I am constantly amazed by the wisdom of my clients’ tears. I am a counsellor and therapist, although I also help businesses to manage their learning and their finances. Although it is more common for counselling clients to cry, my business clients do too from time to time.
Many of us have been brought up to think of crying as a sign of weakness. This is particularly true of men, where society has brought them up with an expectation that they display bravery rather than weakness, and with an assumption that tears are a sign of weakness.
When I was training as a therapist, I was surprised at how often I would feel tears arriving in my eyes. Most commonly, it would be when reporting to a supervisor something about a client. It also happened, and happens still, at certain times during counselling sessions. I learned to treat those tears, not as something to move past, but something to listen to, and learn from.
Eventually, I even started joking with my supervisors, ‘These words must be true, because my eyes are sparkling.’ There is a deeper kind of truth, deeper than mere reported fact, which represents ‘something that wants to be listened to’.
THE BIG VOICE
The way I often talk with clients about it is this. We all have various ‘big voices’ with which we conduct our days. They are brave and brash, because we have found them to be the most viable voices in a social climate. They are, if you like, our public identity or face. We know many of the words off pat – they have become part of our standard rhetoric, interpretive repertoires which permeate not only our ways of talking, but also our understanding of the world.
In other words, we learn which voices give us a sense of being accepted in society, and we turn up the volume on them. These words and phrases we learn to speak confidently, so confidently that we begin to believe our own publicity.
THE LITTLE VOICE
But the development of our ‘big voices’ comes at a cost. If we are not careful, we start to neglect equally valid, but less confident, parts of our authentic self. The big businessperson learns to talk tough, but neglects their sensitivity. The athlete learns to talk discipline, but neglects their adventurousness. The nurse learns to talk kind, but neglects their own self-care.
The little voice emerges as a quake at first. The ‘big voice’ starts to shake a little, sounding a little undermined and angry. Perhaps a person becomes unusually tired, or is unusually irritable, or becomes prone to sudden anxiety or depressive phases.
This may be a little, neglected voice insisting that it is taken notice of. We can go for years pretending everything is OK, but we can’t fool our own souls, which will find ways to speak to us through our dreams, through little ticks and tells in our movements, and eventually in tears and breakdown.
Listen out for when you next cry. When you do, take it seriously. Take some time to appreciate the respect that a little voice is giving you.
Ask yourself: ‘What truth is coming out in these tears?’
When I sit with clients, it can take a while to allow words to form around the little voice. It is as though it has been neglected for so long, that it does not know how to speak.
I believe this to be the case. I believe that our language and vocabulary develop most strongly around the voices we feel are most acceptable to others. The less acceptable voices get left with a poor vocabulary, and an even poorer confidence when it comes to speaking out.
For a time we can only cry. My job, sometimes, is to provide a place of safety and understanding, where clients can cry first, and ask questions later. My job is to give clients’ authentic selves a chance to escape neglect, a chance to rejoin the world.
If we are lucky, we begin to find words, expressions, even humour, to formulate around the new, little voices. Once heard, they can grow into different languages, new understandings. And that’s how life becomes richer.