crying

The Healing Power of Tears

 

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

 

Tears have a complicated place in our society. Have you ever had a good cry, and felt (strangely) a little bit better afterwards?  Well, there is a scientific reason why that is the case.

In 2010, photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher worked on an amazing photography project called Topography of Tears. In this multi-year long project, she collected and examined more than 100 human tears under a microscope.  Among others, she studied tears shed while laughing, grieving, and responding to change, as well as basal tears (those meant to keep the eye lubricated) and reflex tears (those that respond to an irritant in the eye).

Fascinatingly, Fisher found that the appearance of tears is different based on what elicits them; and not only is their appearance different, but the physical composition also varies – most notably, emotional tears contain the neurotransmitter leucine encephalin, a natural painkiller that is released when the body is under stress to help improve one’s mood.

 

Our physical bodies are so intricately connected to our emotions that a chemical is released to help heal us emotionally when we cry!

 

So this remarkable discovery makes me wonder – when we view crying as weakness, what are we really doing? Why do we have a tendency in our culture, as well as other cultures, to view crying as something to be squelched, and prohibit our bodies from naturally responding to distress? What kind of healing are we missing out on?  It seems that we are rejecting the very thing that can actually physically aid in our healing!  If this is you, what does it look like to let those tears flow? What do you need or to believe in order to do that?

{A Smithsonian article describing Fisher’s project in more detail can be found here – I encourage you to read the whole thing!}

 

Feeling your Feelings

Feeling your Feelings

 By Jonathan e. Hart, LPC

Human emotions are unpredictable, complex, surprising things.

Feelings. We all have them.  It can be confusing when we don’t understand the feeling we are experiencing, or why we are even experiencing it in the first place.  Often the feeling doesn’t seem to match the scenario that triggered it.

We humans seem rarely to question our emotions.  They exist as reflexes.  They occur without our choice or invitation.  When we don’t understand them, we usually try to rationalize them away or turn them off.  This gets us into trouble more often than not, because simply not feeling our emotional reflexes is like trying not to kick when the doctor thumps us at the knee with the little mallet.   

The discipline that will help understand our emotional reflexes is to practice feeling them.  Learn what they physiologically feel like.  Does it burst or contract?  Does it rise or fall?  Does it feel like a flutter or a weight? Do I get hot or cold in my face, hands, etc.?  Where in my body do I feel it?  What does it make me want to do?   

This may seem silly, but all of our emotions have a physiological component.  We talk about our bodies and our minds and our feelings as though they are separate things.  We do this because we have to in order to be able to talk about them and learn about them.  But body, heart, and mind are all one thing.   

Think about the last time you got startled.  Chances are you jumped or twitched somehow.  Your heart rate accelerated and you experienced a sharp intake of breath.  You did not choose these things.  They happened.  They are the physiological component of the feeling of fear.  It passed quickly enough when you realized that there was no real danger, but they happened nonetheless.

Slowing down and taking the time to feel our feelings is particularly difficult when the feeling that is present is a negative one like fear or anger or loss.  

This process requires us to sit in the feeling, to allow it to exist without making it better.  This process requires the work of deliberately NOT managing the feeling, but rather observing it in order to understand it.

When we do this, we gain an edge.  We cultivate the skill of awareness.  We will more quickly recognize the feeling when it arises again, and more quickly be able to understand ourselves.  We gain a delay between when we feel and what we do next.  We can use this delay to make a conscious, careful choice about our next step rather than simply doing what the feeling tells us to do.  Particularly in relationship, this thoughtful choice can be the difference between a healthy, responsible interaction and a reactive, destructive one.  

In order to begin learning how to do this, take a moment and think about a mild emotion.  Don’t start with a really big feeling.  Think about the physical feel of it.  Cultivate an understanding of this physiological component, and pay attention.  You might be surprised by how often you feel that same feeling in other places.

When you’ve got a bit of practice with this, you can begin working on larger feelings, like the ones that rise up around conflict or arguments.  Again, slow down and pay attention.  You may be surprised by what you learn.

How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

Smile, Pout-Pout Fish…Or Don’t: How a Children’s Book Made Me Think About Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

by Melinda Seley, PLPC

Do the books we read to our children cultivate emotional intelligence, or communicate subtle messages discouraging awareness and honest expression of feelings?

Smile, Mr. Fish! You look so down. With your glum-glum face and your pout-pout frown. No need to be worried. No need to be sad. No need to be scared. No need to be mad! How about a smooch? And a cheer-up wish? Now you look happy: what a smile, Mr. Fish!

Of all the books my little one loves, this one most often gets relentlessly stuck in my head! With its well-crafted rhyme and adorable pictures, it captivates its little (and big) audience quite well. But the subtle message of the book has always made me a bit uneasy: you shouldn’t be sad, worried, or scared; there, you’re happy, that’s acceptable and good.  I realize there is a strong possibility that I am over-analyzing the book, but at the same time, I think subtle messages like this are important to be mindful of – both that we have been taught and that we are passing along to our kids (or nieces/nephews, friends’ kids, etc.).

If taken too far, a child can internalize that the only acceptable emotion is to be happy…which will have great consequences in his or her ability cultivate emotional intelligence and to healthily navigate life.

Accordingly, I found this article, published by the Gottman Institute, to be very helpful in identifying the following three do’s and don’ts for developing a child’s emotional intelligence:

  • Do recognize negative emotions as an opportunity to connect. Don’t punish, dismiss, or scold your child for being emotional.

    Do help your child label their emotions. — Don’t convey judgment or frustration.

  • Do set limits and problem-solve. — Don’t underestimate your child’s ability to learn and grow.

 

Given these guides, perhaps a helpful re-write of the book might read like this:

Hey, Mr. Fish, you look so down. With your glum, glum face and your pout, pout frown. Come sit beside me, I see your broken toy has made you sad. I would be, too, if it was the favorite toy I had. It’s okay to cry, it’s okay to be mad. But we cannot hit and we cannot squeal. How else can you show the sadness you feel?

 

 

 

Permission Slips for the New Mom

by: Kim Hammans, PLPC

shutterstock_139543490

There are times in life that invoke extreme emotion and their impact tends to leave us forever changed as people. The birth of a child is certainly one of those times.

Having just come back from my own maternity leave, I find myself reflecting on how intense these past few weeks with a newborn have been. I have experienced all-consuming joy. Looking into my new little one’s eyes and cradling his little body brings thankfulness and awe into my heart. But there have also been painfully lonely feelings, too. Some moments I have been so tired I cannot think straight and so overwhelmed with emotions that I am not sure which one is accurate and which one to trust.

As women, we often feel we must get back on our feet, returning to “normal” as quickly as possible. Taking the time to heal— physically and emotionally— can feel like a luxury we cannot afford ourselves. So when the emotions hit us (and who can escape the hormonal roller coaster after giving birth?) we often feel a lot of pressure to get it under control and make it stop. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we treat ourselves this way.

During my own recovery, I was reminded of Brene Brown’s technique of writing yourself permission slips when doing something that is scary. Brown is the author of several books, one entitled, The Gifts of Imperfection. She hosted an e-course based on this book, in which she invited her students to write their own permission slips as they face doing something new. I applied her wisdom to my postpartum recovery. Some of these “permissions” were easier for me to believe in the moment than others. But through time I have found all of them to be true.

If you are about to welcome a baby into your life, or support someone who is, I offer the following list of permissions to you:

1. It’s okay to cry.

For some, this is easy. Tears just come. But for others, tears can be a source of shame. Your feelings and your emotions during this time are real, and holding them in will not help you in the long run. After my first son was born, I remember a guest coming to my home to visit both of us. I burst into tears when she asked me how I was doing. She embraced me and simply said, “This is normal and this is real life. It is okay to cry.” I experienced such freedom from those words. This truth helped me to embrace my tears and I actually felt lighter after getting some of the tears out.

2. It’s okay to ask for help.

You need to focus your energy on recovery and on bonding with and enjoying your new baby. Lean in to the people around you. Let !them help you. Let them cook you meals, fold your laundry, play with your older kids, and worry about the dishes, bills, and other chores. When people ask you what you need, don’t be afraid to accept their help. Raising a baby takes a community, and this starts from the very beginning. If you don’t have people immediately able to help you, consider hiring help: a housecleaner, a babysitter, or a postpartum doula are good people to consider.

3. It’s okay to rest.

Taking time to sleep is essential for your healing. There is no shame in allowing your body to relax and doing nothing but caring for yourself and your new baby.

4. It’s okay to enjoy the newborn phase.

If you are a mom who loves babies, enjoy it. Soak up every yawn, every adorable face and amazing sound your baby makes. Snuggle and enjoy every aspect of your baby.

5. …And its okay if you don’t enjoy this time so much.

If on the other hand you are finding it hard to enjoy the baby, relax. It is okay. It does not mean you are a terrible mom. This phase is hard. The sleeplessness and the newness to everything can be exhausting and terrifying and completely overwhelming. There is nothing wrong with you if you do not enjoy this phase.

6. It’s okay to not know what you are doing.

Ah, competence. I don’t think I knew how much I relied upon feeling competent until I felt utterly incompetent in the presence of a new little life. It is normal to not know what you are doing. It is okay. Breathe.

7. It’s okay to focus on your needs.

New mom, you matter. Your healing matters. It is okay to take breaks, to find time for yourself, to take an extra long shower, and to do things to help yourself recover. Do not neglect yourself: eat meals. Sleep. Rest.

8. It’s okay for things to be imperfect, messy, and incomplete.

Speak kindly to yourself as you enter a whole new phase of life. It will not be perfect. Things will be messy and hard. Your relationship with your partner will probably be strained. You may not be able to care for your other kids in the way you typically do. It will be okay. This is only a season, and it is okay for it to look messy— both literally (there is stuff on my kitchen floor that has been there for weeks!) as well as relationally and emotionally.

9. It’s okay to seek professional help.

When the feelings become intense, when the fears consume, and when the pressure feels palpable, it is okay to reach out for help. Talk to your doctor. Find a therapist. Do not go at it alone.

What permissions would you add for yourself?

Good Tears?

Good Tears? Is there such a thing?

 

I went for probably 20 years without shedding a single tear. It’s not that I never had reason to do so. I had plenty of sad or powerful things happen in my world in those times, and I even felt as though there were moments when I could have cried, but the tears would not come.
That has changed. My tears have been unleashed. It’s starting to worry me.
There have been many things recently that have moved me deeply, and my tears have fallen. It was as I drove through the smoky mountains with my family recently and found myself once again moved to tears that I realized several things all at once.

  1. I have driven here before, many years ago, and I was not moved to tears.
  2. I was in as much wonder and awe then as I am now.
  3. I’m crying a lot lately. It’s starting to feel like I’m crying “too much”.
  4. I’m not crying because I‘m sad.
  5. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is perfectly appropriate.
  6. Crying in awe and wonder at this massive and overwhelming beauty is richer than not crying.

Somewhere in the back of my head and deep in the recesses of my heart there is still a voice that says tears are risky and vulnerable, that crying means I’m a “wuss” or a “pansy” (these are old words, and I know they are not appropriate in common usage, but they are the words that are there).

There is a lot in culture that reinforces this. My tween-aged son talked about “man-screaming” on a roller coaster recently. He demonstrated gripping the safety bar and clenching his face and teeth without making a sound. He was proud of the fact that he resisted the urge to scream, but it kept him from “cutting loose”. Crying is often seen as weakness. Even the picture above shows a very stoic kind of tears. Sometimes mine look like this.

Crying a lot feels defective.

But these are good tears. These are tears of delight and wonder, of the overwhelming perception of beauty, of physically seeing and experiencing a fabulous reality that boggles the mind, of realizing that what I am in the midst of feels like a fantasy painting but it actually exists and I am here in it.

 

I spent 20 years not crying because I had refused to become vulnerable. I had been trained by many people that to become vulnerable in this way would mean physical and emotional punishment. I had buried other pains and refused to weep over them. I would not be touched or moved beyond my own control.

 

My inability to weep over pain robbed me of the experience of weeping in joy and wonder. We as humans are wired for emotional experience, and we are wired to weep. We cannot turn off one kind of tears without turning them all off. I could not weep at beauty because I could not weep at my pain.

I have been tackling my pain with the help of friends, colleagues, and of course with the help of my own therapist. The releasing of those tears of pain has released many other tears. Good tears. Tears that I relish and love for their potency and magnitude.

These tears of wonder and beauty often surprise me. They catch me up and sweep me away. I could stop them up, but I have learned not to. Let them come. They are good and beautiful… and vulnerable, uncontrolled. In the back of my head, sometimes I think, “Really?! I’m going to cry about this?”

Yes, I suppose I am. And I am thankful.

By Jonathan E. Hart, LPC

Some Thoughts About Grief

After several years of learning about grief, and being reminded of its power recently through a painful experiences, I thought I would share some thoughts about grief with you that I have had.

Avenues Counseling

 

Here are some things I have learned about grief –

1.  It is powerful.  More powerful then you so don’t fight it.

2.  It must run its course.  You can’t make the pain stop and you can’t circumvent it.  You must go through it.

3.  The duration of grief is undefinable.  At first it will remain present for days or a week – a non-stop presence.  But then it may get a bit tricky because it will come and go as it pleases.

4.  It is exhausting.  You will likely have a headache, your chest will ache from the crying, your body will feel like you just ran a marathon.  You will walk slower, talk slower, think slower, BE slower because you are so tired from the grief.

5.  You won’t think clearly.  Your brain will feel foggy.  You may catch yourself staring at a wall for an unknown amount of time.  Its okay.  You’re okay.  Grieving won’t last forever even though it feels like it will when you’re in the midst of it.

6.  Your motivation will diminish.  Since you are so tired and worn out from your grief, doing normal mundane tasks will likely feel like someone just told you to go climb mount everest.  The laundry will stack-up, the dishes will sit in the sink, showering may happen less often.

7.  Reengaging in “normal” life will take time.

Be nice to yourself and don’t pressure yourself by saying silly things like, “I should be done grieving now.  I should really be over this loss by now.  I have got to stop being sad.”

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

 

Presents verses Presence

By:  Lianne Johnson

Thinking back on my own separation and ultimate divorce I realize I needed people to offer me both presents and presence.

As I look back to these hards years for me I remember that I was unable to “give” anything to others. If a friend was in crisis I had no energy left to offer a meal, take her kids and give her a break, run errands for her, or just sit with her, etc.  I had nothing to offer because I was trying to get through my own day – get the kids ready for school, remember to pack their lunches, remember what time school actually started so they were on time, get to work and make sure to shower since I hadn’t in days, oh and then I needed to feed them dinner at the end of the day. It took all of my energy to get done the mundane, everyday, habitual tasks that were before me as a newly single mother who was (and still am) in the midst of trying to make sense of my new life situation and heal.

Help
As I look back on this season of my life when I was in crisis – being separated for a year and a half and then divorcing, coming to grips with the reality of things that had taken place, I was broken.

I realize now that I needed two types of people during my own crisis – those who offered “presents” and those who offered their “presence.”

By “presents” I mean people who could offer me help with – food, errands, my kids, dishes, cleaning, laundry, etc.  Sadly, when I was in my crisis I was unable to function.  Perhaps you have experienced something like this yourself.  Life moved slower then it ever had before.  It was like my life had become a movie put on pause but then someone pushed play, but it was slow play.  You know, when the movie still plays but the frames move slower…and for about a year or so my engagement with life was s…l…o…w.

The other type of friends I absolutely needed were those that offered me their “presence.”  They sat with me.  Sometimes for hours they simply sat with me as I cried or stared blankly at a wall.  They watched movies with me, ate with me, they were present.  Nothing was required of them but to simply “be” with me.  Sometimes we talked but most of the time it was quiet.  I desperately needed these friends while in my crisis just as much as I needed those friends who fed me, and helped me get through the mundane necessary tasks in a day.

So perhaps you are in a hard season of life and you have no “presents” to offer, and that’s okay.  Offering your “presence” to your friend may be the very thing they need.

 Or maybe as you read this you are in a season in which you cannot offer either “presents” or “presence,” and that’s okay too.  Trust me as I speak from experience – this season will pass for you and slowly you will be able to give to others.

When You Know You Need a Good Cry

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

I recently came across this blog post and thought it was worth sharing.  On a broader note….Hope and Healing is a blog I follow that you may also enjoy.  The blogger is Lundy Bancroft.  He specializes in working with victims and survivors of domestic violence, abuse, and trauma.

Here is his post I want to share with you… (sorry the below formatting isn’t the best)

WHEN YOU KNOW YOU NEED A GOOD CRY

                I wrote a previous post about the powerful healing role that crying can play, especially if you can train yourself to cry hard and long. Many women who have heard me speak about this subject have said to me, “There are times when I can tell that I need to cry, because I’ve built up so much pent-up emotions, but I can’t do it. How do I get that cry to come out of me when it’s stuck?”
                There are several techniques to use to get that dam to break:
  •  Make a crying date with yourself, where you actually set aside time and find a way to be alone. Tears are much more likely to come when you know you won’t have to choke them right back off again.
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  • Collect some of the music that has brought you to tears before. Listening to your favorite sad or touching song can be a great way to get your crying started; and once the ice breaks, you’ll move on soon to crying about issues that have been weighing on you.
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  • Spend some time thinking about memories from long ago. It’s usually easier to start crying about sadnesses from far in the past. 
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  • Let your crying take you where it wants to go. Sometimes you will be sad about an old loss, and suddenly you’ll find that instead you’re crying about an event from yesterday. The opposite will happen also, where tears about a recent emotional wound carry you into deep sobbing about a much earlier period in your life. Don’t fight this process; your soul knows exactly which piece it needs to grieve today. 
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  • Photographs can be powerful for evoking emotion. So can certain passages from books, pieces of poetry, or scenes from movies. Draw on whatever gets you going.
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  • If you have a trusted friend, see if she would sit with your or hold you while you cry. Similarly, you can imagine your best friend or closest relative sitting with you even if you are actually crying by yourself, and that image can help the tears flow.
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  • Anger can help to unlock crying. Yell into a pillow or pound on couch cushions, and keep at it for a long time, ten or fifteen minutes or more. Try to make yourself feel powerful; the more your rage comes from a place of power, the more likely it is to unleash your tears.
                Almost anyone can cry (especially among women), but not many people can cry deeply and at length except by training themselves to do so. In other words, learning to cry is a skill, like studying an instrument or developing your athletic abilities. The more effort you put in the deeper the rewards.
If you’re interested in reading more from Lundy Bancroft here you go…  http://lundybancroft.blogspot.com