Owning Emotions: The Compulsion to Comfort

By Joy Mazzola

Who doesn’t love a good cry?

Turns out a lot of people don’t. Of course, there are safe spaces where we can own our tears … workshops, retreats, support groups, the Pink Posse. But there is still much of the world where the sight of someone crying will send an entire room into a silent panic.

You’ve been there. You’re sitting at a meeting table at work, or standing in line at a store, or hanging out at home. You are fatigued, frustrated, moved, or overwhelmed. You surrender to your emotions. Tears begin to flow.

Suddenly, everyone else in the room stops breathing. They look away. Talk amongst themselves. Pretend it’s not happening. Or worse yet …

They tell you to stop.

“Don’t cry,” they say, out of a desire to comfort and support you. And as loving as the gesture may be, it is not about you feeling better … it’s about them feeling better. Your tears make them uncomfortable. Stop. They say. Don’t cry.

Why? What is it about crying that freaks people out? Where in our evolution did it stop being okay to have our feelings? These of course are rhetorical questions, age-old and contemplated and theorized to death. And really, the “why” isn’t important. What is important is to own our feelings, and make it okay for others to own theirs.

Aliveness ≠ joy

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned over the past year is that being fully alive doesn’t mean being happy all the time. To be human is to have the full gambit of experiences and emotions. Kind of like the seasons, cycling through times that are more challenging to get to the bright spots makes life richer and, dare I say, a bit more fun.

Plus, the only way past any experience is through it – not around it. If we stifle tears, rage, grief, sorrow, or even joy – it’s going to lurk, distract us, even make us sick – until we acknowledge and HAVE the emotion. If we grew up this way (many of us did), there is so much stored in our bodies and psyches, affecting us in ways of which we’re not even aware. How much easier would this be if we simply gave ourselves and others permission to let out whatever’s going to come anyway?

Holding space

As part of our commitment to seeing each other with magical eyes, next time you’re in the company of someone who’s having some emotion – no matter where or when or how “appropriate” or not it is – I invite you to simply hold space for them. Don’t try to comfort them, tell them it will be okay, suggest that they stop crying, or even pass them a tissue. But don’t turn away or pretend like it’s not happening, either. Simply be there. Depending on who it is, a hug might be welcome, or a held hand. Let your intuition tell you what is needed.

How does that feel - to know that it’s actually not your responsibility to make anyone feel “better?” That being the kind and loving spirit you already are is enough – more than enough? How much more space might you hold, knowing that you don’t have to manically run around inside that space trying to make everything okay?


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