A gift that could make all the difference between not thriving or truly thriving in this life.
When I was a little girl, I remember getting my feelings hurt by different things that would happen in my family. Perhaps it was my brother’s teasing, or my father’s tone of voice, or some words from my mother, or a tension I felt over a circumstance I had nothing to do with and yet could feel. I was, and still am, a sensitive person. I felt very loved in my family and at the same time occasionally I felt hurt to the point of crying. As soon as my father saw my tears, he would point his finger at my room and say, “Those feelings are private and you need to go to your room.” I never remember being held when I would cry. I was always sent to my room. It was incredibly lonely to be crying alone. I felt as if no one understood me and I had the horrible feeling that there must be something very wrong with me.
One day, when I was nine years old, I was crying in my room after being told to go there. I cannot remember what had happened in my family, but I do know that my tears were flowing in abundance and I felt very sad. It was at this point that I had my first experience of God’s love. I remember an incredibly loving presence coming to me and surrounding me in peace and assurance. And then these words were spoken to me, “Right now there is a boy growing up who will know how to hold you when you cry. You will recognise him as he will be tall with dark hair and will become a doctor.”
At the time, what stood out to me was that someone would actually hold me when I was crying. That one fact brought such a joy to my child’s heart. My life was completely different after that experience, as I always trusted that in time my tearful feelings could be held. Up to this point my paediatrician was concerned about me. As he held my little hand and looked into my pale thin face he told my mother that I was not thriving and that something must be wrong with me. Even now I remember hearing his words and wondering what was so wrong.
After the experience of being told that I would meet a boy that would know how to hold me, I started to thrive and within six months this doctor told my mother that he was no longer concerned about me. The fact that this boy was going to be a doctor, or was tall or had dark hair, had no effect on me until I started dating. As a child, the only thing that mattered was that he would hold me and accept my tears.
I met this wonderful boy nine years after this experience and we have been together now for 50 years. Barry holds me when I occasionally cry and it is such a wonderful feeling to be held when tears come to my eyes. I feel so safe and understood just being held. It is so important to me and makes all the difference in my life.
I once saw a woman in counselling who was with a man who ignored her tears. If she was crying he didn’t say anything negative, but he walked out of the room. I coached her to ask him to hold her, but he said he just couldn’t and continued to walk out of the room. It was so painful that her tears were ignored that the woman left the relationship. Then this same woman was with another man who got angry when she cried. He felt as if her tears were his fault and it angered him greatly to see her cry. He was a physically strong man and would stand over her in a threatening position and tell her to stop crying. Even if she told him her tears were not his fault and she just wanted to be held, he got even angrier. Once again she left this relationship. Then she was with a man who also did not like her tears. Every time she cried he would say, “This relationship is not working. Look how I make you cry. We should break up.”And he did break up with her after one of her times of crying. It is to this woman’s great credit that she tried one more time to be with a man. She finally found a man who could hold her while she cried. He had no idea why she was crying and he had no idea what he should say. In silence he just held her and told her that he loved her. This action of his healed the other experiences and she was able to truly open up to this man and be vulnerable and feel trusting. That relationship really worked. There were great qualities in the men of the other relationships, but the fact that they either ignored, got angry or shamed her for her tears caused the break-up. With the last man, whom she married, he accepted her tears and held her. That is how important it is to hold someone when they cry.
This kind of holding applies to all relationships, family members and friends, as well as intimate, romantic relationships. You do not have to know what to say when someone is crying. You do not have to know how to fix them or how to bring a smile to their face. The worst thing to say while holding them is something like, ‘If you would have listened to me, this wouldn’t have happened.’ Or, ‘I know exactly what you should do the next time.’ Or the worst thing of all to say is, ‘I think you are too sensitive.’
The very best is to just reach out and hold them and let them know that they are loved. Accept the tears and know that you are giving a very high and noble gift to this person. It is a gift that could make all the difference between their not thriving and truly thriving in this life. I am living proof of that.
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counsellors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of The Shared Heart, Models of Love, Risk to Be Healed, The Heart’s Wisdom, Meant to Be, andA Mother’s Final Gift.
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