April 14, 2019

Reasons why crying is good for your health.

When you bury your emotions, they have a way of coming out anyways

I always keep tissues in my counseling office. For a lot of people, once they start to open up, the emotions just find their way to the surface. Those emotions have been buried and pushed down long enough and the body knows. It needs an outlet. It needs to cry.

It's interesting that people often apologize when they start to cry in my office. I always reassure them that tears are a perfectly normal and healthy part of getting better. I point them in the direction of the tissue box. I like to think of the box as a reminder that they are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. Lots of people cry in my office.

You don't need to apologize for your tears; they are a sign of your humanity

I have one client who jokes with me abut how I like to make him cry. He's a stocky, muscular guy who played football in college. It's not exactly true that I like to make him cry, but I am grateful that he feels comfortable enough to let his feelings out. I am thankful, too,  that someone who appears so tough on the outside now has a place where he doesn't have to keep it all together. The counseling office is a safe place for him.

I had another client, Oscar, who came in this week to talk about the sense of depression that had overcome him. Depression is not a common experience for him. He has been through it a few times in his life, but those times were few and far between and they had not lasted long. Oscar is a high-powered businessman. He's logical, confident, driven, and not highly emotional. If anything, anxiety is his go-to emotion. So I was a bit surprised when he started crying almost uncontrollably in our session.

We all need places in our lives where we feel safe enough to cry

Society does not encourage crying. We're embarrassed to cry in front of other people. I have had clients who had a parent die and did not feel they had the right to cry at the funeral. They got the message that they had to be strong and keep it together. That sucks. And it gives the clear signal that crying is weakness, crying is for the weak, crying is bad.

Our bodies need to cry to get our needs met

That is just plain WRONG. Our bodies were made to cry as a natural and healthy way to get our needs met. If you hold back the tears, you are missing out on a lot of benefits. This article in Medical News discusses 8 benefits of crying. So cry away when you need to do so. It can be regenerating.

According to the Medical News article, there are eight primary benefits of crying. The following list below is quoted directly:

1. Has a soothing effect

Self-soothing is when people:
  • regulate their own emotions
  • calm themselves
  • reduce their own distress
2014 study found that crying may have a direct, self-soothing effect on people. The study explained how crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which helps people relax. 

2. Gets support from others

As well as helping people self-soothe, crying can help people get support from others around them. 
As this 2016 study explains, crying is primarily an attachment behavior, as it rallies support from the people around us. This is known as an interpersonal or social benefit.

3. Helps to relieve pain

Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins. 
These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease both physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being. 

4. Enhances mood

Crying may help lift people's spirits and make them feel better. As well as relieving pain, oxytocin and endorphins can help improve mood. This is why they are often known as "feel good" chemicals. 

5. Releases toxins and relieves stress

When humans cry in response to stress, their tears contain a number of stress hormones and other chemicals. 
Researchers believe that crying could reduce the levels of these chemicals in the body, which could, in turn, reduce stress. More research is needed into this area, however, to confirm this.   

6. Aids sleep 

small study in 2015 found that crying can help babies sleep better. Whether crying has the same sleep-enhancing effect on adults is yet to be researched. 
However, it follows that the calming, mood-enhancing, and pain-relieving effects of crying above may help a person fall asleep more easily. 

7. Fights bacteria

Crying helps to kill bacteria and keep the eyes clean as tears contain a fluid called lysozyme. 2011 study found that lysozyme had such powerful antimicrobial properties that it could even help to reduce risks presented by bioterror agents, such as anthrax. 

8. Improves vision 

Basal tears, which are released every time a person blinks, help to keep the eyes moist and prevent mucous membranes from drying out.As the National Eye Institute explains, the lubricating effect of basal tears helps people to see more clearly. When the membranes dry out, vision can become blurry.
Crying from time to time is very normal, however, if you find you are crying everyday for long periods of time, you may experiencing depression, and should contact a professional counselor. At Wilson Counseling, we have Houston based counselors who can help you start to feel relief from your depression. If you have any questions, or would like to schedule and appointment, please contact us at (713) 591- 3612 or via email at Nancy @ wilsoncounseling .org. 

December 31, 2018

Forget about New Years Resolutions, try this technique instead for a much happier 2019

Criticism leads to shame. Self-compassion leads to action.

This year, instead of making a resolution that I won't keep, I am resolving to focus on being more compassionate to myself. Sounds hokey, I know. "What does that even mean?" you may be asking. Self-compassion is largely about treating yourself with the same compassion you would treat others you care about even when you fail.

So, for example, instead of berating myself for parts of my body that I don't like, I can acknowledge that I work hard and use my body well and that I am a work in progress. It's okay if parts of me are not what I want them to be at all times. That compassionate attitude towards myself allows me to work on what I want to change without shaming me. Shame, after all,  just leads to inaction and poorer self-esteem.

"Suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience." --Dr. Kristin Neff

Kristin Neff is a researcher and professor who has done great work to help people nurture more self-compassion. If you want to learn how to be more self-compassionate, I recommend using these exercises from her.

Dr. Neff says the following about self-compassion:

"Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you must notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others’ suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. 'There but for fortune go I.'
Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a 'stiff upper lip' mentality, you stop to tell yourself 'this is really difficult right now,' how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? 
Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, whoever said you were supposed to be perfect?" 

How can we apply Dr. Neff's advice? Try noticing when you are suffering. Are you moved by your own suffering? Do you offer understanding and kindness rather than judgment when you fail or make mistakes? Next time you feel like judging yourself, try mindfully acknowledging the distress, pain or suffering you are experiencing. Acknowledge how hard life can really be and offer kindness and compassion for yourself. Ask yourself, "What advice or kindness would I offer to my best friend in this situation," and then offer that to yourself.

If you can acknowledge your shortcomings without harsh judgment, you will have more energy left for changing those shortcomings

It may sound as if compassion toward self is just excusing one's own bad behavior or laziness. Maybe for some people, that's true. But in my experience, most people are overly critical of themselves, and that critical spirit can lead to two crucial outcomes:

1. Self-compassion gives us more energy to change what we don't like about ourselves.

Not only can self-criticism lead to criticism of others, but it may actually prevent us from changing the things that we don't like about ourselves. We only have so much energy, and we use up a lot of that energy in self-criticism. If we can acknowledge our shortcomings without harsh judgment, we will have more energy left for changing those shortcomings.

2. Self-compassion fosters true community.

Self-compassion creates an opportunity for people to be human and still work on themselves. It also allows people to live more authentically in community with other flawed people because they don't feel the need to hide the flawed parts of themselves. And they don't expect others to be perfect, either. Recognizing and being loving towards the flawed parts of yourself allows you to be open and loving to the flawed parts of others, as well.

When we are self-critical, we tend to be other-critical, as well. In other words, being critical of ourselves can lead us to being critical of those around us. And that outward criticism of others prevents the true community that most of us are seeking.

Trade judgment for compassionate observation

In 2019, I hope to be kinder to myself and to all the people I interact with. Harsh criticism and judgment are exhausting, and I don't have space for that in my life. I will choose instead to practice compassion internally to myself and externally to others. And when I fail, I will get back up and try again the next moment. That is my New Year's resolution.


Wishing you all an abundance of resilience, kindness, and love in the new year.

If you are feeling stuck and need to speak to a counselor, Wilson Counseling has a Houston Therapist who can help you make the changes you want to make in your life. You can contact us by phone at 713 - 591- 3612 or via email at Nancy@Wilsoncounseling. org.

December 4, 2018


I was attending church, and during announcements, one of the members (who happened to be George H W Bush’s grandson) got up to encourage people to get involved in Big Brothers Big Sisters. It is an organization that he himself was very involved with and was passionate about. He talked about how his grandfather had taught him that he is responsible for being a point of light in the world. 

When 41 spoke about the 1,000 points of light, I always assumed it was just a political talking point. But, I realized at that moment, that it was more than just a talking point. It was part of the Bush legacy, something he passed on to those who were willing to listen, including his grandchildren. 

No one who does anything of importance has a spotless or perfect record. That’s not what life is really about anyways. Life is messy, love is messy, caring and fighting for what you believe in is messy. 

But, when it’s my time to go, I would like to know that my legacy will be one of having given hope to people, one person, at a time. Connecting, empathizing, and caring enough to lift people up to reach their purpose and potential. I hope that I will strive to be a point of light and not just another cynical point of darkness. 

What do you want your legacy to be?

September 27, 2018

I died that day - An account of sexual abuse

Andrew was just 11 years old when it happened. His mom had to work nights, so him and his twin brother Jack were being watched by a close family friend, Florence. She was kind of an Aunt figure to the boys. She woke the boys sometime in the dark of night, and said one horrifying word he can not forget, "Fuck." She forced him and then his brother to repeatedly perform cunnilingus and then have intercourse with her. Each time saying "again, and again, and again."

Andrew remembers her musty smell, the chill in the air and the glow from the moon in the hall. He remembers desperately hoping that someone would hear them through the opening in the door and rescue them, but a rescuer never showed.

Trauma can work in strange ways. There are some parts of the traumatic event that can imprint in your brain as clear as if you are watching them on TV right in front of you. Other memories get buried and can be hard to access.

Keeping the secret of abuse

After Andrew and his twin brother were molested by Florence, they never mentioned a word to anyone. Andrew was scared and ashamed. He felt as if he had done something wrong to make this happen. Him and his brother never spoke of it to each other, either. It became a secret he held onto closely and shaped how he felt about himself. To this day, he has never told his mom what happened that night, and he can't bear for her to know because it will be painful for her to hear.

Sex was always a dirty thing

As a teenager, Andrew became hyper sexual. He was a fit, handsome boy and a star athlete, and it was never hard to find sexual partners. Later in adulthood, he lost all interest in sex. He never felt he was good enough in bed.  And it was difficult for him to become aroused if his partner was not  dominating him. Sex was always a dirty thing to Andrew after his own abuse.

"I am a failure"

There are things from that night that Andrew can never forget. The image of Florence making him go down on her and then fuck her saying repeatedly, "again and again" is burned into his brain. His young mind read those words as a kind of condemnation of him. As if she was saying, you're not good enough, so you better do it again and again until you get it right. He felt like a failure. And he has felt like a failure ever since.

"I feel like I died that night"

When we worked on the abuse in therapy, Andrew talked about the sense of hopelessness, anger and confusion he still feels now as a middle aged man when he thinks of his abuse. He says, "I feel like I died that day, 31 years ago."

As a human being, and as a parent, it breaks my heart to hear these stories. As a therapist, I am grateful there are tools that can help people like Andrew start to heal from his trauma. Healing from sexual abuse takes work. Andrew was not freed from the burden of his abuse overnight, but he committed himself to healing. It has been wonderful to see him start to be able to recover his life.

I am a survivor

One of the tools I used with Andrew is a type of psychotherapy often used with trauma victims called EMDR. EMDR can help people heal by removing blocks that prevent emotional healing. Through therapy, Andrew went from saying "I feel like I died that night" to "I am living," "My words are the words of a survivalist," ""I am not to blame," and "I'm free."

We are in the era of the #MeToo movement. It is a time when people are sometimes more open about the abuse they have experienced. There is an expression in the addiction world, "You are only as sick as your secrets." With secrets comes the idea that you or your actions are shameful and should be hidden from everyone.  But it can be freeing to open up about our secrets.

We believe you

I worry that the downside of all of the revelations of abuse is that it is also triggering for survivors. I worry too about the backlash against victims who speak up. It can be a secondary trauma to be abused and then when you have the courage to speak up after years of living with the trauma, to be questioned, ridiculed, shamed, or harassed.

To all the victims of abuse who are reading this, please know that we hear you, we believe you, and that there is hope for healing. If you are a victim, please consider contacting a therapist and maybe telling a trusted friend.

We also have Houston Counselors at Wilson Counseling who can help you begin your journey to healing. If you feel stuck, please contact us at 713-591-3612, or via email at Nancy @ wilsoncounsleing.  org.

September 19, 2018

Feeling sad? Let the music heal you.

Sometimes the darkness feels closer than the light. Sometimes the depressive voice in your head is loud and persistent and convincing. Sometimes when you compare the sad, tough moments in your life and the happy joyful moments, it feels like the hard moments win out. Sometimes you feel alone and misunderstood. And in those times, you can wonder if life is worth it. 

Your mind can play tricks on you and make you feel that things will never get better, when, in truth, it almost always will. 

What can you do to break the spell and start to feel hopeful again? Lots of things, but today I want to suggest you plug in to the power of music to open you up and give you hope. Get on YouTube or Spotify and find some of your favorite songs. They can be sad songs or more upbeat ones. 

An artist whose music I have been appreciating lately is Milck. I first heard her when listening to the NPR Podcast All Songs Considered. They played the song "Black Sheep." It is a song about someone who feels alienated,  alone and stuck, a black sheep. For me, when I listen to it, I feel both the sadness and hope all at the same time. My favorite line is 

"Every warrior grows from her battles and scars. "

I love the image of the female warrior, battered and bruised and yet strengthened by her struggles. That gives me hope that whatever I am going through makes me stronger. And to take it a step further than the song does, that the strength I have from my battles will equip me to love and serve and care for others who are in the thick of the battle. This idea is fortifying to me. 

Feel the healing balm of hope through music

Sit back, close your eyes and turn up the volume on this. Take it in. Feel the healing balm of hope through music. Sometimes art can pierce the brokenness when other things can't. I have hit the repeat button on this song more times than I can count,  and I love it every time. 

And after you listen to "Black Sheep", try listening to this redemptive, joyful song, also by Milck, "Oh My My (What a Life)," about falling in love, growing up, and being surprised by happiness. Milck's smile and laughter in this video feel contagious. I love those moments when you catch yourself feeling happy and connected and content. Open yourself to be mindful of these small moments of joy and you might find they are happening more often than you think. 

Whatever your favorite songs are, play them today. Give yourself permission to sit and do nothing but be with the music. Notice how it affects your mood. Give thanks for the gift of song. 

What songs do you like to listen to when you are sad or happy?

If you are struggling with feelings of despair, sadness, or anxiety, we have Houston Therapists who can help you. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call Wilson Counseling at 713 - 591 - 3612 or email us at Nancy@wilsoncounseling. org.