When Does The Rain Stop Falling?
The session’s minutes were short when water pooled in her eyes and spilled out.
“I told myself I wouldn’t cry today”, she said, her tone thick with reprimand.
My own eyes filled with a fresh memory: but a few hours ago, I’d stood in the shower and let my face leak continuously, intermingled with the faucet’s flow ... having just told myself that very same thing.
It was the day after the rope of reasoning I’d been grasping gave way completely, and I fell off the back of understanding into an entirely different hemisphere.
I couldn’t tell her as much, but that moment felt like communion. Empathy shortens the distance between two people. Empathy unifies.
But when does the rain stop falling?
One thing I know: tears don’t respond to will-nots. Will-not cry often becomes will-so cry, in my experience. Or, if the restraint holds, that emotion siphons itself to somewhere secretive inside us, where it ulcerates from lack of release, and acidifies positive emotion production.
Later, sometimes years later, that emotion finds an escape route from which to spill from, having become far more amplified and anarchic in the meantime.
According to science, there are three kinds of tears: basal tears (those that keep the eye lubricated), reflex tears (those that respond to irritants), and emotional tears (those that occur due to powerful emotions).
Emotional tears happen when sadness is registered in the brain. The endocrine system is signalled to release hormones to the ocular area, and tears form. It is the hormone prolactin that is thought to promote crying. In comparison to basal and reflex tears, emotional tears contain more protein, which thickens their makeup and somewhat slows the speed with which they fall from our eyes, making them more easily noticed by others.
The design of our body was so intentional.
Beyond providing an outlet for the physical build-up of intense emotion, tears are a signal to others that we’re not okay. That we need help. And when we help each other to meet personal needs, emotional intimacy grows. This causes people to be more in tune with each other, which means improved communication, understanding, and connection.
This is humanity functioning at its best.
Yet we are often quick to apologise for crying - as if we’re doing something wrong. We’re embarrassed that our eyes have betrayed our internal world, and caused cracks in our wall of I’m-totally-fine-always.
Sadly, because of how others respond to our emotions, many of us grow up learning that outward expressions of emotion, especially sadness, are unacceptable. We learn to loathe our emotions as weak and to suppress them as strength. Problematically, we are praised for being stoic - for not being "emotional".
Susan David, in her wonderful book Emotional Agility, encourages us to “welcome our inner experiences, breathe into them and learn their contours without racing for the exit”. She goes on to say, “sadness is a signal to ourselves that something is wrong – often that we are looking for a better way to be here and participate. Suppress the sadness under a veil of false cheer and you deny yourself the self-directional guidance, and maybe also the helping hand”.
I’ve still got a ways to go with this. More than a psychologist, I’m a human being. I’ve found that at times I have to be extra deliberate about paying attention to my own heart. It’s tempting to focus on others’ hearts to escape the wilderness of my own.
But our hearts are much too alive to be unattended to.
So when the rain falls, let it. Slow down. Check in with that pulsing organ in your chest from which flows life. And be willing to let others attend to it too.
We were made for each other.