The healing power of tears, and how listening changes everything

Finding a listener for your stories can make all the difference 

I am the mother of a 10-month old daughter Ruby. When I was pregnant I worried a lot about what sort of mother I’d be and how I could bring her up to be happy. We all seem hurt in some ways by our upbringing and having that responsibility for a child seemed overwhelming. I read a lot of books about parenting, and discovered something fascinating.

Babies and children instinctively heal themselves from trauma and upset by crying, and laughter. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released through tears.

However as parents we often think it is our job to stop or minimise crying. So when babies cry, we feed them even when they’re not hungry, or give them a dummy to stop the crying. When toddlers tantrum we may try to ignore them, or if in public, give into their demands to try and keep them quiet!

Hand in Hand parenting is a parenting organisation, that teachers a method called Parenting by Connection. The idea is to maintain a close connection with your child. To play and listen to them in a way that promotes laughter, and love, and sometimes tears. And if a child cries, then then you should stay with them, offer support, love and a listening ear.

Have you ever had the experience of feeling upset and somebody asks if you’re okay, and then you suddenly burst into tears? Having a supportive listener actually makes us cry harder. If we support children, when they cry, rather than trying to stop them, then they will always have that innate mechnaism, of healing through expressing emotions.

The Hand in Hand approach, has started me wondering about why creative writing is healing. Writing softened me up, it turned anger and hardness into sadness and tears. It took a long time to work through this process, because like most of us, the natural expression of my emotions had been tampered with.

James Pennebaker noted that in his study, participants cried when they wrote about trauma. Perhaps their greater health and happiness was in part due to the tears they released.

In Autumn I will begin training as a Hand in Hand parenting instructor, another job I’d like to do alongside writing and creative writing teaching. In my interview I was asked about emotional release and if I’d done anything to release my own emotions through tears. Hand in Hand recommends that parents have a listening partnership, in which we share listening time about the issues with our lives with another person. The idea is that this listening partnership, gives us the chance to release our own emotions through laughter and tears.

I’d never had a listening partnership before, but I had written to heal my emotions. Was that the same thing? In my interview I was told that it wasn’t, because writing in a journal doesn’t have the same warmth of having a real person listening to you.

Then I began to think a bit more, about the times I’d shared my writing with others, about trembling, at speaking allowed about things that had been going around and around in my head. I’d read extracts from my writing at writing workshops that felt like group therapy, but with the added bonus of trying to turn the dust of our lives into beautiful words.

Writing in a journal can help us to intellectually understand our lives but part of the healing process is the sharing. That though we may have been hurt, we can find someone to trust with our stories. In public or in private, I think sharing our words is an essential part of the healing process. In laboratory studies where writing increases health and happiness, could this be partly due to the fact that participants feel that the investigator has read their stories?

After my daughter was born, I was swept up in the joy of being a mother. I felt like I was healed. But then I began my own listening partnership. I began again telling my life story, and feeling, shaky and sad again. Having a listener had made me feel soft again, but this was actually a good thing. Afterwards I was more creative, words flowed more easily. I was no longer knotted up and tight, too busy with being a mother. Finding a supportive listener gave me the time and space to go into myself.

It’s an amazing gift now, to be able to live creativly while being a busy mum, and I wouldn’t have been able to do that without being listened to. It took me back to myself, and made me realise I still had healing to do. I’ll always having healing to do. But that’s a good thing, because I leave the pain, floating around in a conversation, or written on the page. It doesn’t interfere with my life. My days are happier, because I’ve searched inside for sadness and left it behind.

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3 thoughts on “The healing power of tears, and how listening changes everything

  1. Hi Kate, really good to discover your blog via Mslexia and have just enjoyed reading 3 of your posts. Being a mum of three little ones, I can really relate to what you’ve written about relating to tears and the importance of not suppressing them. I think all to often parents are encouraged to minimise any ‘negative’ behaviour in children, but the message that this is giving kids is that it’s not ok to feel negative emotions. Also, it’s interesting to read about how important it’s been for you to find a listener to your stories as it’s made me realise that as much as I love writing for myself, finding that ‘listener’ somehow validates and reinforces the feeling of self-worth and belief as a writer and I should actively seek out that listener more.

  2. Hi Rebecca, thanks for your kind comments, I think it’s great for us to understand that crying is part of how children express themselves. I love the book Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Cohen, which stresses the importance of being loving towards our children, whatever behaviour, or emotion they are displaying. (hard sometimes, but it’s what I want to aim for!) Sometimes we think that if our children cry less, that means they’re happy, but it’s not always that simple.

    I’ve always loved being part of writer’s groups, and getting feedback on my writing. It helps me on this long and sometimes lonely road.

    It’s great to hear from another writing parent. What sort of things do you write, and how do you find the time with three children? I would love to hear! Ever since my daughter was born, I have a feeling as if there is just a lot less space in my brain, not enough to write anything long and substantial like a novel. I hope in a year or so when she’s a bit older that I can get back to more lengthy writing, but for now I’m focusing on parenting, studying to be a parenting instructor, and writing articles on parenting. I have another more parenting focused blog, http://www.kateorson.com.

    I will go and check out your blog now, thanks for getting in touch!

    • Hi Kate, that book by Alfie Cohen sounds really interesting, I’m going to look it up. As for things I write…well I’ve written a novel (currently trying to find an agent!) and also write a lot of short stories. Finding time is….a challenge! At the moment for example, it’s saturday morning and if we don’t have anything else planned my husband takes the kids out for a few hours so I can write. Bliss! And I wrote my novel over the course of a few years on thursdays when my mother helped out and looked after the children. It’s taken ages but I feel pretty good to have almost got there. Sounds like you, even though having a little one, are managing to get a lot done with your parenting training and 2 blogs – it’s impressive! Anyway look forward to reading more of your posts.

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