We don’t know a lot about why we cry and even less about why some people don’t cry. There have been a lot of misconceptions throughout history about crying. Sadness and sorrow are necessary experiences in life. Yet, we often avoid them or apologize for feeling that way. How can we gain clarity from our grief and find meaning from our suffering? We talk about the science of crying and what it means to for you in your life if you are. Are you crying, and if not, what that does that fact suggest? Should you be crying?
TRANSCRIPT: The Science of Crying
This is the Thanks for Sharing Podcast, the podcast where we explore all things, recovery, healing, and relationship. Remember to subscribe and download episodes in the iTunes Store, Google Play or on the Podbean app and while you’re there, I’d love a review.
Hi everyone, welcome to Thanks for Sharing, I’m your host Jackie Pack. Today’s episode, we’re going to be talking about crying.
Darwin once proclaimed that emotional tears were purposeless and Darwin wasn’t actually the only one with strong opinions about why humans cry.
In 2016, Time Magazine published an article called The Science of Crying, why we cry. In that article, they talked about that by some calculations, people have been speculating about where tears come from and why humans shed them since about 1,500 BC.
For centuries, people thought tears originated in the heart. The Old Testament describes tears as the byproduct of when the heart’s material weakens and turns into water.
Later in Hippocrates’ time, it was thought that the mind was the trigger for fears. A prevailing theory in the 1600s held that emotions, especially love heated the heart which generated water vapor in order to cool itself down.
The heart vapor would then rise to the head, condense near the eyes and escape as tears. Finally, in 1662, a Danish scientist named Niels Stensen discovered that the lacrimal gland was the proper origin point of tears.
That’s when scientists began to unpack what possible evolutionary benefit could be conferred by fluid that springs from the eye. Stensen’s theory was that tears were simply a way to keep the eye moist.
Now, when our child speaks their first words, the sound of that little voice is the most beautiful thing in the world, but later, when they’re whining at us, or they’re crying, it’s about the most annoying thing we’ve ever heard and that’s not just the opinion of frustrated parents, that’s actually science.
Studies have shown that the sound of whining and the sound of your child’s cry causes stress response in adults, and is more distracting than other sounds.
According to Rose Sokol-Chang, one of the co-authors of these studies, there’s an evolutionary reason why we just can’t ignore whining and that’s reason is attachment.
From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, whining is meant to draw parents to a child and as anyone with a toddler at home knows, it works.
People tend to think that whining is bad behavior, something that needs to be squelched. But actually, it’s something that is very integral to attachment relationships much like when babies cry, says Sokol-Chang.
We know that when our babies cry, we’re impacted on a physical level and the same is true of whining. Researchers tested the effects of whining on adults by playing two dull recorded stories for people, one in each ear.
The participants were asked to repeat one story and ignore the other. That story was then interrupted with whining and it proved really hard for participants to block out.
They also have a galvanic skin response so they have a spike in the measure of sweat in their fingertips which is usually associated with stress or heightened attention Sokol-Chang noted.
The other study compared how well people could focus on a math problem when listening to a whining sound, or listening to a machine noise.
It turned out not so good. The machine noise was actually a really high pitch table saw that kept catching on wood. So it kind of had the same properties of whining.
Sokol-Chang explained adding that the saw noise turned out to be easier to ignore than the whining. Now, maybe we can’t tolerate a child’s cry because it rattles the pain of our own unheard cries that have gone long suppressed.
How many of us grew up hearing some form of the words, “Quit your crying.” Or, “I’ll give you something to cry about.” We learn to shut down our body’s natural mechanism for processing loss, but at a very high cost.
We split off from our well of sorrow and reservoir of tears and we lost contact with our sensitivity to heartbreak. Now, when faced with loss, disappointment and injustice, sorrow and sadness still come up, but the body doesn’t know what to do.
The face stayed straight. Tears are not shed and the heart does not swell with feeling. We may find ourselves in a depression instead of where we should rightfully be which is in sorrow or grief.
Grief is actually the cleansing holy experience the human heart uses to naturally heal itself through all of life’s inevitable losses.
For myself, I have had to work very hard to grieve. I’ve worked really hard to simply cry when it’s appropriate which might be several times a day, sometimes I’ve worked on and I still work on allowing myself to cry with others, and to provide a sanctuary for others to cry with me.
This isn’t an easy process for me. In fact, I remember when I stopped crying. Now, I was born a normal baby who cried and didn’t really give it a second thought, didn’t care what other people thought about my crying, but I do remember when I stopped crying.
I was probably seven. My parents were having one of their big fights and my dad was threatening to leave which was not uncommon. Now, let me give you a little backstory on me.
So my mom has told me for a lot of years of my life that fairness was an issue for me, that this fairness thing came up for me and that it got in my way, right?
I have a lot of memories of my mom telling me like, “Jackie, life isn’t always fair.” And I wouldn’t really say this back to her, but I would think in my head, “But I don’t think it needs to be as unfair as it is.”
And that’s still something for me today that like things being unfair is a button that when it gets pushed, creates a physiological response in me.
Now, when my parents would fight, I had an older sister who was two years older than me and most of the time, she would take my mom’s side when my parents were fighting.
And truth be told, probably the majority of the time, I saw things from my mom’s perspective too. At least more than I did from my dad’s perspective, but this fairness thing, this balance thing kind of had me taking his side because I felt like, “Well, if she’s taking mom’s side, I’ve got to take dad’s side just to balance it out.”
Or I would think like, “It’s not really fair that dad doesn’t have anybody.” And so by default, I would often take his side or try to advocate on my dad’s behalf and I remember this one time that my parents were fighting, and it was pretty intense.
Like I said, my dad was threatening to leave, which was not uncommon, but was never pleasant for me as a child. At that time, my mom was not working and so if my dad left, that meant a lot of danger and uncertainty for our family.
And so I remember trying to take his side in a way that I could convince him to stay and convince him like and I remember in my head thinking, “Dad just doesn’t know that we love him.”
And so if I can get him to see that we really love him, then he won’t do this. That’s what made sense in my child’s head. And so I remember trying to reason with him and trying to get him to see that we loved him in the midst of like crazy chaos, right?
And I don’t even know that he ever heard anything that I was saying. He certainly didn’t know what my intention was and I think what he felt was that I was in the way and so he just kind of in a sweeping motion, I don’t know if he picked me up, I don’t really know what happened, but I ended up kind of sailing down the hallway and hitting the end wall which we had a cuckoo clock hanging on and I hit that wall with a thud, completely knocked the wind out of me.
I couldn’t breathe and just that feeling, that uncomfortable feeling that happens when you get the wind knocked out of you and I remember the cuckoo clock fell and landed on my head.
So I’m in this tangled mass of the chains of a cuckoo clock and I just remember this anger of like, “I was on your side.” And I remember, I don’t think I said it out loud, but I did say it to myself.
And what I kind of said or what I formulated in my head was, “I am done crying over you.” This is the last time I will cry because of you.
And for many years, I didn’t cry. I don’t know if there was something biologically that happened or if that’s really how it worked, right? That’s just my memory of it.
So fast forward when I’m an adult, and I have kids and still, crying is not something that I do. I feel emotions, and I even feel them pretty intensely, but I don’t necessarily show or express the emotions.
People couldn’t necessarily read what I was feeling or what was happening on the inside of me and I remember one time as a mom, my daughter was complaining to me about spring weather in Utah which this is true probably in a lot of states, but spring weather in Utah is, I mean, one day, right? It could be 75, the next day, it’s 42.
Sometimes my daughter was particularly complaining about the fact that when she went to school, she needed a coat and then when it was time to come home, she didn’t need a coat or a jacket anymore, and yet she had to bring this coat or jacket home.
And she was complaining about how frustrated she was with this whole process. Can you believe that I have to do this? I just was kind of looking at her thinking, “Well yeah, I know that. I was a child here in Utah, and I know what a pain it is to have to try to ride your bike home while you’ve got your schoolwork or your backpack and a coat that now you’re not wearing.”
And so I remember, I know how she feels, but then also thinking, I never would have complained about this. And I remember she was telling me like, “Mom, it’s cold in the morning and it’s warm when I come home.”
And I was kind of like, “Yeah, you’re right. It is.” And she just kind of looked at me like, “Are you going to do something about this? Am I expected to just tolerate this?”
And so that’s when I was like, “I just never would have thought to even complain about it.” It was just one of those things that and I think some of Gen X, this is just how we were, right?
You just had to suck it up because what were you going to do? Nothing. So I remember being on a spring trip with that daughter on just such a spring day and it was afternoon, and she had deposited her morning jacket with me as it was much too warm and burdensome for her to wear or carry and keep track of her jacket.
Now, one of the other boys in her class noticed that she wasn’t wearing her jacket and she didn’t have to keep track of it because I was carrying it.
And so he came over and handed me his jacket, and asked me to carry his jacket as well and one of the other parents who was on the field trip got upset about this situation and was instructing the child who wasn’t his child, but was telling the child that he needed to keep track of his own jacket, and that it wasn’t my job to carry his jacket around.
Now to be honest, I kind of thought as a parent on a field trip that actually is one of my jobs. I’ve got to keep track of the kids and their belongings and make sure neither get left behind or forgotten and as this dad realized that this boy was going to get away with this request, I could see how upset he was.
And it kind of made me think like, “Oh, you poor boy. Nobody would carry your jacket. You had to be the one who always carried your jacket and you can’t handle this kid having another option.” How often does this happen? Right?
How often do our child wants and needs get expressed in anger towards the child who is able to have it different or who is able to ask for what they want and what they need?
Michael Trimble, a behavioral neurologist with the unusual distinction of being one of the world’s leading experts on crying was about to be interviewed on a BBC Radio Show.
When an assistant asked him a strange question, “How come people don’t cry at all?” The staffer went on to explain that a colleague of hers insisted he never cries.
She’d even taken him to see Les Miserables, certain it would jerk a tear or two, but his eyes stayed dry. Trimble was stumped, he and the handful of other scientists who studied human crying tend to focus their research on wet eyes, not dry ones.
So before the broadcast began, he set up an email address firstname.lastname@example.org and on the air asked listeners who never cried to contact him.
Within a few hours, Trimble had received hundreds of messages. Trimble says, “Now, we don’t know anything about people who don’t cry.”
In fact, there’s also a lot of scientists don’t know or can’t agree on about people who do cry. Like I said, Charles Darwin once declared that emotional tears are purposeless and nearly 150 years later, emotional crying remains one of the human body’s more confounding mysteries.
Now, I can remember as an adult being out with some girlfriends, we’d go see kind of a chick flick or a girl show on our girls night out and I could recall sitting in the theater feeling some movement in my body and hearing my girlfriends around me crying and just sobbing, and we’d walk out of the movie theater and the friends that got to know me over some time periods would be like, “Yup, dry eyes over there.”
And I would try to say like, “Well, I mean, if I was a crier, that would definitely be a show that I would cry about.” But my eyes were dry.
Trimble says, “Some other species shed tears reflexively as a result of pain or irritation, but humans are the only creatures whose tears can actually be triggered by our feelings.”
In babies, tears have the obvious and crucial role of soliciting attention and care from adults, but what about in grownups? Well, that’s less clearer.
It’s obvious that strong emotions trigger them, but why? As I said, a few scientists have devoted their studies to figuring out what humans weep, but those who do don’t agree.
In his book, Vingerhoets list eight competing theories. Now, some are flat out ridiculous like the 1960’s view that humans evolved from aquatic apes, and tears helped us live in saltwater.
Other theories persist though despite a lack of proof like the idea popularized by a biochemist William Frey in 1985 that crying removes toxic substances from the blood that build up during the time of stress.
Evidence is mounting in support of some new, more plausible theories. One is that tears trigger social bonding and human connection while most other animals are born fully formed, humans come into the world vulnerable and physically unequipped to deal with anything on their own.
Even though we get physically and emotionally more capable as we mature, grown ups never quite age out of the occasion bout of helplessness and crying signals to yourself and to other people, that there’s some important problem that is at least temporarily beyond your ability to cope says Jonathan Rothenberg, an emotion researcher and professor of psychology at the University of South Florida.
He says, “It is very much an outgrowth of where crying comes from originally.” Scientists have also found some evidence that emotional tears are chemically different from the ones people shed while chopping onions which may explain why crying sends such a strong emotional signal to others.
In addition to the enzymes, lipids, metabolites, and electrolytes that make up any tears, emotional tears contain more protein. One hypothesis is that this higher protein content makes emotional tears more viscous, so they stick to the skin more strongly and run down the face more slowly, making them more likely to be seen by others.
Tears also show others that we’re vulnerable and vulnerability is critical to human connection. Trimble continues that there must have been some point in time, evolutionarily when the tear became something that automatically set off empathy and compassion in another.
And actually being able to cry emotionally and being able to respond to that is a very important part of being human. For me in my journey to reclaim my human right to tears, I knew that I felt different.
I knew that something was missing. Now maybe part of that is because I’m a female and females are allowed to cry and I was around females who would cry.
Now, I will say it didn’t make me uncomfortable when others cried like I could sit and tolerate other people’s tears and other people’s crying, it just wasn’t something that came out of me.
Now ironically, I will say when I was a young kid, I don’t know what age it started, but I could not laugh without crying and my schoolmates and sometimes my teachers thought that this was really unusual about me.
Now as I grew up, I realized that that’s not just about me, I’ve met several people who will say, “Oh, often when I cry or when I laugh, I cry.” And that was true for me.
I didn’t even have to laugh really hard, just laughing would bring about some tears. When my oldest daughter was in sixth grade, she was doing a school program in her elementary school, and so I had gone to see the school program and I didn’t realize this, but she had noticed that for some reason, the first place I started to cry was at my kid’s school programs.
And it started when my oldest was really in kindergarten, but the lights were low and I felt really weird about like, “Why am I crying about this? This isn’t even emotional. What they’re doing isn’t that emotional, right?”
But I just thought, “Well, it’s the fact that my baby’s up there doing that, that’s what’s emotional to me.” But again, I thought, “Well, the lights are dim, nobody really knows that I’m crying.”
And so when she was in the sixth grade, she had done the program and so I was going, I was making my way back to her classroom to find her after the program had ended.
And she was with some friends that she had made that school year that I didn’t know and so she was introducing me, when she saw me, she called me over like, “Mom, I’m over here.”
And then she was introducing me to her friends and she said, “Oh yeah, I told them just … You’ll know it’s my mom, she’s the one crying.” And I didn’t know that my daughter knew that about me and they were all like, “Oh yeah, we saw.”
And I was just like, “Okay, great. Thank you so much for letting me know that.” And it felt weird. Somehow, the emotions had to sneak out at this program that wasn’t even that emotional, but somehow it brought out the crying.
So I knew that I typically cried at my kid’s school programs, but not really in other places or in other situations. And like I said, I was okay with it, but I also knew that it wasn’t hold, and it wasn’t normal.
And that there was something missing. There was a void somewhere that took away my ability to express those emotions through tears and through crying.
In the book Recovery Zone which I’ve talked about in another episode which is the second book to the task system of Dr. Patrick Carnes for those recovering from sex addiction.
One of the chapters in Recovery Zone talks about the four sorrows. Dr. Carnes says, “M. Scott Peck opened his classic book The Road Less Traveled with the sentence life is difficult.”
This book argues for a more conscious life through therapy and spiritual practice. The examined life requires focus and determination.
Furthermore, surrendering to the recovery process can show us that suffering has meaning and that we must focus on what really matters.
Now, whether you’re in recovery from some type of addiction or whether you’re just in recovery from your own childhood or the experiences that you’ve had in life, developing skills for coping with loss and pain are essential for a healthy life.
Oftentimes, without consciously knowing, hurts are incorporated into decision making and this like I said, happens without any examination or reflection or awareness.
It’s kind of held in our implicit memory, that the conscious mind may or may not be aware of, but the unconscious is aware of it and that hurt is driving the behavior.
This is why it’s important that as we age, we continue to in the recovery where they call it get current which is to get current on what’s going on in my life, maybe the hurts that I’ve done or the things that have happened to me and the emotions that I haven’t felt yet.
We systematically need to review our lives so that we can examine the sources of our sorrow. In Recovery Zone, Dr. Carnes talks about that there are four sorrows in recovery.
He says the first sorrow is from change and loss. He says our parents and relatives die, we change careers, companies and locations.
The woods we played in as kids have now been developed into a neighborhood with houses every hundred feet, divorces occur, children grow up and move away.
We lose track of dear friends. As we age, we lose the physical capabilities we had as young people. There are moments of great happiness or meaning that we are never able to recreate.
These losses are inevitable, yet the sadness is no less genuine. The second sorrow is about abuse and betrayal. Trusted people have heard us. Sometimes, abuse occurs without intention to hurt.
Examples of this would be parents who had no idea of how to raise children due to their own confusing childhoods or they had significant mental health or addiction issues themselves causing them to neglect or act in ways that were hurtful or they simply made mistakes that had bad results.
The pain is still real. Betrayal happened when trusted persons exploited their relationship with us. They used us or betrayed our trust.
The pain here stems from intentionality. We were hurt by someone to whom we thought our relationship mattered. Yet we were not protected or even insulated from harm.
They took advantage of us through seduction, deceit, or abuse of power. This happens for adults as well as children. Betrayal has no age limits.
Intention does add sorrow because of the breach of trust. By corroding our capacity to trust, these people compromise our ability to be fully ourselves.
Now, when I was working through the Recovery Zone workbook and coming to this chapter on the four sorrows, Dr. Carnes outlines a whole … Well, a couple of exercises that walks you through the sorrows.
And one of the things that I came to here under this second sorrow, about abuse and betrayal. So when I was training to be a CSAT, I had all four of my kids.
My youngest was like seven I think and as I was working through this, one of the things that came to my mind as I was working through the different exercises is this idea like I had … I have four daughters.
I’ve said that before and daughter number three, has just always been a daddy’s girl. Now, that’s not to say that my other daughters don’t love their dad and don’t have great relationships with him and I do have to say he’s a wonderful father, and he’s a wonderful father to daughters, I think in many ways, growing up in a family of boys, daughters have changed him and stretched him in ways that he hadn’t been stretched before.
And he has also been a blessing to our daughters, but daughter number three has just always had this attachment to her dad and she adores him.
Now, that also doesn’t mean that I don’t have a good relationship with her. I think I have a healthy good relationship with her, but she is what we would typically call a daddy’s girl and she just always has been.
And as I watched her in her relationship with her dad and the requests that she would have, sometimes on a Saturday morning, now she’s always been a child from the time that she’s born, she is an early bird.
And when I say early bird, I’m not talking six o’clock, I’m talking like four o’clock in the morning, she’s up, and she is full of energy, and she wants to tackle the day.
And she would always come in and wake up her dad and say, especially if it was a Saturday like, “Dad, let’s go to Home Depot and do a project.”
And she could get her dad to do things, right? Because he also adored her, not … Again, not that he didn’t adore all four of our daughters, but there was this connection that she pursued with him, and he responded to it.
And as I watched that, and loved what I was seeing, there was also this recognition of, “Wait a minute, I don’t think that me taking my dad’s side was just about my issue for fairness.”
And as I explored that a little bit more, I came to this realization of like, “I think I’m a daddy’s girl and I just never had a dad who responded to that, or who was interested in that.”
And as I claimed that, and felt that and sat for a couple of years in the pain of that experience, my dad had passed away at this point and I also knew that even if my dad was still living, it wasn’t going to change the direction of what our relationship was like.
I had accepted that my dad was who he was, and that was a choice he made, but it was healing for me to actually step into the pain and I feel like as I sat in the pain and allowed myself to feel it, I also was able to come out with some meaning, and to bring some understanding to the suffering.
I also feel like that process of going back to my timeline and seeing where some of the sorrows hit allowed me to start to reclaim my tears and my ability to express them.
Now, I will say I’m not I’m not a big crier, I don’t cry every day, I probably have reasons to cry every day, but I don’t, but I have reclaimed my inherent right as a human being to have tears and to let them fall freely.
The third sorrow Dr. Carnes talks about is chaos. He says these losses are due to events beyond our control. These are not the inevitable losses of change, but rather of catastrophe.
Think of accidents disease, war and natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes and lightning, economic shifts which result in bankruptcies, business failures and recessions.
No one expects the drunk driver who hits our spouse, the burglar who takes a treasured family heirloom, or the disease which takes our child.
The ancient Jewish mystical tradition of the Kabbalah uses the word Satan for chaos. Now, this Satan is different than the Christian concept of a fallen angel whose task is to tempt us.
Rather in Jewish tradition, this Satan is the inexplicable chaos with no rhyme or reason which tests us. Many times on the podcast I have talked about how our brain naturally tries to make order of the world and in many ways, that tendency of our brain to try to make things fit or to try to fit things in an order or to try to decide, is it A or is it B? That can get in the way.
But also when we cannot make order, what do we do then? Right? If our brain’s natural tendency is to try to sort and to try to make sense and to try to bring order to chaos, what happens when we can’t make sense of it?
Often, I will talk to clients who have experienced trauma, and we’re working on the healing and I will say to them like, “Again, your brain is going to try to make sense of this.”
And the thing about trauma is it doesn’t make sense. It shouldn’t have happened or in the case of neglect, it should have happened, and it didn’t, and you’re not going to be able to really find an answer that is satisfying.
Chaos takes loss to an exponential level because it seems so purposeless. It is chaos which really tests us with the question of why do bad things happen to very well-meaning people?
And then the final sorrow is about addictive illness. Now, a couple of episodes ago, I think two episodes ago, I did an episode about the impact of family dysfunction and I think that episode more than other episodes has gotten people to reach out to me or to comment.
And to I’ve had clients who come in the door for their session. Well, actually, I’m not at the office, right? So they get online with me for their session and will say to me, “Hey, so I listened to one of your podcasts, and I’ve kind of heard enough about it that I’m like oh, I bet I know which one this is.”
And they’ll say it was the one on family dysfunction and I need to talk or that brought some things to my attention that I hadn’t really thought about.
Now, I will say having worked with a lot of addicts over my career, addicts have paid prices for their behavior. The very gateway to recovery is pain that they could no longer live with and the consequences of that behavior help them to accept the illness that they had.
Often in addiction recovery, we catalog these consequences as part of the first step in a 12 step fellowship. We catalog the financial costs, divorces, legal problems, business failures and lost time.
The list seems endless when people in recovery in the 12 step fellowship start to work on the first step. Yet often, these consequences get left at the gate with the first step.
As part of our inventory that we have to take in the fourth step, we have to revisit these again though. Now our purpose in revisiting these is not to feel sorry for ourselves, but rather than self-pity, we translate this pain into clarity.
So we understand what matters. Self-knowledge so we do not repeat mistakes and resilience, so we reclaim our strength. Our very power comes from having integrated what has made us so profoundly sad.
Sorrow in it’s critical lens in deepening and clarifying the meaning of life, our core elements in psychotherapy. Viktor Frankl, one of the earliest pioneers of psychotherapy describe this as the transformation of suffering into meaning.
As a concentration camp survivor, he noted that the people who survived were the ones who held on to purpose in their lives. Even in the midst of the very worst experiences known in contemporary times, they found something for which to live.
Resilience is the core human skill, and the primary teaching of psychotherapy. Resilience is central to the notion of recovery.
Ultimately, the test is to turn bad into good or to use a recovery phrase nothing is wasted. Meaning, that no matter how awful something was, there’s something to learn, there’s something of value.
Most often that something awful is a doorway to a greater good. So as you think about your experiences with pain and as we’ve gone through the four sorrows, it might have brought up some emotions for you, it might have brought to mind some experiences that maybe you haven’t thought of for a while.
Stay with that for a minute, think about your experience with pain. Did anyone attempt to help you cope with pain and loss? What was the advice you received? How have you coped over time with your hurts? And what would you like to do differently? Or what do you need to reclaim from that loss?
Now, one of the things that Dr. Carnes suggests that can be helpful is to organize this work by making a list of the unsaid and the undone.
So you might go back to your timeline and you might make an inventory of the sorrows and the pain. And then along with that list of the sorrows and the pain, make a list of things you wish you had said, and a list of things you wish you had done.
I think that’s one of the things that can help transform the unsaid and the undone and the unfinished business into how we live life in the present and maybe in the past, we couldn’t say what we wanted to say and this time, we have the courage to do that because we’ve reviewed the pain of not doing that.
Maybe it brings into clarity, the things that we want to do that our pain and our sorrow was holding us back from. And with this clarity, we move into action, into doing those things that were undone.
Being able to cry emotionally and being able to respond to that, I think is a very important part of being human. Modern crying research is still in its infancy, but the mysteries of tears and the recent evidence that they’re far more important than scientists once believed drive Vingerhoets and the small cadre of tear researchers to keep at it.
Tears are of extreme relevance for human nature. We cry because we need other people. Vingerhoets said, “So Darwin …” He said with a laugh, “… Was totally wrong.”
Oftentimes, we were raised to see sadness as an emotion to avoid at all costs and often we do try to avoid at all costs. Most of us weren’t taught how to be there for ourselves when we’re feeling down.
So avoidance feels like the only way to alleviate the pain. We are socialized to just get through things or to toughen up. So it makes sense that our first inclination is to avoid experiencing sadness or any other negative emotions in order to be resilient.
However, resiliency doesn’t come from avoiding those negative emotions. Resilience comes as we move through them and get to the other side with clarity and intention and focus.
A lot of people may focus on just changing their mindset and being optimistic, but this also brushes sadness under the rug which means you end up with this huge pile of unprocessed feelings and it’s only a matter of time until the feelings spill out and leave you no choice, but to deal with them.
Some of the common ways that I hear from clients that they used to avoid the emotions that are coming out might include zoning out while watching TV, sleeping long hours, self-medicating with food or substances or certain behaviors, working long hours or taking on numerous projects.
I’ve listened into a lot of clients talk about filling up their days with distractions in order to stay busy and ultimately, avoid feeling sad.
If you’ve been avoiding your sadness, it can seem almost impossible to fill it, but there are ways you can ease into that process. Oftentimes, it’s difficult to face sadness alone.
If tears allow for other people to notice, and to connect, and to sense a feeling of helplessness in the person with the tears, then it makes sense that when we are feeling sad, it’s often not something we can do all by ourselves or face all by ourselves.
So this is where it can be helpful to work with a therapist or have a trusted friend. When I’m working with clients, I want to make sure that they have a support network outside of therapy if possible.
We often don’t realize that just speaking about our sadness out loud to someone who cares about us and wants to listen is healing in itself.
Now, I think there are a lot of ways in our society of either avoiding, we talked about TV, food, substances, work, being busy, right? Busy is a classic way of just avoiding things.
So there’s a lot of ways that we can go that route, but there’s also a very common route of just bypassing it all together, right? And when we talk about bypassing, it really is just this … If you’ve ever been stuck in traffic, maybe there’s a bad accident and you’ve got to find a way to bypass the accident or the traffic jam in order to get to where you’re going, hopefully in a more timely manner.
We can do this same thing with our emotions, right? And I think sometimes when we just want to be optimistic and focus on the good and focus on the success and focus on the positive, well, that’s a way of bypassing, of just pushing our emotions away and choosing to only focus on what makes us feel positive.
When I was starting to reclaim my emotions, one of the things that I did was I made a playlist of songs that initially were sentimental to me, right?
They didn’t necessarily make me cry, but they were sentimental and they were important songs to me throughout my life. So I made that playlist, and I called it good grief.
And that would be something that could get me … Sometimes it would get me actually to cry, but it would at least open me up and allow me to feel the feelings that were there in my sadness.
Sometimes also, being able to … Sometimes on an overcast rainy day, when kind of the world this feels sad outside, I recognize that as an opportunity to let myself match the mood of the day.
Now, that’s not to say that I don’t like rainy day sometimes, especially in the heat of the summer, I enjoy Kind of the relief of a rainy, overcast day, but I would put a candle on, I would turn on some more soulful music, and just kind of allow myself to go down and to get into some of the darker emotions that I didn’t necessarily experience on a day-to-day basis.
It can be helpful to reflect on what is behind the feelings. Instead of distracting ourselves from our feelings. It’s okay to notice the desire to distract from it, or the desire to jump out of it if that’s what’s coming up, but it’s also important that we don’t just allow ourselves to distract from those feelings.
Last episode we talked about self compassion. It’s important as we’re reclaiming this right that we have as human beings for sadness and for tears that we are meaning that with our self-compassion, with kindness and with self-care.
This means inviting sadness in as a friend who has come to share some valuable wisdom, some friend that shows up that remind you of what was lost, or what has changed or what can never be again.
And lastly, I think it’s important to remind yourself that sadness isn’t pointless and it’s not purposeless. When we sit down with our sadness, we realize that it has a lot of stories to tell us, stories about our needs, and our longings, stories about loved ones we’re never going to stop loving or missing.
Stories about our pain, stories about our losses, stories that are meaningful for you to explore and use to help you make important decisions.
At the end of this episode, I want to remind you that your story matters. Remember, there’s something meaningful in every chapter. Don’t wait to share your story until it’s finished. Until next time, Jackie.
The legal stuff. This podcast is solely for the purpose of information and entertainment and does not constitute therapy, nor should it replace competent professional help.
The prayer of the perfectionist. Nobody has time for perfection. We are pursuing progress. Help me to remember the only step I need to focus on is the next right step for me.
Help me to remember that life is a journey. Help me to be able to separate all that I am learning from all that I have to do.
Help me to remember that I’m not alone, I can ask for help. Help me to strive for frequent awakenings, not mastery. I am enough. Amen.