It happens all of the time.
She begins to talk about the events of the past week with seemingly little emotional attachment to them. As she continues to talk about the challenges she has been facing, her speech steadily begins to slow and her gaze gradually moves downward towards the floor.
She begins to experience an unconscious battle of trying to decide how much emotion to release and, in turn, how much to show.
She shifts her eyes up towards the ceiling, lets out a deep sigh, and says “damn it, I didn’t want to cry today. Now I’m going to ruin my make-up!”
My heart fills with so much compassion and empathy in these moments that sometimes it feels like my heart is going to burst.
I get it.
I know what she’s going through.
It might seem silly to some, or maybe even ridiculous, but something as trite or vain as messing up our make-up from crying can be a big deal.
We don’t want others to see that we might not have it all together all of the time.
We don’t want others to see how much it hurts.
We don’t want others to see that what we look like on the outside just might be a reflection of how we feel on the inside.
No one can know that. That’s too exposed. That’s too open to judgment and ridicule. That’s too vulnerable.
However, in these moments, something beautiful starts to happen. The decision to let it out is oftentimes so minute and so quick that you might miss it if you’re not looking for it.
She begins to let go. She begins to let in. She begins to break down. She begins to put down the heavy burden she has been carrying with her everywhere she goes. Always putting on a brave face for the kids, her significant other, her boss, her friends, her colleagues, etc.
It. Is. Exhausting.
She begins to connect with her human-ness and experience sweet release. She feels freer, lighter, and open. It was as if all she needed was for someone to simply give her permission to feel and she blossoms like a lotus flower.
Her eyes are so full that tears can't help but fall down her face. She hides her face in her hands while her shoulders shrug up and down as she sobs.
And in this moment, she is truly beautiful.
Experiences such as these are significant in that it is a representation of the various threats to emotional health and well-being that are ever-present and all around us.
For the strong, warrior matriarch, or alpha female, black streaks of mascara streaming down our face is typically a sign of weakness. That we’ve been defeated. That we’re less than, not dependable, crazy, over emotional, hysterical, not to be taken seriously, or unreliable.
I can’t even begin to articulate how toxic and damaging this is to the psyche of a woman. It is within our nature to be nurturing and emotional creatures and when we deny our nature, we create imbalance. This imbalance should not be taken lightly as it begins to have a domino effect on those around us.
Emotional stuffing, or refusing to let feelings out, becomes contagious – it becomes the norm and it infiltrates our culture. We become more stoic, lose emotional intelligence from lack of use, compassion fades, empathy goes out the door, wars rage, hate dominates.
I don’t mind reminding clients that it is ok to cry. In fact, I encourage it. For many, therapy is the only place that they can truly let it all out and let go. And thank God for that!
My office is a sanctuary and my couch is a sacred collective source of comfort.
Some people go to therapy to learn how to feel. Others go to try to learn how to feel less while others desire to learn how to feel more.
Whatever the reason, I am humbled by the opportunity each client gives me to know them in the most intimate of ways and entrusting me to provide them with a safe space.
It is my belief that all of the world’s problems could be solved if we all had a safe space where we are free to be our true selves, free of judgment, and crying was as normal as breathing.
Crying is a natural bodily response. It is what our bodies are designed to do.
When we deny ourselves this natural mechanism it is as if we are telling our bodies “no thanks, I’d rather self-soothe in unnatural ways and remain sick/stuck/unwell/unhappy/dissatisfied/etc.”
Let’s look at the types of tears and benefits of crying.
There are three types of tears:
1) Reflex – these tears allow your eyes to clear out noxious particles when they’re irritated by smoke or exhaust.
2) Continuous - keep our eyes lubricated, these contain a chemical called “lysozyme” which functions as an anti-bacterial and protects our eyes from infection. Tears also travel to the nose through the tear duct to keep the nose moist and bacteria free. Typically, after crying, our breathing, and heart rate decrease, and we enter into a calmer biological and emotional state.
3) Emotional – these types of tears differ from the others as they shed stress hormones and toxins associated with stress.
Benefits of Crying:
1) Detoxifies the body
2) Helps self-soothe – when we cry, we activate the parasympathetic nervous system which helps us to relax
3) Dulls pain – crying for longer periods of time helps to release oxytocin and other endogenous opioids, also known as endorphins. These hormones help to ease physical and emotional pain (Fun Fact – the brain literally doesn’t know the difference between physical and emotional pain)!
4) Improves Mood - When you sob, you take in many quick breaths of cool air. Breathing in cooler air can help regulate and even lower the temperature of your brain. A cool brain is more pleasurable to your body and mind than a warm brain. As a result, your mood may improve after a sobbing episode.
5) Helps you recover from grief - Grieving is a process. It involves periods of sorrow, numbness, guilt, and anger. Crying is particularly important during periods of grieving. It may even help you process and accept the loss of a loved one.
6) Restores emotional balance - Crying doesn’t only happen in response to something sad. Sometimes you may cry when you are extremely happy, scared, or stressed. Researchers at Yale University believe crying in this way may help to restore emotional equilibrium. When you’re incredibly happy or scared about something and cry, it may be your body’s way to recover from experiencing such a strong emotion.
So the next time you are feeling sad, angry, frustrated, depressed, anxious, or the like remember that not only is it healthy to cry, it is a natural biological process.
And to all of you strong, beautiful women out there, I see you. I hear you. And I love you.
Come sit on my couch and ruin your make-up anytime!
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