To those who want to cry but can’t: Here’s How.
Shower, 10:00pm. I feel the drizzling beads break against my skin, as refreshing negative ions burst into the air (negative ions are healthy; positive ions are not). My newly installed water purifier bulges out the base of my shower head, catching mercury, lead, pharmaceuticals, and a host of other things.
My neck hurts, and I make sure the flow is directed there. It’s been tight for a couple weeks, and all I’ve wanted to do is stretch it and massage it—which helps—but the pain always comes back. I imagine it could be an old whiplash injury, or the tilted plate at the back of my skull. Yet these seem far off. I sense something else is happening.
I recall that I’ve been trying to cry for weeks, making modest attempts here and there—most of them fruitless. Mostly, I try a few moans and press my thumb and middle finger into the corner of my eyes to encourage a few droplets to ring out. I can get the sounds out, even feel a pulse of melancholy in the pit of my solar plexus, but I know I have not actually shed tears or released the sadness that flows with them.
It’s like this most of the time.
Why can’t I cry? Why can’t we cry when we want to?
Crying is operationally defined when tears flow, when sounds flow, and to stop it is painful. Crying is an act that reaches a natural conclusion, like an avalanche loosed upon a slope after a critical tipping point of mass and momentum, before a mountain of snow settles on everything below.
My crying hurt because it wasn’t crying, because it couldn’t start. Like the shower head, my neck was full of emotive muck. I’m blocked. I’m getting angry and losing energy more than usual. Not even the images of past hurts, betrayals, torn family, or deaths can spill me over to my grief. It’s as if I’d rather sleep, yell, fidget, or think really hard about something negative. Anything but cry (even though I want to)!
Eventually, with great relief, I did cry. Just after, the pain in my neck went away, and this is what I learned:
Crying is a commitment. While attempting to moan out a few liquid jewels, I realized my mind wandered, sometimes viciously, toward fantasies, sounds in the room, memories, sensations of the skin, or future anxieties. I realized that I had to take this seriously, and swallow the fact my commitment to cry can, in some ways, reflect my commitment to other ventures in my life that prove challenging. I knew I had to take it seriously and cut out the fringe material. The Zen art of crying.
Crying alone is something that takes time for many people. When I look back, my most potent watersheds took place in the company of others. There is something about the reflection of light off another person’s eye, or the way their face appears when they see you going for it. What I have found, without question, is that others are grateful for your tears. They want them, because it helps them feel human, like they are safe to be around, and it validates their own future tears. Sometimes having tears witnessed is more important than the tears themselves.
To start, locate the epicenter within the body. Somatic Psychotherapy (a.k.a body centered psychotherapy) has risen to great heights in the past decade due to the fact that people are finding more health when they connect to this wonderful mass of tissue, bone, and nerve below their necks. If one wishes to wail, the “knot” must be located (usually in the torso or neck). One must become acutely aware of that spot, and unwaveringly step into it, like forging ahead on a journey.
I have heard that sadness works differently from gender to gender. It has been said that when men are angry, they are actually sad, and that the opposite is for women. I can’t say how true this is, but I can claim that anger has turned into sadness many times for me. When anger comes first, sometimes there is enough force there to swell a good cry, if you can sink into it.
The Western world is very mind/intellect oriented. Sometimes we need to find a specific thought, which acts like a key to shed tears. It could be “I really miss him or her,” or “I just wish that person could have loved me the way I wanted to be loved,” or “he or she was so mean to me, even after I gave them everything.” There are thoughts that remove log jams and allow us to face our emotional reality through the portal of the mind.
What are your ways into tears? Watching a certain movie? Visiting a beautiful spot in the countryside? Do your dreams help you to cry? I would love to hear from you.
Photo Credit: Getty Images