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  • Writer's pictureRev. Kate J Meyer, LPC

Reclaiming Tears

The Woman King is one of those movies I knew I needed to see the moment I learned of it, and, finally, I did! This blog is not a movie review--it's status speaks for itself--nor is it a movie recommendation--though I do recommend it (as long as you're prepared for the violence). Instead, this is blog 1 of 2 of two different lines from this movie that caused me to break my own rule (and that of the moviegoers everywhere!) to pull out my phone and capture them for further digestion.

Without further adieu, here is the first line: "To be a warrior, you must kill your tears." Read that again and sit with it for a moment.

I despise spoilers of any size, so I am not going to give any more to you in terms of how or when the line plays out. If you've not yet seen the movie, listen for it when you do; if you have, send me an email and let me know what you think about how it ties in. Instead, I'm going to give you a glimpse into the mind of a therapist when such a line is spoken.

My first reaction was to yell out in frustration at the screen. I'm proud to report, I did not. Then, as already indicated, I quickly jotted the line in my Notes app and tried to return my focus to the screen. In the background, though, and on through the afternoon, I couldn't shake it, so I brought it up at dinner that night.

Quick aside, here's a sign of a best friend: when you ask to tell them the quotes you wrote down and they respond with, let me guess first, and nail the first in one shot. I hope you all have a friend like that in your life.

And now, nearly two weeks later, it is still on my mind. As a bereavement counselor I often hear clients say some iteration of 'I need to be stronger; I need to stop crying.' Not far off from the movie line, right?

I don't know where this narrative first began, but I wish I could DeLorean myself back there and undo it. The more I hear it, I have come to realize that it isn't as simple as reflecting the belief that tears are weakness; it is that, and that is unhealthy on its own. But it is seems to reflect something even more pervasive.

To be a warrior you must kill your tears. Do you see/hear/feel the deeper impact? This is not simply conveying the idea that tears are weakness. No, it goes a step further to imply that one cannot be strong if tears are allowed to flow. This is so harmful! If my nursing friends could take my blood pressure right now, they would not be impressed. That is how frustrating and scary I find this line of thinking.

Why? Why is it so risky to treat tears as weakness, to support the belief that tears cannot coexist with strength? Well, play it out. Again, I see it in the lives of my clients every day. When tears are weakness, they are stopped. When tears are stopped, the emotions behind them are invalidated and shut down. And when the emotions are shut down? The risks are substantial--and that is not hyperbole.

Using only the state of bereavement as an example, shutting down emotions can result in physical manifestations (increased blood pressure, headaches, GI issues, sleep interruption, pain), cognitive manifestations (inability to focus, inability to think on anything else), emotional manifestations (isolation, withdrawal, hyper-alertness, mood swings), and each of these manifestations plays into the next in a vicious cycle. Further more, if a person detaches from their grief emotions long enough, they can become stuck in the grief which has more far reaching impact.

Keep in mind, the above are only examples of the risks of shutting down emotions in grief. Those who learn early in life to shut down their emotions because displaying emotions of any kind is weakness are at an even greater risk for surface relationships, detachment, and a lot of unhealthy patterns of thinking.

What if instead of continuing this narrative, then, we began to reclaim tears? Imagine how freeing it could be! Emotions are nothing more than indicators of something going on within you. They are neutral until you decide what to do with them.

And how, exactly, do we reclaim tears? Begin with reframing them. Get that old narrative out of your head and replace it with this: When I let my tears flow, I am clearing out the muck to make room for what's next/healing/moving forward/the Spirit, etc. Tears wash it all out. Tears are your body's way of telling your brain that, at least for the moment, you've released the thing that caused the tears and you're ready to shift your focus. Tears are indicators. Tears are cleansing. Tears clean out the brain to restore the ability to think logically and clearly.

Last I checked, a warrior needs all these abilities. What good is a warrior who is so depleted from holding back their emotions, or so disconnected because in trying to avoid the emotion it has become the sole focus? Our emotions teach us, they help us grow, they tell us when to set up boundaries; in short, we need them.

Reclaim your tears. You can be strong and cry. In fact, I believe it takes more strength to cry (because you are embracing your emotions) than to close the valve. Reclaim your tears. Let them do their job, so you can do yours.

P.S. If you want more on emotions, pick up your copy of Faith Doesn't Erase Grief. It not only has an entire chapter dedicated to emotions, it also provides an abundance of tools to help you learn how to engage and release your emotions in healthy ways. Get it here.

P.P.S. If you're not already a subscriber, be sure to sign up here so you don't miss the blog on the 2nd line from this movie! You can do that here.

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