How do you cry?

Last week, my Therapist was on holiday. It was actually a relief to take a break from all the emotional baggage that’s been coming up during those first few sessions. It’s surprising to learn just how demanding this therapy programme is.  After years of extreme isolation, mixing with other people is the most taxing.

Friday was group therapy. It was out of character to be so quiet. Everyone seemed eager to say their piece, but little of it seemed relevant to my own circumstances. In retrospect, perhaps I was experiencing a detachment episode. Ironically, that’s actually the essence of what people were saying.

The group members were talking about how they attempt to manage those difficult (hypermentalizing) situations and how we can learn to sit with our individual emotional pain. I’m only just beginning to open up about the memories, but not very good at “feeling” the emotional pain.

Early on in this therapy programme, I slowly became aware that I hadn’t shed a tear in 20 plus years. We may even be able to trace this back to early teens.  Childhood was full of unhappiness. I remember the tears on a daily basis; eyes red raw from crying. I recall that secret vow, never to shed another drop over those who deliberately hurt me.

….Today? Even the word ‘crying’ feels like a dirty word. Somewhere in the distant past, that vow has manifested as a blockage to healing and, ultimately, moving on.

During recent individual sessions, as I recounted a little of my personal horrors, I became aware of a tremendous weight of emotion backing up at the nape of my neck. TBH, there’s a bit of a traffic jam back there. I feel like the little boy with his finger tightly stuck in the dam. If I let go, there may well be gallons of un-cried tears.

During the initial sessions with my Therapist, I have opened up about “stuff” for the first time, but without feeling any real sense of relief. The stumbling block or blockage seems to happen automatically, whenever I begin to touch on the emotion.

Somehow, it feels too humiliating to cry, as though I am entirely to blame for such a bad childhood and a messed-up life. The watery emotion builds up until, head throbbing, subconsciously, I divert onto something else. I call it the yo-yo effect – swirling back and forth, barely allowing time to sit with the pain.

Six months ago when I had my 15year old tom-cat, Oscar, euthanized at the Vets, I cried like a baby on my knees, with little thought of what other people might think. Then, in February, his sister Missy was also put to sleep and, once again, the grief was evident. Since then, I still haven’t exactly had a full-on-face-in-hands-bawl, but a few tears have leaked out here and there.

The idea of going through therapy without being able to cry, feels absurd.  I suppose it is the first stumbling block on this journey.  It’s one that I failed to recognise during previous encounters with therapists, but feel lost over how best to deal with it

I would be interested in what your experiences of crying are and how you manage to feel comfortable with it.

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61 thoughts on “How do you cry?

  1. Gel

    Cat,
    Good to hear from you. I guess becoming aware is the first step in the healing process. So being aware that those emotions have not been flowing for a long time is an excellent first step.

    There are very few situations in our cultures where deep crying (grieving/mourning) are acceptable. So the blockage isn’t just an individual thing, the larger framework of the social system holds it in place. When I realized this I felt less like it’s all my fault that I don’t access my tears easily.

    Even though I now know that grieving is deeply healing and essential to healing, I still feel “ugly” when I actually contact those feelings and cry.

    I’ve discovered a form of peer counseling called RC (Re-evaluation Counseling), where it is all about “discharging” these intense emotional hurts through crying (and other ways of releasing, like laughing, shaking, sweating, etc). So the format for the counseling session includes setting up a safe, wise “container” where your emotional discharging can emerge when it’s ready to. I also love that in RC, your peer counselor doesn’t evalutate you, advise, or intellectualize your experience.

    I would not say that I feel “comfortable” with crying. The biggest thing for me to accept crying is the context in which it happens….who I’m with and how they (we) create a safe space for it to happen. Establishing trust.

    xxoo

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Gel, lovely to hear from you. I believe you’re right about awareness and the social conditioning. You’re RC sounds amazing and it’s nice to read on your blog that you’re not feeling as stuck. Thank you so much for taking the time to comment

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  2. Susan Irene Fox

    Crying is difficult for me, too, Cat. I don’t do it often, and when I do, I tend to do it in privacy. It’s definitely an important part of recovery. You have to let the dam loose. If you trust your therapist, allow yourself to do it there. You’re aware enough to feel it in your neck. That’s your sign to massage your neck if you have to; take courage and move forward one more step.
    And remember, in a group setting, everyone has their own unique pain to deal with. While the experiences may be different, the pain is what is relevant. That’s what brings you all together and allows you all to be compassionate toward one another. Let it in, and let it touch you. One step forward.

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  3. chromegurl

    What you say about the link between detachment and crying is really interesting to me. I wish I could cry these days but I seem to be more detached. I am very comfortable with it and to me it is a sign that I am feeling something, even if it is awful. I’d give anything for that right now rather than the anhedonia and detachment I am currently experiencing.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Detachment is a strange one that I’m all too familiar with. I’m sure it is a coping mechanism that maybe keeps us from completely falling apart. One day, I’m sure, you’ll be able to connect with those tears. Thank you so much for commenting.

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  4. Ellen

    Congrats on making such huge changes Cat. I do find therapy makes me feel more, which includes feeling sad. As to crying – personally, I switch into a younger part, and they have no problems crying at all. It’s more a question of calming them down. I wouldn’t recommend this to you though, lol. You are so lucky you are one person and when you cry, it’s all of you.

    I was always unemotional, and still rarely cry as an adult. I wonder, once you start crying, you may have trouble stopping? But I totally relate to having feelings dammed up and blocked, kind of feeling them at a distance maybe, but unable to let them out.

    Oh, sometimes I will cry at a sad movie or a sad book. Or sad music. Maybe something like that would help?

    All the best.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Ellen, yes, sometimes I fear that, once I start, I won’t stop. I think, like you, it’s easier to cry at other things. I often wonder if the tear-dam is more about protection at a very vulnerable time. I imagine I will let go when I’m ready…

      Thank you so much for commenting

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  5. Bourbon

    You can cry for the loss of your cats, but not for the loss of your self/childhood. One day in therapy I am sure you will be able to cry for yourself. When you feel safe enough to without fear of judgement, overwhelm etc. xx

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  6. kat

    i find myself crying over anything triggering, but out of the sense of a poorly healed wound being scraped open again…the kind that never gets a chance to start a scab, to start healing, by whatever situation i find myself in. and it embarrasses me, and i hate it, because i can’t control it, and i feel weak, as tho i have failed somehow.

    we all feel things from the past when we are ready…our mind knows and only lets us feel what we can handle. i think it is a positive sign you are feeling some things now, even if it is scary and new.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I think you’re right about crying when we’re ready. I also believe that, not crying, is a coping mechanism at our most vulnerable moments. However, during therapy, I hope to share those vulnerable moments.

      Thanks for commenting, Kat

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  7. Ruby Tuesday

    I honestly don’t like crying in front of people, although it does happen — especially because I’m female and at the mercy of some very stupidly overblown hormones once a month.

    But I guess I’ve found I handle crying better and (for me) in a more healthy way if I do it when I’m alone, often writing (in my journal, not blogging or writing for anyone else to see). That way I can just let all the dammed up emotion out without worrying about people seeing me, and I can cry without having someone there trying to settle me down before I’m ready to be settled, you know?

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  8. mandy

    Cat, I just want to place a kitty in your lap and say, now, let it go. Cry it out. I, personally, have the opposite problem and have cried so much since childhood that NOT crying is a mission. I hate crying. But I also know people who, like you, have a difficult time finding that release. I have worked with therapy dogs who are used for different needs, and Cat, one of the things animals are needed for is to reach into that place that only they can. Many therapists are starting to bring animals into the therapy room for patients to hold while they talk. Or if the person has a pet they use to relieve anxiety they can bring it in. Is there any way possible you could have a therapy pet to use during these sessions? I want so much for you to free yourself from this inner turmoil, Cat.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Mandy….lovely to hear from you. I haven’t been able to manage too much reading lately, but I will be checking out…. is this your new blog?

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  9. myspokenheart

    Hey Cat, it’s been awhile :).
    Crying, hhmmmm, crying is a funny thing. I seem to be able to be triggered for other people’s hurts and suffering quite easily. Yet for my own pain it is much harder. When I was young I had this idea that the strong didn’t cry. Now I know this is isn’t true. I also know that true release, you know really weeping, isn’t self indulgent.
    I have done my share of keeping it all inside, because I knew if I released it I was opening the flood gates wide and the end was not clearly in sight. And I have done my share of out n out bawling, just sobbing on the floor until I’ve made myself physically sick, finally thought I was done, dried off my face only to start up all over again.
    The only thing I know for sure about crying is that even though it hurts like hell at first as all the pain and memories come flooding out with the tears, when all is said and done there is something magical and healing about the whole process. That eventually you can look at the stuff that was attached to those tears without feeling hard, and without crying. Eventually you can be objective. But that can never happen when you’re holding it inside. You just can’t be open to healing and change and forgiveness when there is still all that raw emotion attached to the memories.
    At least that’s my experience… ((Hugs)) for you my friend, you will find your way and one day you’ll look back and smile in spite of the sadness.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Many thanks for such a heart-warming comment. Over the last few days, I’ve read everyone’s comments a number of times and have been busy absorbing such a wealth of wisdom.

      Like you, I get triggered more by other people – and any animals’ – pain, but seem to be a lot harder on my own…..interesting concept. From a very young age, our early development is programmed with the idea that the brave/strong don’t cry. Add to the mix a particularly dysfunctional childhood and the end product can contain some pretty messed up stuff. In the last 6 months, since losing my darling pussies, I have allowed the cracks to show and the tears do flow in private, but I also need to be able to share those tears with my Therapist.

      I too have been on the floor sobbing, but never since early teens. As you said, there’s an element of fear about opening the floodgates. I love what you say about it being magical and healing experience. That’s precisely why I seek it out. Thank you ;0)

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  10. Bradley

    Cat, I was raised “to be a man” and apparently men don’t cry. As I reached adulthood that changed and I cry for me, I cry for others and I cry during a sad or sentimental commercial.

    I had a roommate once who was a marine. He said if there was a sad scene in a movie and it didn’t bring a tear to his eye then it was either badly written or badly acted. I figured if he could cry then so could I. I do hate it, though, when someone else is around.

    Sounds like you’ve found a therapist who works for you. I wish you the best.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you, Bradley. Yes, I also grew up with the “Big boys don’t cry” or “I’ll give you something to cry about”. Trying to face up to the past naturally confronts me with all the (tearful) emotion, but it still feels against the grain to let it go.

      I consider myself very fortunate to be allocated this particular Therapist, he’s a real star and so are you for taking the time to comment!

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  11. Mm172001

    I spent YEARS in weekly therapy before I allowed myself to cry in front of case manager. I would sob silently in my room or get hysterical on my own every now and again but never in front of people tell recently. And only a few select people.

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  12. N℮üґ☼N☮☂℮ṧ

    Hi Cat,

    It’s bitter-sweet to see you again and I mean that with the utmost respect and admiration. I am always in awe of your willingness to be vulnerable with us and I consider that sacred. I also consider crying sacred and rarely do I cry around others because I find myself being more conscious of their uncomfortableness of me crying and that makes me feel more vulnerable. But if I need a release, I will cry privately. Crying releases stress hormones and toxins from the body, plus it stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.

    But if you don’t feel comfortable crying in front of others, and especially in a therapy setting, I wouldn’t. I do think that as you progress in your therapy, the tears will eventually flow as you fully embrace and heal the terrible wrongs you suffered. ❤

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    1. Cat Post author

      I don’t mind maintaining a stiff upper lip with other people, however, it might help to connect and express the hurt during therapy. As I try to talk to my individual Therapist, I’m continually fighting back the tears. It doesn’t help to always be changing the subject

      Writing and reading other people’s comments are all part of that process and I thank you for sharing in that journey. Victoria, it’s lovely to hear from you.

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  13. healingmylittlegirl

    Wow…I feel the same way. My last blog post is written on the same topic. I wish I could cry…feel it. Instead it now resides in my shoulders, jaw, in the form of a headache, as a heavy weight on my chest. I wish I knew how to cry. I think it would be helpful and healing. If I look at it as the glass is half full….then I have to trust that my body will be ready to release its emotions when it believes to be the right time. I can’t rush this process even though I’m trying with all my might. A woman in my support group says she is still learning how to ‘sit with the feelings’ and to not rush them…and she’s been doing this work for the past 20 years. Her therapist will tell her that part of processing is being with the emotions. And maybe that means part of the process is sitting in this limbo of feeling nothing and feeling everything.

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    1. Cat Post author

      You describe that weight of emotion so very well. Sitting with the feelings is exactly what the group were discussing. I too believe those tears can also bring healing.

      “Sitting in limbo feeling nothing and feeling everything” is wonderfully put and, sadly, so very true. Sometimes that limbo is unavoidable and even necessary for ultimate healing.

      Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I’ll certainly be looking up your post.

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  14. manyofus1980

    I cry wasy too easily. I am a very emotional person. When you trust your therapist the tears will flow. Its all about trust when your crying in front of people, trust in them that they wont judge you, that you can feel safe to divulge your pain with them. Great post. Xo ❤

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    1. Cat Post author

      I hope it’s also possible for me to cry so readily. I agree about it all taking time. Thank you for taking the time to comment

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  15. Cheryl

    Cat,
    Thank you for sharing this. I also vowed, at one time in my childhood, that I would shed no more tears because of the hurtful comments of others. And I didn’t. In fact, from childhood through my adult years, pretty much the only thing that would generate tears was witnessing injustice toward another, and they were tears of anger. When I started therapy a few years ago, and my therapist got me to open up about my experiences, he later told me that I was like a robot in those early sessions. I recounted my story without emotion. I thought it was because I was such a mess and just trying to hold onto myself and not fly into a thousand tiny pieces. But, really, I had become so used to glossing over my feelings, not contemplating them, bouncing around, that I didn’t even notice what I was doing. Your post, especially your description of “tremendous weight of emotion backing up at the nape of my neck” has been a bit of a wake up call for me — reminding me how I easily revert back to those bad habits. While I do cry more now, my first reaction is still to dry my tears and “toughen up” even though on an intellectual level I know crying is not weakness. I guess I still tend to shy away from, instead of sit with, my emotions. Undoing years of resistance is likely going to take some time, and require mindful attention to not revert back to bad habits, before we feel comfortable crying or really experiencing our feelings. Being aware of what we are doing is a big step — the rest, I think, will follow.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Cheryl… I can identify with your experience. The trouble I have is that I’m constantly fighting back the tears whenever I talk to my Therapist. I seem to jump from one thing to another, dodging the tears like a pathway of hot coals. I’m so desperate to let it all go, it’s imperative for me to be able to overcome what I see as a major brick wall standing against the therapy process. However, as you rightly point out, being aware is a big step, so I tend not to beat myself up about it. Expressing it here and reading comments are part of that process.

      Thank you for taking the time to share this….appreciated!

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  16. Cate Reddell

    I go through stages with crying. Right now there are no tears, although there is often the desire to cry. It’s frustrating and I’m learning my patterns enough to learn that it’s not a great place to be. I think I am healthier when I can cry. I still have to learn what shifts me from one stage to the other, but meanwhile I know it is really frustrating to not have any tears.

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    1. Cat Post author

      I think it is healthier to cry, Cate. I tend to feel that holding it in is almost like our own inbuilt protection against feeling more hurt than we can handle at that particular time. Perhaps that holds some truth about your own “shifting” from one to the other.

      As always, it’s great to hear from you. You have been on my mind from time to time recently. I love a “mind-numbing” program we have in the UK which is set in NZ, called Police ten 7. What I love about these types of programmes is seeing how other people live all over the world. What better than from the Police’ point of view! Anyway, they have featured some of the devastation from the earthquake….hence why you are often on my mind!

      Thanks for dropping by, Cate

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      1. Cate Reddell

        I’m sure we could export something better than Police Ten 7, but as you say it is mind numbing and sometimes that’s the best thing for us.

        As for the crying, you’re quite right. It is healthier to be able to cry. I think I have worked out this week that my current inability to cry is an indicator that I’m sliding back into a depressive period yet again. Maybe what I need is mind numbing TV.

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        1. Cat Post author

          I can’t concentrate long enough to watch anything but ‘mind-numbing’, even police 7 can become confusing at times!

          I’m sorry you’re experiencing a bout of depression. I think you’re right about the tears, I’m sure it’s just another of our coping mechanisms. Zone out for a while on a dose of police 7!!

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hi Mandy….lovely to hear from you. I haven’t been able to manage too much reading lately, but I will be checking out…. is this your new blog?

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      1. mandy

        I understand your lack of reading time, Cat.I’m so glad to hear from you. I started my new blog Healing Beyond Survival a couple months ago; the link I sent you is a new Page on it. Thank you for checking in and hope you’re doing well.

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  17. TheCrazyBagLady

    wow, i just stumbled upon your blog and what a powerful first post to be greeted with. Sometimes I think it’s fate that I find help when I need it. I have crying issues too. I think I have a lot of issues, like how you describe it ‘a bit of a traffic jam’ SInce young, one of my 2 skills are, not crying and being emotionally detached. I guess in a way like you, i made a pact to myself that others will never see my emotions because to me, it is a sign of weakness. 3 years ago my father passed away. I didnt shed a single tear. I felt guilty at the funeral when I looked around and there was not one single dry eye in the house, except for my own. This was the first time I realised that there was something not right about me. From that day onwards, I vowed to work on my emotions. It is still work in progress but I know I have improved. Thank you for sharing so that I do not have to feel alone in this.

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  18. Gel

    Hi Cat,
    I’m listening (reading) your replies to others. Something that occurs to me is having the permission to “hide” a LITTLE BIT during therapy, perhaps behind a scarf. When I was in a group therapy situation I felt frozen by fear to open up in front of the group. Someone else in the group was in front of the group and she said she wanted to hide. The therapist said “go ahead” so she pulled up a scarf and hid her face. This seemed to allow her the freedom to release some tears and embarrassment. It was almost like she found a way to be open about her feelings while giving herself permission to just show a little bit at a time. It was a big “ah ha” moment for me to witness this. I recognized that my shame about crying or giggling or whatever, had kept me from letting go at all. It sounds contradictory to have permission to “hide”. But that is what I need sometimes to just feel OK about being where I’m at. That feeling of it being OK to be exactly as I am then allows me to let go. I have been able now to take this into other therapy situations when I start to feel overwhelmed with feelings. Not completely freezing up or running away but also taking it in a smaller dose.

    Hiding behind a scarf is not necessarily the right thing for you but maybe it’s a matter of finding of the pace or the conditions that let you feel OK with where you are at in your process. It sounds like you are doing terrific work. How does your therapist respond to you when you are in this place of diverting your tears?

    Much love and encouragement to you on your journey.

    xxoo

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  19. RisingSong

    I am comfortable crying alone, but crying in front of my therapist has been new phenomenon for me. Mostly in previous sessions, I found myself feeling the urge to fall down and weep, but only managed to produce two solitary tears held in my eyes with my eyelashes. I would turn my face away in shame and feel myself choking back a stream that would not flow.

    One day a few weeks ago, while in his office, the tears really started to flow. There were too many for my eyelashes to hold, and they just streamed down my face…and I let them. I dried my face with a tissue only to start again. I turned my gaze down, and let the tears flow while my body convulsed with silent sobs. Afterwards, I felt so honest, so clean and so open.

    I find that sometimes a good cry can have a calming effect on me. Having a lot of bottled up feelings can be agitating, and I sometimes even look for a trigger to cry it out…a song…a movie…a book. When my tears are exorcised by one of these triggers (usually a song), I try to remain aware of the real reasons and feelings for shedding these tears. As others have said, I sit with the feelings.

    Once again, I am glad that you have found a good therapist. I hope that in due time, you will be able to feel as comfortable with him as I am with mine.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Yes, I also believe that exorcising those tears can be cleansing. After reading of other peoples experiences, I’m hoping my own will happen when the time is right. Thank you for sharing your own, it’s very helpful.

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  20. Cheryl-Lynn

    My I have not visited in so long and this post spoke to me in so many ways, on a personal level and professional as well. As a child I cried very easily; my dad would just give me a “look” and I would cry, he would tell me to do dishes and I would cry. My ex hated it when I cried, it angered a violent person even more. But I still cry when I am sad and when I am happy. I used to cry out of anger like a typical girl but I hope I have finally outgrown that. My daughter when she was 10, would get angry with me when I wept watching her sing with her choir…that was a cry with a smile. I cry when I mourn a person I love or a pet that I miss, I cry in the shower and in the past five years, I cry even reading The Hunger Games in the subway and don’t give a hoot if people see…I have noticed that most people don’t even notice or bother…so I can be very anonymous on subways and busses too. I tell youths who call for help that crying is essential at night to remove the toxins in your system…it has been scientifically proven there are chemicals in our emotional tears (not in the onion cutting tears however ). When I heart that on the radio last year, I thought, finally a genius confirmed what I always knew…BUT, I don’t feel comfortable crying in front of a therapist…yet I can cry in the arms of my friend when a lover broke my heart. I hope you find your place and time when you can release these toxins. Blessings, Cheryl-Lynn

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    1. Cat Post author

      As always, it’s great to see you Cheryl and your wise words of wisdom greatly appreciated. I’ve never heard anyone talking about tears being cleansing, but it is something I believe/instinctively know. Your comment has helped me understand why crying through therapy is so very important and how it also paves the way towards “healing”. Thank you

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      1. Cheryl-Lynn

        I am pleased you found this comment helpful. I’m not sure if it is wise or just living, suffering and living some more. I think the key is to feel safe to let go…blessings, my friend. Your blog shows much courage and helps more people than you know.

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  21. Priceless Joy

    For years after my divorce (it was an ugly mess) I cried so many tears I felt like I had no more tears left to cry. Finally, it occurred to me (years later) that crying is simply washing out the “grime” that has gotten into that gray matter between my ears and is very therapeutical in itself. So let those tears flow — they are cleaning out your head. :o)

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  22. panikikubik

    Hello Cat,
    I don’t know if it is something with my wordpress, but I couldn’t find a place to comment on the last post you wrote. So I make my comment here..
    I just want you to know that I think you are so brave and strong. It’s one of the painful thing you’re going through. I can realte a lot to the part of growing up with a mom that is dysfunctional and all the doubts that brings to you in all aspects.
    My mom died last year, I thought it would be easier. It doesn’t. The only way out and home to a good place is the way you’re walking on right now. You can do this.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Thank you, that’s very kind and encouraging.

      Thank you also for bringing to my attention the issue with replies on my last post. I have no idea what’s going on, but will check it out

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  23. Gel

    Hi Cat,
    I read your latest post called ‘Tuning into the past’. I don’t see any way to leave a comment. Does this mean you are not wanting comments right now? If that is true then that’s fine and I support you making that choice. But I just wanted to check if that is what you are wanting. Or if I’m missing something about how to leave comments.

    Peace to you.

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    1. Cat Post author

      Hey Gel, I managed to spot the problem. Somehow the replies button was deactivated. I hope it will appear okay now. Thanks for letting me know. I did visit your blog yesterday and noticed you weren’t posting. I hope everything is okay

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      1. Gel

        Great on figuring out the problem.

        I have been posting at my blog but just not as often. Thanks for hoping things are OK. I’m needing to connect with people in real time in other areas of my life lately. There is more going on with some of my family members and I’m just DOING more with work and garden and home care etc…

        It’s nice to connect with you.

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  24. lifeconfusions

    Honestly Cat in my experience with crying I have a hard time crying in front of people, I don’t know why I have this emotional blockage too. Somehow something always stops me. I cry a lot…in solitude. It’s probably that I dont feel comfortable with crying in front of people…maybe its the fear of judgement maybe its something else. I haven’t really figured it out yet.

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    1. Cat Post author

      It’s also ingrained in our early upbringing, “Stop crying….don’t be a big baby” “Be a brave soldier for mummy”…. I don’t even cry in private, but I’m working on it!

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