There’s a story about an elderly man who became very depressed after the loss of his wife. Every day, a mother and her young boy would see this man, their neighbor, sitting on his front porch, just staring sadly into nowhere. For weeks, they witnessed concerned neighbors come and go, bringing food, offering their condolences, attempting conversation, but nothing seemed to break him out of his depressed state. Then one day when the mother and her son were out in their front yard, doing some gardening, the little boy wandered up on the old man’s front porch. He sat down on the man’s lap, flung his arms around his neck, and buried his head there. The boy’s mother stood nearby observing; she felt the need to monitor the situation, yet sensed she shouldn’t interrupt. Awhile later, the young boy wandered back over to his mother, leaving the old man smiling on his porch. The mother was astounded at the complete change in the man’s countenance and asked her son, “What did you say to him?” To which the boy shrugged and replied, “I didn’t say anything; I just helped him cry.”
Tears are a powerful tool for healing. Yet, I have met many, many people who are ashamed to cry.
Think for just a moment about how natural tears are: we come into this world crying. In the delivery room, it’s a hallmark of a healthy baby. Our culture squashes this very natural and even primal expression of emotion, and contributes to emotional constipation by promoting messages such as, big boys don’t cry; don’t be a cry baby; tough it out; and my personal favorite – not! – said while sporting a disgusted-looking face, are you crying?! Do we really say these things to one another? Sadly, yes. The obvious message in such language is that tears are for the weak. The younger a child is, the more easily he cries, until he internalizes that there is something wrong with it, because of the negative messages he receives about crying. Let’s change the message to something that’s actually helpful: Tears are for the emotionally healthy.
I am fascinated by human behavior. My desire to help people is what got me into the mental and behavioral health field. In order to help someone, you have to understand them first. Knowledge is the key to understanding, and maybe that’s why I love to learn too. I never stop questioning, wondering, inquiring. I am the perpetual curious child. I likely drove my parents and teachers crazy with my constant, why? Yes, I was that kid.
I’m going to ask you to be curious about yourself for a moment; in therapy, we call this, self-reflection. I want you to ask yourself one question: are you ashamed of your tears? Be honest. If the answer is yes, you may be emotionally constipated, and that is bad for your health. I could quote miles of studies that support that last statement, but you can google it if you really need the research to back it up.
Hope whispers, it’s okay to cry.
Do you want to be mentally and emotionally healthy? Then unclog those tear ducts, and let it flow! This may not be as easy as it sounds. Many people work so hard at holding back their emotions that when they actually want to unleash them, they aren’t physically able to. Emotional constipation can cause you physical problems too because crying is one of the body’s natural ways to release stress and lower blood pressure.
If you’re emotionally backed up, try this exercise to get unclogged: find a quiet spot free of noise and distractions, and allow your mind to wander freely to thoughts and feelings that you have been working hard to avoid. Give yourself permission to experience any feelings that surface. Sit with them. Don’t push them aside. Be curious about them. If you could describe your feelings, what would they look like? What color would they be? What shape would they take? What texture would you feel if you touched them? Imagine your feelings are tangible; this idea can make them easier to accept. And if you start to feel tears surfacing, don’t choke them back or push them down. Let them go!
I am a frequent flier, and there are benefits to this – better service with the airlines and extra miles. There are benefits to being a frequent crier too – better health and extra years of life! If you’re out of practice, this may take some time but once you clean out your emotional pipes, you will feel a new surge of energy and freedom. You will need regular emotional maintenance to keep them clean. Translated: cry regularly – emotional constipation is uncomfortable! There is a sense of relief, and even empowerment that comes with expressing your emotions. I cry when I’m happy; I cry when I’m sad. I cry when I’m fearful; I cry when I’m grateful. I cry all of the time, and I feel great! Things aren’t always great in my life, but I handle stress much better when my emotional pipes are clear. A few weeks ago I faced some unexpected and deeply distressing circumstances regarding a loved one, and I have allowed myself to cry freely as needed And you know what? I am handling the situation with a stronger, clearer head and heart; I am actually in less emotional pain than anticipated and I know it’s because I’m releasing it regularly, instead of storing it up.
Tears are a powerful healer. So is laughter. If you haven’t read my blogpost, Laughter Therapy: The New Prozac?, you can check out the health benefits of laughing here: http://www.voiceofhope.net/blog/entry/laughter-therapy-the-new-prozac
Emotional regulation is good for you – emotional constipation is bad for you! So, laugh, cry; express your emotions. Your mind, body, and spirit will all be healthier. If tears don’t come easy for you but laughter does, then just laugh until you cry and you can call it a day.