Welcoming tears is a new concept for most of us. Tears are often not welcomed in our culture, our communities, or in our families. We demonstrate this in obvious ways when we tell children not to cry, or when we rush to get tissues when someone starts to cry. We give the person crying the message, “That’s enough.” I always cringe when a parent tells their crying and distressed child, “You’re fine!” I don’t know about you, but I am not usually crying when I am “fine.”
I was called “too sensitive” as a child and heard those familiar refrains of “quit crying,” or “I’ll give you something to cry about.” Long before I was a mother, I did years of work to welcome my own feelings. It’s so easy to replay those old messages in your head – those old ideas we have about things from our childhood. They feel true because we heard them so often.
When, finally, someone not only welcomed my tears, but told me that it was good for me to cry, I didn’t stop crying for six months. A friend lovingly called me “beautiful weeping willow” and hugged me each time the tears came. I cried at home, at church, at restaurants, with friends and even at the gym. The tears would come because as Glennon Doyle says, “I’m not a mess, but a deeply feeling person in a messy world. When someone asks me why I cried so often, I say, ‘Because I am paying attention.'” I felt like I was crying out all of the tears that I had pushed down for all of those years. There I was, 27 years old with a torrent of tears coming out of me, and feeling like they would never stop. But they always subsided. I came to terms with tears over the next six months – it didn’t feel like I had a choice really. I was saturated – literately and figuratively.
As most of you know, I love research. Looking at the science of tears was very reassuring in understanding why we cry and how it helps our body, mind, and spirit. In Aletha Souter’s “Understanding Tantrums and Tears,” she shares, “Dr. William Frey, a biochemist in Minnesota, has researched the chemical content of human tears. One of the substances found in tears was the stress hormone ACTH. Thus it is possible that shedding tears helps to reduce excessive amounts of ACTH and perhaps other substances that accumulate following a stressful event. Dr. Frey has suggested that the purpose of emotional crying may be to remove waste products from the body, similar to other excretory processes such as urinating, defecating, exhaling, and sweating. Frey’s conclusion is that ‘we may increase our susceptibility to a variety of physical and psychological problems when we suppress our tears.’” Crying not only removes toxins from the body but also reduces tension. Studies on adults in psychotherapy have found lower blood pressure, pulse rate, and body temperature in patients immediately following therapy sessions during which they cried and raged. Similar changes were not observed in a control group of people who merely exercised for an equivalent period of time.
Researchers have looked at the relationship between crying and physical health. Studies have found that healthy people cry more and have a more positive attitude about crying than do people who suffer from ulcers or colitis. Other studies have shown that therapy involving high levels of crying leads to significant psychological improvement. Those patients who did not express their feelings in this manner during therapy tended not to improve, while those patients who did frequently cry in therapy experienced changes for the better.
These different areas of research all indicate that crying is a healing mechanism that allows people to cope with stress and trauma. Crying can be considered a natural repair kit with which every child is born. People of all ages cry because they need to, not because they are “spoiled” or immature.”
Now I can proclaim my tearfulness as one of my best qualities. I am paying attention. I feel. I feel all of it. When I realize that I am crying, or just before it starts, I can say, “Oh, here come the tears!” This happens when I share something hard or something joyful. I am now unphased by my own tears, with no judgment. They are simply a product of the human experience.
This acceptance makes me well suited for all of my jobs – being a mother, a hospice social worker, and a parenting coach. Tears flow freely in all of these areas of my life. People often apologize for crying. I tell them, “I welcome your tears. They are my bread and butter!” They show me you are IN your feelings, not avoiding them or trying to intellectualize them. I am particularly suited for mothering my daughter who embraces and allows her tears to flow with the same passion as I do. Her tears soften me and they level the playing field. They are proof we are both human beings who feel deeply. If I had one goal for my daughter, it would be that she continues to feel all of her feelings. We can avoid so many challenges, today and in the future, if we just welcome the tears.
How can you welcome tears today?