This is “part II” because I have a 6-year old article about the same topic buried in the unvisited depths of my blog. But I wanted to give the topic another try, using the emotional intelligence I’ve learnt in these not insignificant six years.
A lot of the time, when I’m crying (I’m a good crier) I find that people react to me in problematic ways. It depends on the person, of course, but I find a lot of people have a sort of fear of tears and think the goal is to get the tears to go away as soon as possible.
As far as I’m concerned, crying is the symptom and not the disease. Tears, in themselves, are a good thing, because they help heal the actual pain that is causing them. Tears are of course, however, a response to bad things. If possible I’d like to never cry — but not because tears are bad; instead, I’d like to live in a world where crying isn’t necessary. But while we’re here, crying when necessary is good.
So, while well intentioned, I really can’t stand the words “Don’t cry“. When I hear that, I feel like it’s not safe for me to express my feelings. I often do stop crying then, or cry less, but then I feel like I’ve just repressed myself. Those words certainly don’t help me feel closer to the person who says them.
Instead, I like the words, “I’m here for you.”
Often, though, no words are really necessary. The important thing is to just be there for the person who is crying.
Another reaction some people have to someone else crying is to try and solve a problem. For instance, I might be talking about how I feel hurt by such and such a person, and their reaction might be to make a list of ways I can deal with the situation better.
There IS a place for such talk, but if you’re paying attention you should hopefully be able to work out when it’s appropriate and when it isn’t. When I’m crying or close to it, I don’t need any sort of practical solutions to anything. I just want to feel validated, accepted, maybe comforted. Most of all, listened to.
People who find tears very uncomfortable to witness probably find the act of just listening a little hard. They want to do something. The important thing to know is that the best way to help is pretty much to do nothing: well, to listen; most of all just to be there.
Actually, even those aren’t quite the words I’m looking for. I think it’s more like… holding a space. It’s a sort of meditative thing. Try to think a bit less, and hear the silence around you. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power Of Now gives a good explanation of this.
True listening means holding a space. Imagine an everyday conversation. If you don’t give space for someone, they can never reply. You need to leave a little space between sentences so that they can also enter the conversation. The best listeners are really good at holding that space.
So think about that moment when you leave a little space for someone in a conversation. Now, take that principle further, and give the person before you even more space – space to be there, space to feel what they are feeling. Witness the feelings, without judging them or giving them a special meaning.
If you think about it, trying to find solutions to problems is kind of the opposite of this. When you’re doing that, you’re not giving someone space to feel what they’re feeling. Perhaps, deep down, you’re scared of their feelings. You’re scared of giving space. Try to witness that fear, if you can. If you can witness it, it doesn’t control you. Then, when you can, open up to giving space.
And it really is an internal thing. I can tell when someone doesn’t want to give space, even if they’re saying nothing. They seem nervous, maybe they’re a little twitchy. They’ve heard me tell them I don’t want solutions to problems, and they don’t know what to replace that with. Space is what they should replace that with.
It can feel like doing nothing. It sort of is doing nothing. But if you can really, deeply do nothing, then it’s far more powerful and healing than anything you can actually do. Try to trust in this. You might feel fear, so look for a feeling of trust to counter that. Don’t try to run somewhere else; stay in the same place. And trust that this will be okay.
Another thing I’d like to mention is that when someone is experiencing some serious emotional pain, make it about them and not you. Sometimes I feel like when someone is trying so hard to stop me crying, the issue is about them feeling uncomfortable with me crying and not about me at all. They want to stop me crying so that they can feel better. This is very inappropriate.
Someone who is very sad doesn’t want to spend energy on helping you feel better about them crying. If you have to deal with your own emotions regarding their crying, deal with them yourself, don’t expect the other person to. If necessary, apologise and leave.
Otherwise, put a limit on how much you say “how can I help you?” and similar things. If you don’t know what to do, and someone isn’t up for giving long explanations, then I think doing nothing is probably best. It can seem callous to some, but I find it normally isn’t a big deal. Perhaps at other times you can ask someone what they normally want when they are crying, whether they feel good with hugs, want to be left alone, want to talk, or whatever.
Anyway, most of this article is dealing with what happens when you’re in the presence of someone who you’re reasonably close to and know they are happy with you being there. In this case, as I’ve said, just validate them and give them space, and avoid taking up too much space at their expense.
How To Deal With Anger And Other Negative Emotions