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Beautiful Landscape

The Autistic Wall of Tears

This article is about a specific training in a style of reflective exploration called Focusing. If you’d like to find out more about it, you can do here.

Photo by of woman crying from etching in British Library on Unsplash

Do you wonder about your relationship with crying and what it has to do with being autistic? I hope you find these reflections helpful, and I'd love to hear from you if it sits with you as relevant in some way.

When I was first introduced to Focusing through training with Peter Gill, I very quickly realised that the inside world was a bit of a mystery. In my introductory Focusing sessions, I discovered on the inside a young girl crashing symbols together like a cymbal-banging monkey dolls trying her best to communicate ‘there’s nothing to see here’. I really couldn’t understand why she felt it was essential to distract me from internal exploration.

Each time I was invited to be the Focusing person in training I felt nervous and lost. As I gradually tiptoed closer in, the next experience I found was a crashing wall of tears. Each and every time I did Focusing, I cried. I persevered even though it was often uncomfortable and difficult. Over the next few years I continued my training, firstly with focusing practitioner training and then focusing oriented therapy training in America. Throughout this time it still alluded me - this difficulty with the inside. I continued to wonder who on earth was this crying part.

During my FOT (focusing-oriented therapy) training, I had some focusing oriented therapy sessions with a lovely focusing therapist who supported me gently in the next stage of exploration. These invaluable sessions helped me identify a couple of things:

  • The wall is not actually a wall but a wave. It crashes in, has its peak and then dissolves. This helped me be less afraid of the wall

  • You can go into and out of the wall using the present moment. This helped me feel less afraid of the wall.  It also helped me work out how I could control coming in and out of touching into my experiencing using simple things like looking around the room and intentionally moving into ‘every day conversation’

We never did get to the bottom of what the crying was all about in those sessions, but having some orientation around getting to know the wall and not being afraid of it was absolutely one of the biggest gifts I could have been given in those sessions.

Since that time, I’ve became a lot more familiar with the wall of tears. It has most often appeared in my counselling supervision sessions with my lovely supervisor, who came to recognise it as an almost separate part of me that would sometimes crash in when we least expected it.

Over the past two years my relationship with Focusing has been superseded by a deep interest in what seems to be an entirely different topic area – neurodivergent experiencing. Through reading autistic literature, listening to podcasts and generally researching autism within the online autistic community (as opposed to the medical model), I have come to a dawning realisation that my relationship with internal experiencing can be understood much more clearly through an autistic lens. This, for me has been the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle in understanding the wall of tears. The wall of tears is me – it is the me that was hidden by years of masking. It is the me that had no idea I found certain aspects of life more difficult than others. Having the gift knowing that I’m autistic has led to the ‘new was’ that Gendlin talks about. As the scales fell from my eyes in reframing my past and having a new understanding of ‘oh so that’s why’, I could finally understand that this wall of tears was my unmasked self. It got bottled up and only came out at certain times when it crashed upon me.

Now, as a result of this understanding of my identity, I can now feel my struggles with much more immediacy. There is no cymbal-crashing girl pushing me to push through the supermarket shopping. I am a lot less capable and household-efficient, which initially confused my husband! But what he now sees and experiences is a more integrated me. The wall of tears which arises in me much more readily now in my everyday life is a barometer to tell me that I do not have to push through if I have supportive family members who can help when I’m struggling.

This wall of tears usually now appears when I’m on the phone to customer service people. I am able to notice that I can’t process spoken information if it is too fast. I just get overwhelmed. And that’s when I can feel the tears welling up. It also lets me know that I can advocate for myself now and ask people to slow down. It also helps me understand why I need everything explained to me in detail.

If you’re autistic and you would like to develop your interoceptive senses, learning Focusing can be one option to try out.

There are many Focusing communities online and locally across the UK and beyond. Where I live in Bristol has a really strong Focusing community that always welcomes new Focusers.


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