Psychotherapy Networker / By Jay Efran and Mitchell Greene
May 18, 2012 |
Why We Cry: The Fascinating Psychology of Emotional Release
Knowing how our nervous systems work can help guide what we do—and don’t do—when
people burst into tears.
The Two-Stage Theory of Tears
Physiologically speaking, emotional tears are elicited when a person’s system shifts rapidly from
sympathetic to parasympathetic activity—from a state of high tension to a period of recalibration
and recovery. Depending on the circumstances, individuals typically describe such shifts as
“letting go,” “going off duty,” or “giving up.” Of course, nothing is literally “released” when
these biophysical changes occur, although the person’s adrenaline level drops and the body
The shift from arousal to recovery is almost always triggered by a psychologically meaningful
event, such as when lost children finally spot their parents and realize that they’re safe. Typically,
children don’t cry when they first realize that their parents are gone; instead, they become
hypervigilant and start searching for their missing caretakers. It’s only when the parents
reappear—perhaps rounding the corner of the supermarket aisle—that their child “goes off duty,”
and tears begin to flow. In other words, tears are elicited during the second, parasympathetic,
phase of the two-stage cycle we’re describing. Again, the child usually remains dry-eyed during
the initial, problem-solving phase. Evidence for this two-stage cycle has been found in multiple
studies. Using physiological measures, such as heart rate, researchers documented the “handoff”
from the initial fight-or-flight stage to the parasympathetic recovery stage, in which tears occur.
Check out a book by bell hooks all about love, NEW VISIONS. It isn’t a new book (written in 2000) so some of her cultural references are dated, but still worth a read. She covers a lot of ground, as you can imagine, as love covers a lot of ground. In her extensive exploration she quotes many inspiring teachers, healers, and artists. She quotes from one of my favorite books, The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm. He speaks of love as action, “essentially an act of will.” “To love somebody is not just a strong feeling—it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling may come and go.” She also quotes Scott Peck who is also inspired by Fromm. Peck describes love as the will to nurture one’s own or another’s spiritual growth. Peck says, “The desire to love is not itself love. Love is as love does. Love is an act of will—namely, both an intention and action. Will also implies choice. We do not have to love. We choose to love.” We want to “fall in love.” hooks says, “We may be more interested in finding a partner than in knowing love.”
Also, a recent article from the NY Times December 17th, 2019 “Well” section is about a book Love for Imperfect Things written by a Buddhist Monk Haemin Sunim. He has some self-care suggestions; exercise, eating well, and getting enough sleep. These are things we all know are good for us. Self-care also means taking time for yourself in order to do what gives us enjoyment, and helps us to process stress and practice self-compassion. Self-care might seem simple, but it can be challenging to enact. Can I take time to focus on my own needs? Is this being selfish?
Haemin Sunim suggests five things: breathe, accept, write, talk, walk.
●Breathing we all understand! It is necessary for life and paying attention to the breath, for some of us, will slow us down. It brings us to the present moment.
●Acceptance of our struggles. “Acceptance of ourselves, our feelings, and life’s imperfections…” “When we regard our difficult emotions as a problem and try to overcome them, we only struggle more. When we accept them our mind stops struggling….”
●Writing can get things off our minds….especially if they keep us in a obsessive loop.
●Talking; “Never underestimate the value of meaningful conversation for your well-being.” “Choose someone who can listen without any kind of judgment. Talking through your feelings can give you insights into your own needs.”
●Walking is moving our bodies. The simple act of changing our physical location and moving can change our state of mind and stress level. If we are outdoors we may begin to pay attention to nature, which can bring us outside of ourselves in a good way. We are a part of something larger.
Rosen bodywork resonates with the acceptance and talking part of Sunim’s list. Rosen Movement also resonates with the walking part! Sensing, especially our own body, is how we know what needs to be processed, given compassion, talked about, if we are holding our breath, or not moving! And if we need help and how we can ask for it.
Check out the work of Ester Perel, author of Mating in Captivity
I heard about her from a client and then from a fellow bodyworker.
Contemplate these thoughts from her:
“What it means to be human is the need for connection, protection, freedom and responsibility.”
“What is me and what is us?” “You discover who you are in the presence of another.”
From an On Being interview with Krista Tippett
●And I have told some of you about an amazing podcast about hands, the development of tool making and hence the development of our brains, and possibly language!
Handwork | To The Best Of Our Knowledge
The Moving Child: film trailer on the importance of movement for children and all human beings:
Check out this local Butoh teacher:
Old growth forest in Minnesota, left alone due to a geological survey error!
The Perfect Brain Food (Reading isn’t just filling your head–it’s nourishing it) by Marc Peyser. The article states that reading can improve your brain in many ways. The most “impact occurs in the area associated with language reception, the left temporal cortex. Processing written material…snaps the neurons to attention as they start the work of transmitting all that information. This happens with spoken language too, but the very nature of reading encourages the brain to work harder and better.” Maryanne Wolf, EdD, director of the UCLA Center for Dyslexia, Diverse Learners, and Social Justice says, “Typically, when you read, you have more time to think,” and “Reading gives you a unique pause button for comprehension and insight.” “With oral language—when you watch a film or listen to a tape—you don’t press pause.” The benefits of reading continue after you stop reading. A shadow activity happens, almost like muscle memory. “Reading also energizes the region responsible for motor activity … because when you are reading about a physical activity, the neurons that control that activity get busy as well.” And for children who were below-average readers, 100 hours of remedial reading classes rewired their brains in ways that can benefit the entire brain! And how about reading on a screen? Wolf notes that “this form of reading is rarely continuous, sustained, or concentrated.” Without the sustained exercise of our reading “muscles,” the brain loses its ability to control the intricate processes that allow us to read deeply.”
An article from the Star Tribune, February 10, 2019 originally published in the Washington Post by Jae Berman Proper Breathing can Enhance your Workout – Nasal breathing while exercising provides many benefits. Nasal breathing is more effective in getting oxygen to active tissues when exercising or dealing with stress. The nose releases nitric oxide which is necessary to increase carbon dioxide in the blood, which in turn is what releases oxygen. For body awareness purposes this is what interested me: Nasal breathing also activates the part of the nervous system that supports rest, recovery and digestion. So nasal breathing can provide a sense of calm and allow us to function better when we feel stressed. This is known from yogic and meditation traditions as well. Brian Mackenzie, founder of the Art of Breath, a program that teaches breathing to optimize athletic performance, says it not only “improves athletic performance but also can improve our awareness.” Other quotes: “To desire a mind that remains curious and can see the beauty in any experience is true freedom.” “Our breath is the direct link to a calm, clear mind and body.” I love it when different disciplines arrive at the same knowing! There are many ways to do nasal breathing. I can show you what I do, if you are interested.
Check out this article on tears:
TED Talk on Vulnerability by Brene Brown
Brene Brown says to avoid vulnerability we numb. We can’t selectively numb emotions, so when we numb one we numb them all to some degree. Marion Rosen also said this. Brown says when we try to make the uncertain certain, when we go for perfection, when we pretend that what we do doesn’t have an impact, and when we use blame as a way to discharge pain and discomfort— that these are all ways to avoid vulnerability. Brown and Rosen say we all want to be deeply seen and know we are worthy of belonging and love. Wholehearted compassion for ourselves and others emerges when we allow ourselves the space to be vulnerable.
A sprinkling of quotes that have made an impression on me:
● “Perhaps the greatest irony of healing is that it occurs when we accept our felt experience, rather than rely on willpower or focused effort to get rid of the unwanted.”
Josh Korda, dharma teacher at DharmapunxNYC
● From a recent StarTribune of the book Everything Lost is Found Again by Will McGrath. The quote is from a memoir of a Minnesota couple who spent a year in Lesotho. “In Lesotho,[McGrath] notes, ‘everyone holds hands here. Everyone touches. Men with men, women with women… It is not uncommon for a stranger to take your hand as he walks beside you, asking where you are going or what has brought you to Lesotho.’” Lesotho is a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. Touch is important for connection!
● The Subtle Energy Search for Meaning “Awareness refers to our perception of a situation. Attention is our ability to select an aspect of our awareness and focus on it. By putting these two activities together, our brain’s neurons will oscillate rhythmically and help create a desirable outcome.” by Cyndi Dale, Massage and Bodywork, May/June, 2018
Rosen Method focuses attention on what we are actually doing, viewing the individual in context, and connecting that to sensation/body awareness.
● In his book Brain Longevity, Dharma Singh Khalsa, M.D. defines the difference between brain and mind: “People often confuse the brain with the mind, even though the brain and mind are two distinctly different entities. The mind is “software,” the mystical and mysterious product of all that we are. The brain is “hardware,” a bodily organ that requires nutrition, rest, use, and proper medical care.”
❖ From the Star Tribune, Sunday, August 26, 2018
“Sitting for hours can slow the flow of blood to the brain, said a finding that could have implications for long-term brain health. But getting up and strolling for just two minutes every half-hour seems to stave off this decline. Scientists found that blood brain flow dropped when people sat for four continuous hours. It was equally apparent when people broke up their sitting after two hours, although blood flow rose during the walking break. But brain blood flow rose slightly when the four hours included frequent, two-minute walking breaks, the scientists found.”
❖ You may not know this about me, but I read many books at once. So it takes me time to finish one… Variety is the spice of life?! Here are a few that I’m reading right now:
My Body is Not an Apology, The Power of Radical Self-Love by Sonya Renee Taylor.
I liked this simple reminder, “You, my dear, have a body. And should you desire to remain on this spinning rock hurtling through space, you will need a body to do it.” “When we speak of the ills of the world—violence, poverty, injustice—we are not speaking conceptually; we are talking about things that happen to bodies.” Her desire is for “a radical self-love world.” That is, a world “free from the systems of oppression that make it difficult and sometimes deadly to live in our bodies.” Why the word radical? It means “of or going to the root or origin; fundamental.” So including the word radical means a kind of self-love that is the “root or origin of our relationship to ourselves.” The book is full of “unapologetic inquiries” and “radical reflections” in which to engage, so it’s experiential and reflective.
I also liked her “Three Peaces”:
“1. Make peace with not understanding.” “When we liberate ourselves from the expectation that we must have all things figured out, we enter a sanctuary of empathy,” “an invitation to curiosity,” and “exploration without judgment.” “Understanding is ideal, but it is not an essential ingredient for making peace.”
“2. Make peace with difference.” “Humans are a complicated and varied bunch, and those variations impact our lived experiences.” And that includes bodies. “Bodies are diverse, not only in size, but in race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, physical ability, and mental health.” So what is considered “normal” impacts our social values. “Inequality and injustice rest firmly on our unwillingness to exalt the vast magnificence of the human body.”
“3. Peace with your body” “Your body is the body it is.” “….you did not come into this world hating your body.” “What if you accepted the fact that much of how you view your body and your judgments of it are learned things, messages you have deeply internalized that have created an adversarial relationship?” “I’m not simply proposing that you make peace with your body because your body shame is making you miserable. I’m proposing you do it because it’s making us miserable too.” “Remember body shame is as contagious as radical self-love.”
Taylor’s book is a way to root out body shame. Rosen Method also is about feeling in our bodies and appreciating/enjoying the way we feel rather than the way we look. Who we are is not separate from our bodies, while we are alive.
Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, by Mary Roach
The author takes on things that interest her and goes in-depth in her humorous, scientific, and quirky way. She has written other books that I’ve enjoyed: Stiff, The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers; Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science; and, Packing for Mars: the Curious Science of Life in the Void… You get the picture~ She loves the body, and so do I! She takes us on a fun ride.
❖Assessing the Healing Power of the Vagus Nerve, Self-Help Exercises for Anxiety, Depression Trauma, and Autism by Stanley Rosenberg.
Rosenberg calls himself a body therapist, which I loved right from the start. He has studied many things and most recently has been inspired by the Polyvagal Theory developed by Dr. Stephen Porges. This theory revolutionized his understanding of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and his work with people. Porges’ theory said that social engagement is needed to regulate our ANS. “When we are together with other people who are socially engaged, we feel better. On the other hand when we do not have enough positive social interactions with others, we can easily become stressed, depressed, asocial and even antisocial.” After 45 years of following his own path, at his own “tempo” he wrote this book. He said that becoming a skilled body therapist is not so much “knowing about” something intellectually but “learning how to do something with your hands.” Still, he provides lots of intellectual knowledge in his book, and some “self-help exercises and hands-on therapeutic techniques that are simple to learn and easy to use.”
I resonated with how important it is to practice connection. The Rosen Method does this through touch! I tried to figure out how many people I have touched in my work over 34 years, and estimated it is 20,000! Lucky me.
“The body is us.” “Movement makes us human.” Ido Portal.
Keep in touch with your bodyself.