even get this message subliminally in marketing: J & J “No More TEARS Shampoo” or music: “Don’t Worry — Be Happy”.
We need never be ashamed of our tears.
And yet — historically and culturally tears have not always been so unacceptable- they’ve even been revered! In old Japanese culture, the Samurai who could find their tears in battle were considered true samurai; tears are also once thought of as a sign of holiness and in some cultures professional “mourners” can be hired at funerals. All of which speak to the “necessity” of tears. Tears are not only an important part of the grief process they are a means to finding resilience to the things that can’t be changed.
Practical reasoning aside, my intention here is to bring more tolerance and acceptance to an aspect of our humanity that has had a bad wrap. In my counsellor training program I feel as though I spent the first year crying all the time — even lamenting at one point that the tears would never stop…. so much was to be felt, grieved and adapted to.
Today I’ve not only come to accept my tears — I embrace them.
They are an expression of my compassion, vulnerability and humanity. More importantly, they have given me the gift of finding more resilience to life’s challenges. With my children, I welcome their tears — comforting them and holding them in this tender of place, keeping faith that just by holding space for their tears, I’m supporting the brain’s natural means to adapt to the things they can’t change. To my son specifically, I tell him, when he’s in tears:
“You know what I love about you buddy? I love that you’re not afraid to feel your feelings.”
That being said — part of emotional responsibility is finding the safe place to express and release — the truth is, it’s not safe to cry just anywhere/anytime. Yet we ALL need an end of the day… a place to finally have our cleansing and adaptive tears. We may need a tear-jerker movie, or a sad song… but most of all a place to have our tears accepted — even welcomed- exactly as they are by warm, loving empathetic arms.
What moves you to tears? And what KEEPS you from your tears?? — it’s time to let go… and find transformation on the other side.