Reveals the possibility of a deeper connection with ourselves and others
“Laughing and Crying it’s the same release” Joni Mitchell Peoples Parties
This line struck me as being emotionally true during the time I was learning to cry consciously in my early twenties. Though I am sure I cried as a baby and toddler, up to that point I had been very shut down after a traumatic operation when I was nine. I would cry only if I cut myself. I was uncomfortable with the sound of babies crying. But I had a bad pain in my shoulder that would only release when I cried. I thought this was interesting so I pursued the act of crying using my body pains as an entry point. I would press hard wherever I could reach until I felt the sad feeling and was able to reach a sobbing release. I noticed that after crying I seemed more relaxed and in touch with myself. I was gradually finding my ‘truth’ through the vulnerability of crying.
Now I see the Joni Mitchell lyric as being true in a physical way as well. The muscles we use for deep crying and laughing are much the same: the diaphragm, the intercostals between the ribs the throat and facial muscles. Often people will laugh until they cry (a great feeling) Less often people will cry until they laugh. However, if the above muscles are loosened by deep crying, laughter will also become deeper and more easily accessed because we no longer have to hold them tight in the fear of ‘falling apart’. We have already done it and survived. I am grateful that I unlearned fear and shame feelings around the act of crying.
Eventually I called my freedom around crying ‘living from the gut’ and felt proud that I had the courage to do it. I tried to teach other people to cry. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. What I didn’t know at the time was that humans need to feel a certain level of safety before we can access our grief. Even though I could cry, I often wouldn’t cry about my most vulnerable topics. For example, I was struggling with dissociation from c-ptsd about my voice. (See my book Note by Note for the full story). Because I couldn’t cry or tell anyone, I couldn’t face the truth of exactly what my voice was and wasn’t---even when I was taking lessons. I remember shutting down what could have been valuable feedback from teachers because I just couldn’t face the grief involved in the truth. Now part of my vocal rehabilitation involves making crying type sounds.
When I trained in bodywork and later the Havening™ technique--which is a method that promotes safety in the nervous system through self soothing--I observed that during sessions my clients had all the signals of Vagus nerve activation. It is a nerve that helps to increase relaxation responses. These signals were yawning, breathing deeper or swallowing. Often, shortly after this signaling, they would access their sadness and have accompanying insights: “Oh that is what I have been upset about.” Or “So that is what I actually need” I also observed that in the increased safety that comes with relaxing, they resolved their sad feelings quickly and thoroughly and became more socially engaged and cheerful.
There are negative aspects of crying. These mainly occur when a person is not socially connected enough. Crying can be problematic when:
Now I watch Korean netflix series. I like them because the writers write characters with vulnerabilities and the actors cry deeply and naturally. Few characters say, “Don’t cry”---they just hug. When I see them I feel comforted too. This is not everyone’s experience. For some people, their own or others’ crying brings tension, anxiety and resistance.
If we can cry with someone safe in a safe environment, with our body in a safe state, it activates the social engagement aspect of the Vagus nerve (Ventral Vagal). Also, if someone close invites our crying (makes it safe in an appropriate way) we feel more ourselves with them. The relationship can grow. Another positive aspect of crying is that it releases various muscle and fascia systems: the chest and ribs, the diaphragm the jaw, cheeks and eyes and wherever else we have been storing/resisting the experience of grief.
In my book I write, “The key to having a positive grief experience is connection, with self, with others or with spirit. This aspect of connection helps sadness to flow and have its natural peak and resolution. But connection does not mean being intrusive to yourself or the person you are witnessing. The emotion of sadness needs room to breathe---a quietness and non-interference that allows it just to be” My early conception of “living from the gut” if I could cry, has been confirmed many times over watching myself and others come ‘alive’ as they cry, sharing their sorrows and the truths that come with them.
Kristi Magraw is known for having developed a unique synthesis of Eastern healing (Five Element theory) and Western ways of working with the mind, called the Magraw Method, which she established in 1979. This method uses metaphoric language and release techniques to help people heal physical and emotional pain.