When I say, I love to cry, I do not mean that I love to feel sad, hurt, grief, or disappointment. What I mean is that I love that I have a vehicle (tears) to move my sadness, hurt, grief and disappointment out of my body. I am grateful that I have become comfortable enough with crying that tears just naturally come when they need to.
In a recent article, I spoke about how much I love to laugh. Here I will be talking about how much I love to cry, and how cleansing, and important, it is to do so. Tears are our bodies way of releasing sadness, emotional pain, grief, frustration, anger, and yes, joy.
Have you ever been so moved, or touched, by something someone said, or did, or experienced something so profound that you noticed you were tearing up? Did you allow yourself to cry freely, or did you suppress, or hide, your tears? So many of us find crying, or being with someone crying, uncomfortable.
How many times have we heard as a child, or adolescent, or even adult, “Don’t cry”? This response implies there is something wrong with crying, that it is not okay to do so, or even more so, there is something wrong with us because we are crying. As opposed to the reality that tears are a natural response to distress.
Others of us have heard, or been asked, “What are you crying about?” Again, a clear message that something is wrong with the person who is crying. Or in dysfunctional families, some of us have heard, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”
The Cleansing Gift of a Good Cry
Allowing ourselves to cry when the tears want to come is a gift we give ourselves. If we are with someone who feels the need to cry, allowing them to do so, and holding the space, is a gift we give them. So many of us push back our tears hoping we can contain them. Others feel sad, hurt, grief, and yet the tears are stuck and don’t come. Our culture doesn’t encourage and support crying, it’s just the opposite—it discourages it. How many times have you noticed oneself, or someone else, crying and the person is immediately handed a tissue? This nonverbal gesture implies, wipe your tears.
Your Tears are Welcome
In my psychotherapy office, although there are tissues on every table, I do not hand them to someone out of concern that they will misinterpret that I’m wanting them to stop crying. Instead I encourage someone who is crying by saying something like, “Just let that come. Your tears are very welcome here. It’s okay.”
Often, when I say this, the tears come in full force. Later when we process what happened I hear something like, “This is the first time, or one of the rare times, someone has been okay with my tears.”
Is There No Use Crying Over It?
How often have we thought, or people have said, that crying accomplishes nothing, and that it doesn’t help? Well, actually, this is not true. Tears do not change the situation, or the experience that may have triggered the tears. Yet most of us feel lighter, and a sense of relief, or release, when we have allowed our tears to happen. Sometimes clarity comes because the tears may have helped to untangle the myriad of emotions we may be feeling in response to an incident, event, or memory.
Crying is Good for You
When I say, I love crying, I mean that if I am feeling sad, hurt, grief, or disappointment, I love to have an emotional vehicle to release these feelings. Releasing tears is a natural bodily function just like breathing, urinating, or perspiring.
- Lubricate and protect the eyes
- Remove irritants
- Reduce stress hormones
- Contain antibodies that fight pathogenic microbes
It is only when outside forces indicate overtly, or covertly, that it is not okay to cry that the natural flow of tears may get stuck.
Crying makes us feel better, even when a problem persists. In addition to physical detoxification, emotional tears heal the heart.Judith Orloff, M.D., UCLA Psychiatric Clinical Faculty
Don’t Dry Those Tears
As infants, we cry to express ourselves and communicate. This natural method of expression is how we have all our needs met. Yet as we grow up, we may have received different messages about crying that have rooted our belief that releasing tears isn’t acceptable and should be avoided. Growing up we might’ve heard statements like…
- “Big boys don’t cry.”
- “Be a big girl and don’t cry.”
- “Dry those tears.”
These messages tell children that this natural process, crying, is not okay. That we better stop or we’ll get in trouble, or disappoint a parent. Although our culture doesn’t encourage anyone to cry, implying that it’s not okay, it’s often communicated that crying is especially taboo for men. Men who cry are often viewed as weak.
Real Men Do Cry
I feel particularly empathetic toward men who have the additional challenge of being told:
- "Boys, or men, don’t cry."
- "It’s not manly."
- "Crying is not macho."
When the reality is, crying is a natural, human response to emotional pain and that this is regardless of gender. I work with many men in my psychotherapy practice. When these men discover that their tears are welcome during sessions, and that crying is a human response, whether they’re male or female, often there is such relief. For some men, it is the first time they’ve ever heard this, or allowed themselves to cry.
What is disturbing is that it’s not only men who believe that it’s not okay to cry because of what they’ve been taught. Many women have this same belief of men because of the messages they received as a child about boys and men. This further complicates the issue.
Crying Is Not a Weakness
Some of us view shedding tears, or others crying, as weak. As a result, when something occurs that may warrant tears, we don’t cry even if the need to cry is there. There is an effort to hold back the tears so that we can appear strong. This show of implied strength is often revered in our culture. There is a misconception that not crying means one is strong and handling a difficult situation well. The real strength is to be in touch with our feelings, and being comfortable enough to express them through tears and other methods.
What’s Stopping Our Tears?
It’s important to tune into ourselves, explore, and process what stands in our way with being okay with crying. If crying makes you feel uncomfortable, vulnerable, or weak, what is this about? What stands in some of our way for allowing ourselves to the urge to cry?
- Is it the messages we received as a child, or adolescent, that it is not okay to cry?
- When growing up did crying signify someone was getting hurt emotionally, or physically?
- Did tears bring negative attention, as opposed to the support they deserved from parents, family, teachers, clergy, or peers, so that we learned to hide, or stuff, the tears?
- Were tears designated as appropriate for some situations, while taboo for others?
- Did crying call unwanted and uncomfortable attention to ourselves?
Find Strength and Healing in Tears
If you struggle with suppressing tears, or dealing with uncomfortable feelings when someone else is crying (which may negatively impact your relationships), speaking with a trusted psychotherapist at Nassau Guidance and Counseling located on Long Island can help. Our licensed therapists have helped many people express and embrace their feelings and experience the emotional healing that tears can stimulate.