Home| Chat| Bill's Page| Introduction to Metaphors| The Twisted Arrow| The House in Your Head| The Fog| Loss is in the Air  |The Wizard


by William Giddings, Ed.D.

Years ago as I worked with a college student I'll call Donna, who had many problems with depression and abusive relationships, I did something spontaneously that ended up teaching not only her but myself something I hadn't ever realized before.

She came in one day for our regular appointment and instead of launching into what had been happening to her she announced: "I'm not going to stay today; I don't want to talk. I'm so depressed I just want to go home and cry." My response, which came quickly even though I'd never thought this through this way before, was, "That's ok, but (smiling) I'm your counselor so I can't let you go until I know that when you get home you're going to cry WELL."

Donna: "What?! Cry well?! You're crazy! If you cry, you cry. That's it! And I just want to go home and do it."

Me: "But I can tell that if I send you home right now you're not going to cry well. So let me briefly show you some things about crying and then I promise I'll let you go."

Donna: "Oh all right, but make it short."


"Ok, first, all crying not directly precipitated by physical pain is preceded by a person saying something to their self that is 'cry-worthy'!" So tears usually don't just happen, most of our tears are precipitated by something we say to ourselves just before they flow.

For a moment think of a recent movie you saw during which you found yourself crying. Tears have in common that they are generally wet, but beyond that one set of tears may be quite different from another. If the movie was sad and you were thinking sad or hurt thoughts you would have had one kind of tear. If it was joyful and you cried it was more because you were filling yourself up with pleasure, happiness and wishful thinking. Still wet, maybe, but very different tears.

And meanwhile, the person next to you in the movie maybe wasn't crying. So obviously it wasn't the movie that was Creating your tears! We often say, "The movie made me cry." But the fact is the movie just played. It was what the different people in the theater were saying to themselves as they watched that did or didn't make them cry and that affected how hard they cried!!

[You may want to re-read that last sentence. It's pretty powerful!]

"Secondly, there is a difference between linear and circular thinking (self-talk).

Linear thinking means there is a beginning, a middle, and an end after which we move on to another set of thoughts or at least a different angle on those previous thoughts. Either way, the next thoughts are fairly fresh. In contrast, …

Circular thinking is repetitive. There is no distinct beginning, there certainly is no end, and everything about it seems like middle. When it does end it is more because the person is worn out or gets distracted than because the thinking segment is done.

If you cry when your thinking is Linear, you will Cry Well.

Crying Well means to Cleanse, … to let go of or release feelings.

When a person is done crying well, they feel lighter, more at ease, and usually a little better about themselves, their world, and their prospects for having some control. Life hasn't necessarily gotten any better, but their perspective of life and themselves has. So they still may feed sad and hurt and down, but they are less likely to feel rotten and depressed.

Tears that come from linear thoughts like the following will most likely be pretty healthy tears because the thoughts and feelings are honest and don't get into judging and blaming or awfulizing about the future.

  • "Oh, I miss him so. It's going to be hard adjusting to living without him."
  • "I don't know what I'm going to do. I suppose I'll find something, but right now I sure don't know what or where to look."
  • I get so tired of the pain and stiffness. I just wish it would go away for a while, but I know that's not likely. I need to keep working with my meds and the physical therapist. That will probably help some. But, oh, this is tiring and wearing.
If you cry when your thinking is Circular, you will Cry Poorly.

Crying Poorly means to hang onto and go over and over your thoughts about something painful (i.e., Twisting the Arrows!!) sort of like a cat chasing its tail.

If those same thoughts get embellished with further thoughts that blame others or put ourselves down or awfulize about what has happened or will happen, then the circular thinking begins and the tears will increase and may even change to sobbing.

Here are some examples of how the initially healthy thinking above could become circular and unhealthy:

  • "Oh, I miss him so. I can't stand it without him and I just don't want to go on living."
  • "I don't know what I'm going to do. He had no right treating me that way. And my friends are going to think I'm so naive and dumb."
  • I feel so empty and lost and alone. I'll probably never find someone who can love me like that or who can take her place."
  • "I get so tired of the pain and stiffness. I hate being a victim of this terrible disease. Why me?! What did I do to deserve this life of punishment? I just hate being this way!"
When a person is finally done Crying Poorly, they will feel a little better briefly because of the catharsis, but mostly they'll just feel exhausted and relieved that it's over, and will still feel stuck, hopeless and helpless … all that crying would thus largely serve to underscore how lousy their life is, how weak they are, and how out of control they are. So that kind of crying is likely to get them deeper into depression, not out of it!

"Donna, if you'd gone straight home right away today, when you got there you most likely would have spent your time wallowing around over your mother's insensitivity and selfishness and your boyfriend's abuse, and thinking lots of the angry and self-downing and self-pitying thoughts you've thought a million times before.

And you'd have cried and cried and cried, not stopping until you simply dried up, fell asleep, or wore out.

And all the time you were crying you'd have been telling yourself how miserable life is and how you can't stand it any more, and that would simply give you more to cry about. So, since that crying wouldn't be helpful to you and in fact would be harmful, it's clear that you wouldn't have cried well.

And that's why I asked you to stay for a little while.


"Well, I promised I'd try to be pretty brief, so I'll stop there. Go on home now, and when you get there, I want you to try to remember to c-r-y w-e-l-l. OK?"


Donna: "Sometimes I don't know about you. Ok, ok, I'll try."

And so Donna left. I followed her to my door and watched her walk down the long hallway to the staircase. Just as she turned to go down I called to her,

"Hey Donna, … do it WELL!"

She shook her head and let out an expletive. And disappeared down the stairs.

A few days later I saw her on campus and asked her how her afternoon had gone when she got home.

"Dammit, Giddings, when I got home and thought about things I couldn't (didn't) cry at all!"

"Gee, what a shame," said I with a grin and a twinkle in my eye.

She shook her head, … and smiled.

So once again we see that, although we often don't have much control over what happens to us or over other peoples' behavior, if we are attentive to how we talk to ourselves about the events and relationships in our life then we can have some control over our feelings and attitudes and how those events impact us.

Home| Chat| Bill's Page| Introduction to Metaphors| The Twisted Arrow| The House in Your Head| The Fog| Loss is in the Air  |The Wizard