Tears and Crying: IPNB and Empathy – August 2014
As I have written before, my favorite thing about living in the 21st century, an age which holds so many difficult and painful dilemmas for humans, is the neuroscience research that continually reveals new and deeper biological levels at which people make sense.
One small example of this particularly poignant to me after this year of loss: the chemical composition of tears. When we cry because of emotion, our tears are different from the tears we cry when we are peeling onions. Our emotional tears, whether they are because of grief, joy, or physical pain, contain both stress hormones and a natural pain killer. It is common for people who are writing about tears to say that when we cry we are releasing these substances from our bodies, helping ourselves to return to balance.
I read this and shook my head, not believing that the small quantity of tears we cry could create balance for a human body. And then I remembered my own personal experience. Early on in the trauma and addiction process which eventually took our son from us I started to lose my hair. I knew I was under a great deal of stress, so I went to the acupuncturist for support. She asked me a few questions and put me on the table with needles in the grief points in each ear. Without sound or volition, tears started to run out of my eyes, filling my ears, pooling and soaking the sheet under my head. I cried silently, ceaselessly, for the remaining 50 minutes of my session. After that session, my hair stopped falling out.
This blockage and then release of my tears happened in the days before I began to seriously commit to a lived practice of Nonviolent Communication, and before I committed to getting empathy support for myself most days of the week. And these days I cry much more often than I used to. For me, the practice of NVC happens mostly with myself. Much more than being an approach to language with others, it is a way to transform my own relationship with myself, and to transform the tone of my automatic thoughts, which the researchers call the “default network.” Even with a daily practice, it’s hard for me to recognize when the self-cruelty begins. It slips into my thoughts silently and invisibly. Just the other day I set up a demo in a class about an upset I had with a my cousin, and realized in a split second that the reason I was upset and angry was because I was blaming and judging myself, not because of the other person (who I had started to blame and judge in self-defense.) Once I knew where the pain was coming from, I could hold my inner self-judge with empathy, and everything started to soften.