She sits in the chair, her head hung low, the tears falling so quickly they land, not on her cheeks, but on her shaking arms. Her pain so palpable you can feel it in the small room, you can see it in the bodies of those witnessing and watching her sob. Often the others in the group shift in their seats, wanting something to interrupt the sounds of her cries, something to make them more comfortable as they watch her cry, watch her pain, and see her let it out.
In my job as a Mental Health Practitioner, I sit through scenes like this every day. Hour after hour of group therapy where women and men feel safe enough to allow their true and most deep feelings pour out of them. And when they do, I often want to cheer, “Yay! Good job you did it. Way to go!”
But usually something else happens, something that makes me want to jump out of my seat and stop it before I see the movement. It is movement by the others in the room and I see the scanning of the eyes looking for the box of tissue.
The tissue looker is no longer paying attention to the one in pain.
They see the snot coming from the nose or the wiping of the tears on the sleeve and they are now focused on one thing, get this girl a tissue!
I don’t. I sit. I wait. I allow her to have the full expression of her emotion without interruption, without words, and for sure without jumping out of my seat to find her a tissue.
I can’t tell you how many times patients in the room have said, “Why didn’t you get her a tissue? Can’t you see she is crying?”
Yes, oh yes, I see she is crying, and what a beautiful and amazing thing it is. That she feels safe enough with us in this room, this room sometimes full of people she has only known for a short time, to trust us enough to hold her emotions safe.
When we jump up and grab a tissue, or when we say, “Oh do you need a hug?”
We stop the flow.
While this may be a compassionate response, it often sends the message, “hurry and stop crying.” Also, as we move into the role of caretaker, we are, in essence, able to avoid our own fears of darkness descending as we rush to physically remove or pat dry the evidence of sorrow.” - Don’t Offer Tissues
We are now a dam blocking the water from the natural flow of where it needs to go…out and through her body.
I don’t cry in front of people. Hardly ever. I know, it is a total hypocrisy that I sit every day with people and encourage them and celebrate their ability to cry, because I can’t seem to do it.
Part of why I don’t cry in front of other people is because of what I am describing. Dam workers. People who have stopped my flow. Metaphorically and literally. “Stop crying, you should only cry if you are bleeding!” My parents would say. “Don’t be sad. Don’t cry!”
Phrases said so often they now come without prompting in my brain, don’t be such a baby. You feel too much. That is not something to be crying about.
Guess what? It was and it is. And so because of these phrases, I learned at a very young age, crying is for the privacy of my room. And unfortunately, it is still that way for me. I try to allow others to see it, my tears, to allow them into my world, but the tears stay holed up, my breath stopped and everything waits…until I am alone. Only when I am alone.
Is it like this for you too?
And this keeps me from deeper relationships. Keeps me from being fully me around others, I am working on it, and it is a struggle. The truth is, expressing our full emotions and allowing others to witness our pain, is an honor to them. It means you trust them to hold your pain, your sadness, your hurt.
I am so honored by the patients I work with that trust me with their tears. And eventually, it is my hope that I will be able to do the same.
But if I do, please please don’t offer me a tissue.