Monday, September 9, 2019

Voices of Experience: Why Are We So Afraid to Cry?

By Sarah Neustadter, PhD

Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.  ~ Christian Nevell Bovee

“They” say “the only way out is through.” And it’s fucking annoying and cliché. But it’s true. The grieving is a crazy journey. Madness. Insanity. Never-ending, in some ways. But it is also transformative, if you allow it and shape it. Your shell’s been cracked open and something new is emerging. If you go in there and live it, experience it like your life depends on it (and it does), I guarantee that when you pop out the other side of it, you will be different. You will feel things in new ways and experience life from a perspective you never thought possible. You might not want to hear it, you might not see it or believe it, and you certainly don’t want it, but I invite you to feel it as fully as you can. Your power is in there. Claim it. Get what’s yours.

In various areas of my life, and in my work especially, I hear people commenting, “I got too emotional, so I stopped myself from cyring,” or “I can’t read that—it makes me cry,” or “I just don’t want to go down that rabbit hole.” I’ve had clients tell me they just can’t let themselves cry or grieve, that crying is a sign of weakness and they need to be strong, hold it together. “Dad never allowed crying in his house.” I hear this a lot. This fear of crying is like an epidemic in our culture.

I can understand it, of course. Before John passed, I found the idea of showing emotion—real emotion—in public mortifying. And it would have been abominable for me to actually shed tears in front of anyone. That was something I kept to myself. I only allowed myself to cry in the privacy of my room, behind closed doors.

All that changed, with or without my consent, when John killed himself. During that time, I found myself breaking into tears on the phone with friends as I shared word that he was lying unconscious in the hospital, possibly on his deathbed, sobs, sounds I never heard myself make, flew out of me. I tried to speak, but words couldn’t come out. From then on, the tears flowed and flowed and didn’t stop. I would be grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, hear a love song that reminded me of him, and begin to sob uncontrollably and have to leave the store. I cried in the car, driving up and down through the streets, the cemetery of the world I used to know with John. I cried in class, on my front porch, on my back porch. Everywhere. I cried at the beach, at the edge of the bay, in the woods, at the movies, on the kitchen floor. My tears expressed everything, every feeling I couldn’t possibly name, and then some—sadness, loss, despair, rage, anguish, longing, isolation, separation, alienation, death, love, hope, beauty, futility, apathy. All of life, the totality of human experience, is awash in those tears, which I continue to cry to this day.

I know it’s painful, I know it’s hard to feel so much at times; we feel like we will lose our minds, lose ourselves to the tears, be swallowed up into the depths of the ocean and never find our way back. But why would we deny ourselves this experience? This is the stuff of life. This is why we came here. To fully feel it all. Why would we bypass this part and attempt to only feel joy and light? I do know the value of feeling joy in every moment (this is one of the curious byproducts of an intensive grieving process . . . go figure); however, skipping over the darkness and the pain to get to the light and the transcendent and the spiritual does not lead to wholeness or complete healing. The journey is to integrate the dark with the light, the pain with the pleasure, the human with the divine/transcendent, until they ultimately become one and the same. So you can walk in the dark and be the illumination and not feel threatened or scared, knowing that you will not become corrupted or lose yourself.

When I let myself feel it all and cry, the tough emotions—the sadness, anguish, despair, even my longing to die—eventually it gets dried up for a time. My heart opens and what needed to be cleansed moves through and gets released.
The more we cry, the more we heal. So why not cry your heart out and let yourself heal as fully as you can? That’s what out tears are for. There’s so much excruciating pain in this world, and it is beautiful. The imperfection of it all; our capacity to feel loss and sorrow in addition to joy and happiness; this is what connects us to our humanity—our multifaceted, mixed bag of strengths and flaws, our powerlessness, and the uniquely spiritual quality of our own personal narrative of life. The Japanese call it wabi sabi. Your heart has been broken and lies in pieces. There’s no going back. Embrace the beauty of its brokenness by crying your heart out.

  • Take care of your basic needs: eating, sleeping, exercising as much as possible.
  • Get a good therapist as soon as possible.
  • Acknowledge that you’re in shock. Understand that you’ve been traumatized.
  • Be with the despair, allow it, acknowledge it, and cry.
  • If you’re feeling suicidal, reach out to others immediately. Call 1-800-SUICIDE if you need someone to talk to. I used to work this hotline in Los Angeles. The staff are amazing human beings.
  • Remember your loved one who passed and share your memories of them with friends and family.
  • Don’t isolate. Be in community.
  • Let yourself be held. Don’t underestimate the healing that comes from touch.
About the Author: Dr. Sarah Neustadter is a licensed psychologist based in Los Angeles, specializing in suicide prevention, loss, and grief, including those grieving the suicide of a loved one. She has over a decade of professional experience identifying and treating those at risk of suicide, especially teenagers. Sarah is passionate about helping others understand grief as an entryway into a deeper process of spiritual growth. She holds a bachelors degree from New York University’s Gallatin School for Individualized Study and a PhD in clinical and transpersonal psychology from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California. She is the author of the Love You Like the Sky: Surviving The Suicide of A Beloved. You can learn more about Sarah on her website, You can also follow her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

© by Sarah Neustadter, PhD

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