I can always tell it's a therapy day because my eyes are still sore. I go every couple of weeks with my husbutch, to create a space where we can work on the things that we've decided we need help with: navigating parenting issues, staying emotionally connected as partners, communicating more effectively. Invariably I cry during therapy. I don't always know why, and I'm always trying to hold it back. Why? Because as soon as I let it happen, whatever we were talking about gets sidetracked, and the attention shifts to my tears. Why am I crying? Clearly there is something bothering me. What is it?
When I was around 12 years old, I remember being in family therapy. I don't remember why, exactly, and I don't recall what we discussed, but one memory is particularly salient to me. Once I asked my mom if I could see the therapist by myself, as I felt like I needed help sorting out my own feelings. The therapist and I sat in a room alone, and I remember her asking me questions about school and what I wanted to see her about. At some point I started crying, unable to hold it back or put into words what was making me cry. The therapist asked me questions to try to get to the source of it, but I had no words. All of my energy was going into trying to hold back the tears, afraid that if I started talking, I would cry even harder. Eventually, having gotten nowhere, the therapist ended the session by saying something to the effect of: "Come back when you are ready to talk." I never saw her individually again.
I cry easily, and not just when I'm sad. I cry when I'm angry, or frustrated, or sick. I cry when someone tells me about something powerful, or when I see people yell at their kids. I cry when I think about something terrible happening somewhere, even if it doesn't involve me. I cry when I witness childbirth, or a moving expression of love. I cry before my period starts, overcome with the feeling that nothing is right or will ever be right in the world.
What is the big deal about crying? Why does it make me feel so uncomfortable to cry in front of others? It doesn't feel good to hold it back. As I've told my nine year old daughter (who struggles with articulating emotions), crying is like pooping. It's normal and it's healthy. When you have to do it, the best thing is to do it. You can hold it inside, but that will make you feel bottled up and probably a little sick. Recently, a friend put it more elegantly when she said that crying "is a way to bleed out the things that pollute the heart."
Yet, I do hold it back. When I cry, I suddenly lose credibility and strength in the eyes of others. I appear to be irrational, overcome with emotion, and anything I say gets a little lost in translation. My crying itself becomes a problem that needs to be solved. It creates discomfort in others, who either feel the need to "make it better" somehow, or distance themselves from it (usually this happens figuratively, by them "checking out" of the conversation somehow, as it's rather impolite to run from a crying person). Either way my words aren't heard, which is especially frustrating when I'm crying because I've become discouraged or angry while trying to communicate my point.
And, it's frustrating during therapy, for the same reasons. Yes, I know that part of the point of therapy is to explore one's feelings more deeply. When I cry, it probably seems like a perfect opportunity to turn the crying into the focal point, in an effort to excavate and find the source of the pain. But it usually happens when I'm in the middle of talking about something, and I simply feel strongly about it. I would prefer everybody to just ignore my crying and listen to what I'm saying.
My husbutch has gotten a lot better at this. It used to freak her out when I cried, either because she didn't know why I was crying, or didn't know how to fix it. She has come to realize that my crying is not a problem to be solved, and has become better at just being present when it happens. Just listening, or just holding me. Sometimes I just need to cry.
I am grateful for this safe space within my relationship. I am also well aware that my femaleness affords to me the luxury of crying in the first place, within the bounds of socially acceptable behavior. It pains me to see this right to cry assaulted in our boys and men, though it is getting better. It does make me wonder, though, how different the world would be if we all felt free to cry when we needed, as acceptable as laughter. I think we would feel a little less constipated.