One of the most potent prescriptions for healing intrusive thoughts and anxiety from the root is to allow ourselves to live in whole-hearted, full-bodied expression. This means taking the lid off of our joy just as much as our pain, and learning to spiral out of head-realm and down into body-realm where the heart taps out its song to the rhythm of our emotional lives. And yet when so many people struggle with allowing themselves a daily or weekly cry – and bump up against the ceiling of their joy – it’s important to delve further into this essential realm of Self.
A cry signals our arrival into the world. When a baby is born, we await with bated breath for the first cry, and its sound is cause for rejoicing and relief. Sadly, tragically even, for some babies that may be the last time their cries are received with celebration. We live in a culture that equates a “good baby” with one who doesn’t cry a lot, and that prescription for “good” carries on through the rest of our lives. The good child is the one who doesn’t make a fuss, who doesn’t express her frustration, disappointment, fear, or any other less-than-pleasant emotion. In fact, the good child is also one who doesn’t express any emotion with too much exuberance; we can be shamed for our wild joy just as much as our full expressions of despair. The good adult is someone who rides the punches of life without complaint, who lives in a narrow realm that is applauded as being “even keel”.
Neither of my kids were considered “good” babies. They cried loudly (and still do). They screamed to let us know when they were violently opposed to something. And their laughter was (and still is) like church bells on a clear day. We’ve welcomed every emotion as it presented itself, meeting each with as much acceptance as we could. Sometimes I’ll be on the phone with my friend Carrie when my six year old falls apart and she’ll marvel not only at the intensity of his feelings but his ability to put words to them. Being devotees of soul, she and I share a reverence for unbridled expression, knowing that it’s one of the keys to keeping the inner channels clear and the well full.
Sometimes, when one of my kids has been crying full tilt, I’ll have a moment of zooming out into the place of objective perspective (as opposed to the variable emotional responses I typically have as their mother), and I’ll rest in quiet awe at their ability to allow the feelings to move through without inhibition. I’ll listen to the volume of their cry (loud) and watch their tears (big and round, wetting their entire faces) and hold their bodies (shaking and moving), and I’ll wonder, “When does this stop? When does this natural, beautiful expression of pain become tempered, and possibly even halt altogether?”
My answer is simple: When Shame and Fear enter the picture. When shame pricks the heart, the heart shuts down. And when fear takes over, usually with the corresponding belief that the feelings are too big to handle, the cries cease to emerge. As we are meant to feel our feelings fully, our inner systems go awry at this point. We need emotional release in order for the whole miraculous operating system of Self to function fluidly. For it’s often when we shut down emotionally that the energy has nowhere else to go and travels up into mind, where it coalesces as anxiety and intrusive thoughts.
There are many reasons why we become stunted in our ability to express emotions freely. The first, and most powerful, is that we received the message – either explicitly (“Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!” or, from peers, “You’re such a crybaby!”) or implicitly (via caregivers who didn’t express vulnerable feelings) – that crying isn’t okay. Under the rubric of crying we also include other feelings that the culture would like us to sweep under the rug, like shame, jealousy, disappointment, frustration, and fear – and even self-confidence. When we cried as infants for prolonged periods of time and weren’t picked up, something inside shut down. When those undesirable feelings erupted as children and we received the literal or metaphoric slap in the face, we silenced. If we cried alone, which many highly sensitive children will do as the feelings cannot and will not be contained, the only comfort was a thick blanket of shame. And sometimes the cries were so big that it felt like we were going to die. On the heels of these experiences we may have formed the following beliefs around crying:
1. It’s not okay.
2. It’s shameful.
3. It’s not safe.
4. If I let myself cry fully, something bad is going to happen.
5. Crying is weak.
6. Crying is for sissies.
7. Crying makes it worse, so what’s the point?
Clients and course members will often say to me, “I feel the tears there, stuck in my throat or in my eyes, but they won’t come out. How do make myself cry if the tears are stuck?” You can’t exactly “make” yourself cry, but you can certainty encourage an environment where you’ll feel safe enough to let the pain come out in physical form. First and foremost, you can address any of the beliefs that you may be carrying about crying (listed above). Secondly, anytime the tears emerge, you can say to yourself, “You’re safe. I’ve got you. It’s okay to cry.” Thirdly, you can encourage the grief to emerge by watching films or videos that touch your heart. Many of my clients have a go-to film they watch when they’re needing to access their grief but are having trouble getting there spontaneously.
As I’ve written in many posts, grief is like a shy animal hiding in a dark corner, one that requires the most loving and safe conditions in order to emerge into the light of day. The pace of our life doesn’t allow for grief; we’re simply moving too quickly for the animal of our vulnerable heart to make itself known. It’s especially important during the holiday and post-holiday season, when the culture frantically pushes us to move, spend, and plan and then drops us like a sack of potatoes back into liminal January, that we need to proactively make time to slow down, and then come to a full stop. It’s especially important when society jingles away sadness, disappointment, and loneliness in favor of pushing the image of living a Hallmark card that you allow yourself to curl into yourself, wrap yourself in your favorite fuzzy blanket, and listen to the whispers inside that need your attention. One of those whispers may be a cry. You don’t need to know why (it’s the ego that attaches to needing the story). You don’t have to understand it. You simply need to turn your attention inward and ask what’s needed.
We arrive on the song of tears. We don’t arrive laughing. We don’t arrive angry. We arrive crying, the signal that means that we are fully alive. If the cry is met with celebration in the first moments of life, isn’t that an indication that it’s something deeply important to our well-being? I would say so.
Note: While it’s essential to allow ourselves to drop into our pain, it’s equally essential to know when the pain has become indulgent and, thus, unhealthy. I’ll be writing about this in depth next week.
Thank you – I found this post extremely helpful. I am trying to understand intrusive thoughts more as they can be really distressing and hard to live with. The more you try to push them away, the worse they stick around. Do you think you need to work out the cause of them? It’s quite difficult.
You don’t need to know the exact cause but you do need to understand that the thoughts are flares from the self that are indicating a need to turn inward and connect to what’s needed (which usually has nothing to do with the content of the thought itself). You can learn more here:
Hi Sheryl, that is so true and beautiful. I was the good child I didnt want to cry as I felt being the eldest it wasnt nice to cry, i felt I as i was taught i have no reason to cry, I shouldnt complain as nobody wanted to hear my frustrations, fear, loneliness, pain. I had everything love, shelter, support, no reason for me to cry. I was so affraid to cry, show empathy. I couldnt feel my feelings. I thought I was a bad person and i still do because of the intrusive thoughts that i struggle with, Both my parents were worriers and they had constant anxiety. Not so much my mother but my dad was a severe case. He had his demons. Its been so hard for me and my brothers to grow up in an environment, where you werent allowed to feel frustrated, stressed about normal daily things. Remember we had everything.. Nothing to complain about.
Yes, that’s a very common line as well: “You have everything. There’s nothing to complain about.” The truth is that it’s often when you do have everything material that the soul has room to open to the deeper pain and frustrations of life.
Hi Sheryl! I’m from Chile, South America, and I always read your blog. It has been really helpful with my relationship anxiety (or rocd). I’m right now in a point when I know what I need to do is to BELIEVE IN MY FEELINGS, believe in my loving feelings towards my boyfriend to make a real change and commitment with him. Sounds easy, but it’s so hard! I’m always thinking: do I REALLY feel that I love him? Or am I just settling? -…etc etc. Any advice on HOW TO START BELIEVING IN MYSELF AND MY LOVING FEELINGS?
Congratulations on your blog and thank you so much for it!
A big part of the healing from relationship anxiety is recovering from the belief that love is always a feeling. Sometimes you’ll feel loving feelings and many times you won’t. Love is action. Love is commitment. Love is an act of will. And believing in yourself is another issue altogether, and involves filling that well of Self that I talk a lot about on my blog. The Break Free course would also be ideal for you:
I second Rachael i feel exactly like her. By doing your courses one thing i have been struggling with is finding the root cause. I needed this especially now. My mother has said sorry to me yesterday About her irrational behaviour towards my husband. She confessed to me that she dosent dislike my husband because he is a very good man. The real reason is because my mum finds it hard to Let go. One of my brothers and myself left home around the same time and its been a hard transition for a huge loss for her. I feel better now that she said sorry for once in her life. Thank you Shery XO
Thanks Sheryl for The oportunity to crywhen reading your post. There is always a bit of pain or holding inside me and it held to release it by giving me permission.once your mom said to me: just don’t make yourself stop crying tell yourself you can cry as long as you want to… That made the deal. Now I don’t need much time to release my pain but I was in fear of not being able to stop (as I could not when I was small). Today my you he daughter when I tell her to stop (obviously from that part of me that still is wounded) she tells me s beautifully in tears: ” I cannot stop crying I can’t relax I need your embrace” and she is 3! That obviously brings me back to center to love and presence and I can help her hugging and putting words to her sadness … I love how she shows frustration anger sadness jealousy and any type of feeling and can speak about it…. I am learning that it is possible to raise kids in contact with their feelings and continue learning myself as they show me the way …
We are in this together as you said iron your email. Thanks for sharing wisdom and love
Beautiful, Denise. Thank you, as always, for sharing your journey.
Beautifully and eloquently stated, as usual. You get it, and as I (we) connect to your words, we realize that we get it too. As a man, I always thought it odd that laughing was so socially welcomed, and crying was so often muted or buried. There are so many off-shoots to the issues this repression can cause, including the ways in which the un-cried parts of us come out sideways; as rage, numbness, unhealthy attempts at self soothing (addictions) etc. It is so simple, although not always easy. LET YOURSELF CRY!!! Everything looks different afterwards. Sheryl, thank you again and again for your courses and wisdom.
Yes, Greg. And for boys, especially, the only acceptable emotion is anger, so all difficult emotions get funneled there. Time for an emotional revolution!
The title of this blog post alone gets me…the beauty in tears. As I was reading I was reminded of a beautiful book called “The Smell of Rain on Dust” by Martin Prechtel. I think he opens the book by talking about how we enter the world grieving, crying, wailing. I also thought of a parenting blog that has actually helped me a lot personally – Hand in Hand Parenting. There are articles upon articles that promote sitting with children (StayListening, as they call it) as they cry, tremble, shake, rage while maintaining the stance that these processes are natural and necessary parts of a healing process.
This one touches my soul, opening me up to my own cries that I know reside deep within. Thank you, as always. 🙂
Yes and yes and yes ;). One of my favorite quotes on grief:
We must drop unguarded into the holy bath of grief, inside of which all truly happy men and women must bathe to transform the great losses of life, in war, sicknesses, the loss of homelands and the loss of one’s confidence in human decency into a wailing that ends in poetry and elegant praise of the ability to feel. For desire, mistaken for love, without the capacity to truly feel the losses that actual loving entails, is what makes murderers of people who have no home friendly enough to allow them both the complete sadnesses and joys their love can feel. — Martin Prechtel, Stealing Benefacio’s Roses
And I LOVE what you shared on parenting. What a different world it would be if we could hold our children through their pain in all of its manifestations.
Yes, a million times. I think what so often happens for kids is that people (grown-ups) don’t think kids have anything to cry about, that there’s nothing to really grieve (if people can even see their tears as ones of grief in the first place). Losing one’s home (the womb) alone is plenty to cry about, if you ask me, and I’d even venture to say that it’s the deepest of all griefs, one that we carry throughout our lives. It’s our first loss…
And thank you for that quote; it’s magic. In his book I mentioned he talks a lot about Grief and Praise, saying that Grief is truly the highest form of Praise. Just magic. Our world would be so awesomely different if we could hold each other in pain, in feelings at all.
Thank you again for another great post, Sheryl. I’ve always been highly sensitive and struggled to know what an “acceptable” expression of emotion was. I still tend to feel the ups and downs so strongly, and because I’m so in tune with others, I find myself trying to mimic what I see as a normal level of expression presented by others. I think over the years this has created an unhealthy hardened exterior as a form of emotional protection for myself. A sort of tough equals cool and sensitive equals weak sort of thing. Also, not wanting to be labeled “crazy” for having strong emotions has always been an unhealthy driving force. I am now in a relationship with a very kind and supportive partner in many ways but he is also highly sensitive. His coping mechanism was always to disconnect from people and keep all the feelings bottled up. He still has a tendency to do so and also is highly triggered by my heightened emotions. It creates a pretty painful dynamic for both of us. Me feeling like I can’t be my full self and him feeling overwhelmed. I have taken the Conscious Weddings Course and have made it through half of the Trust Yourself Course (due to time constraints). I have learned a lot, but any advice for 2 highly sensitive people who are polarized in this way? Also, I always wonder where the line is drawn between being highly sensitive vs. emotionally dysregulated?
Two HSPs can be a challenge, but also a blessing. I recommend that you read Elaine Aron’s HSP In Love book. I haven’t read it but several clients have received a lot of guidance and, I think, practical advice from the book (and of course her work in general).
Great article. I used to have my cry let-out every week when the new Desperate Housewives episode was released, I miss it now it has ended.
I do cry a lot though lately. And it feels good to be able to let it out, to not push it away like I have done so much being bullied in school.
Sheryl,what I would like to know is: is it possible for relationship anxiety to work the other way around? That fear keeps me in the relationship, while the loving thing could be to leave? I am together with an amazing guy who loves me dearly, I was infatuated but now that is worn of I don’t seem to feel anything deeper than finding him a great person. I cannot let him go, I want us to work out but it seems to be fear-based. I want the image in my head where I can reciprocate his love and be happy together, but when we are together I cannot connect to him or feel joy. I have been ‘digging’ with the CW course for two years now and got so depressed. Am I just forcing it? I so want to believe there is some hidden trauma keeping me from living love together.
When I talk about connecting to the root cause what I mean is that you turn inward to connect to your own well of Self. Very rarely (if ever) is the root cause a hidden trauma. Root cause is about asking: “Where am I off-kilter inside? Which realm of self – cognitive, emotional, physical, spiritual/soul – needs more attention? How am I using my relationship anxiety and over-focus on my partner as a distraction from my own healing work?” If you’re still stuck on whether or not you’re with the right person, you’re not actually doing the work. Have you worked through the Break Free course yet? There’s a discount for all CW members.
Hi Sheryl, beautifully written yet again. I’m on my healing path and finally found a great psycho analyst who is helping me. I want to connect to my emotions more, but since i hit rock bottom I have a hard time doing so due to depersonalizations. I don’t feel human and connected to my body/self most of the time. This creates ongoing existential rumination and anxiety which again covers up more and more emotions. My depersonalization and dissociation from myself has been going on for a couple of months and I’m wondering how to work with it, especially when i want to tune in to my emotions. Some days it’s so bad that death doesn’t fright me anymore, as I don’t feel human in the first place. These things obviously worry me. I try to distract myself as much as possible to give me brain a rest and time to restore itself from depersonalization but everything is becoming so intertwined and confusing that I’m starting to feel very stuck. Do you by any chance have any tips on how to deal with this?
How are you connecting to your body? Exercise? Yoga? Dance?
Espescially through yoga and exercize!
Thanks to this! This past couple of days, I’m in a verge of breaking up with my partner. It feels that I don’t have anymore feelings for her that I should stop it and the anxiety makes me think that I’m deceiving myself. The more I think of it the more I withhold my feelings for her. I consistently thinking of ways to push her away or count the hours we should be together and keep her for a very very little amount of time and talk to her whenever I feel talking. Thus it’s not healthy and very cause of the death of our relationship. But I tried to approach her again and her kisses and hugs feels so good but at the same time I might be really off single than just to hurt her and start feeding my own well that might be the cause of my anxiety. It’s very hard waking up in the morning with the wrenching feeling in your stomach that you want to throw up or just die because you can’t sleep back.
Thank you for the others I really feel that I’m not alone in this battle and when we tell our partners about our anxiety it hurts them and gets us misinterpreted.
As usual, your post is so timely for me. My mother-in-law has cancer and we found out last week it has spread. We’ll find out today or tomorrow how serious it is, but the doctor increased her chemo to 96 hours in patient every 2-3 weeks. Obviously it’s serious. I’m having intrusive thoughts over my own health (and our unborn baby’s) and I realized last night that I don’t want to be visibly sad and upset my husband. I’m fourteen weeks pregnant so thanks to hormones, the tears will follow freely when I let myself. Regardless of the outcome of her illness and treatment, I’m encountering my biggest fear – the fear of death – and grief and sadness lie there. I’m committed to allowing myself time to feel this and cry as needed and I’m glad to have the Trust Yourself emails and strategies to review and use. Thanks Sheryl.
I’m so sorry for your loss, Anne. It seems to be a law of nature that birth and death coalesce quite frequently (how often I hear of losing a loved one during pregnancy). I’m glad that you’re giving yourself time to cry, and reviewing the Trust Yourself tools as needed. Sending love –
What happens when we struggle with crying? I grew up being told that crying is only allowed if someone is dying or has died, you’re dying, or severely injured (of course metaphorical death or deep emotional injury were not included) and even with those for a limited amount of time. I think crying made my parents uncomfortable because they felt helpless and didn’t know what to do so they responded often with shouting anger. Now, logically I know that crying is not only okay but essential to healing and I find that I can’t do it. I try to grieve a painful experience and I shut down. My body and mind literally go numb and I’m having a difficult time softening into it.
That said, I think internally I harbor automatic judgment and shame when it comes to my pain because it seems that when other people validate my experience expression comes more naturally. Any recommendations on how to break through this block?
I recommend spending a lot of time talking to your young self about her beliefs about crying. Practice imagining holding her and bringing in the truth over and over again until she starts to form a new, loving, and truthful belief system about crying. I also recommend reading about the importance of grief, like Martin Prechtel’s work cited in one of the comments on this post. This will help you form a new belief system as well.
It is tough Sheryl..
When it takes long time, when you have moments of clarity then you fall down again repeatedly, when you cry and cry and don’t feel relief out if it, when you feel you are lost of what to do? lost of being disconnected from exercises to a limit of feeling that you even forget what exercises to do, when you couldn’t stop projecting it all on your partner, and couldn’t feel or believe that it is not about her.. when all this drives you into a painful feeling of “hopelessness”, it is tough 🙁
Yes, it can be tough. Life isn’t meant to be easy, and for some the challenge is centered around partnership. Stay with it and you will find more and more windows of light. And if the crying doesn’t bring clarity and some relief, it’s not productive crying. I will be writing about that in my next blog post.
Hi Sheryl, beautiful post as always.
I’d like some advice on the course I should take. I’ve finally saved enough for just one of your courses, and I’m torn between Break free from relationship anxiety, Trust yourself and Open your heart.
My problem is my constant rumination over small things even though I know I have a good relationship with my boyfriend of 2 years. We were best friends before we got in a relationship and we already knew each other so well, I think that’s why we didn’t have the classic “honeymoon phase”. I also constantly worry about lack of attraction. I think he is very good-looking, so I think you could say I am attracted to him in a way, but I never feel like being intimate with him. To be fair, I’ve never felt like being intimate with anyone ever in my life, so maybe that’s just part of my personality. What course can I take to feel closer to my boyfriend and stop thinking things like “do I love him enough?”, “are we just friends?” or “is it supposed to feel like hanging out with my brother?”. I love him too much to break up, but at the same time I feel like I’m lying when I say I love him. Does that even make sense?
Also I’m young (23) and he’s my first boyfriend so of course I worry that I need to be with other people before I can commit. Also wonder if maybe intimacy would be better with someone I’m truly in love with…
Please tell me which course could help me. I’m tired of convincing myself to stay
Break Free will address everything you’re struggling with. Time to dive in and learn!
Thank you for this and all of your beautiful, poetic articles Sheryl. Surprisingly, I don’t have an issue letting myself cry but I’ve found that I get tense and feel drained when being around people with big emotions – especially babies and children. I have nieces and nephews that are age 2 and 4 and their parents allow them any emotion at any time. They are very active/loud and their parents just watch. I am definitely an HSP and I am hard on myself for not being able be around them long without feeling overwhelmed, drained and helpless. When you talk about helping children express their wide range of emotions- is this what you mean? This worries me that when I have children I won’t be able to handle their emotions and I want to be able to because I was punished as a child for crying. I’d love to hear your thoughts or if you have an article/book recommendation. Thank you so much.
There’s a crucial difference between watching kids cry and holding/attending to them. If your relatives are merely watching, that will feel overwhelming for everyone. The pain/frustration/anger needs to be contained in a loving way, otherwise it spills out and creates anxiety. The blog that Sarah suggested above would be helpful for you to read: Hand in Hand Parenting.
At the beginning of this anxiety I cried a lot, and now I feel like I have no feelings for anything, I’m indifferent with my partner when I truly want to feel the love we had before this. Is this “no feeling” a bad sign? 🙁
I cried last night because he said if we ever broke up it would be too hard to be friends and I gained the realisation that he wouldn’t be in my life AT ALL then.
Hi Sheryl, I would to ask you an important question? Why is it that my vision isnt quite clear. I dont have bad poor sight. This started since I met my husband. This happens all day and everyday.
Sheryl, Can you please talk about symptoms of anxiety in your next blog? That will diffuse our intrusive thoughts and understand where it is actually coming from.
Sheryl hello happy new year, just to let you know I dont know if you know that your Link of ” The Fear of Feeling too Good” is not opening up or working….
Thank you 🙂
Thanks for letting me know! Should be working now.
WOW this was SOOO helpful for me. I have a 12-week old and I have a really hard time tolerating her crying. I think it’s because it makes me feel inadequate that I can’t “figure out” why she is crying and if she is crying then there must be something wrong with her. After reading this I am going to try to allow her to have her feelings!
You will be giving her one of the greatest gifts of her life! You don’t need to understand it. You only need to hold her through it and let her know that she’s safe, she’s okay, she’s loved, and the pain – whatever it is – will pass.
Above you replied to Angela. In summary you said, “When you have everything you have more space to feel …” this is an absolutely staggering statement. I cannot tell you yet how this statement will play onto my life, but truly thank you.
What about when a child cries whenever they are told no, in an attempt to manipulate a yes by making you feel guilty (or so it feels anyway)? Or for example, when they have been told time after time to take more care with their things and yet a favourite toy has been left somewhere again…you say we will get it back next week, thinking that if you keep making an effort to get it back for them immediately, there is no real consequence and they will never take more care, they will just always expect others to sort their problems for them. And then they cry hysterically and you feel cross and aren’t sympathetic because they are making you feel guilty? Basically, when a child seems to be a drama Queen, should you pander to that, how can you be compassionate without encouraging constant hysteria about things?
I hold children’s emotional responses in a different light, Kath. I don’t believe that they’re trying to manipulate you or make you feel guilty. I believe that they’re just little people trying to make sense of their big feelings as best as they can, and that they desperately need us to be their emotional guides instead of shaming them or judging them. I’m curious how your big feelings were met as a child, and how you meet them now. My guess is that you carry the belief that says, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” or something along those lines. I can hear in your comment your frustration when you child has a big reaction, and I strongly encourage you to see it through a different lens instead of the one you’re seeing it through. Some book recommendations: