In some families and cultures, crying is seen as a negative thing, something shameful, a sign of weakness, or an embarrassing display of emotion. For those reasons and more, many people come into my office, and as they begin to share stories about their experience, tears come up. Even though emotion very often comes with tears, they attempt to stop their tears due to messages they have received growing up about tears being a bad thing. Almost always, these folks have grown up in households or situations where emotional expression was not allowed or where normal human behaviors were judged as unacceptable, weak, or inappropriate. I’m going to tell you why this is not true or helpful.
A healthier and more generous look at this natural process, reveals that there are, in fact, many positives to having a good cry. Here are just a few: It’s a natural by-product of the body like breath and sweat. It relieves stress and improves mood. It relieves pain as it triggers natural pain-relieving hormones in the body to help us self-soothe. It helps us gain needed emotional support. It can also be an expression of anxiety, stress, or anger. Lastly, it can be a way to release painful emotions and cope with depression.
The human experience is filled with struggle, difficult emotions, hard work, unexpected loss, traumatic experiences, intense frustration, indescribable confusion, powerful anger, beautiful sights, haunting music, and overwhelming joy. All of which are often accompanied by tears. To stifle tears is to limit the expression of these experiences and emotions. To hold back tears in therapy is to limit your ability to feel your emotions and move toward healing. An important piece of therapy is learning to sit with painful emotions without pushing them out of awareness or attempting to shut them down. Could you run through a difficult obstacle course without exhaling? Could you bike a winding mountainous trail without sweating? Of course not! With this is mind, I encourage crying as a necessary by product of therapeutic work.
Still don’t believe that crying is healthy?
Your body signals you to cry during certain times of stress. Resisting this urge, can increase your stress levels and cause it to take longer to calm down. Take a look at what happens to your body when you hold in your tears: Your heartrate increases; you may experience shortness of breath or rapid breathing; you can have difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or experiencing pleasure in life; and it can lead to low energy and poor moods. (When You Hold Back Your Tears, This Is What Happens (healthdigest.com)) Crying can regulate mood and activate the nervous system to restore itself to balance. (Crying: The Health Benefits of Tears (webmd.com) “Crying is an important safety valve, largely because keeping difficult feelings inside — what psychologists call repressive coping — can be bad for our health.” (Is crying good for you? – Harvard Health) Additionally, crying can relieve stored physical tension and release toxic buildups of stress hormones from the body.
Another amazing function of emotional tears is the pain-relieving properties it offers. This pain relief comes courtesy of the release of oxytocin and endogenous opioids, otherwise known as endorphins, caused by the process of crying for extended periods of time. After a person cries for a while, the brain signals the release of these pain-relieving chemicals to the body. The end result is feeling calmer and less discomfort after a crying spell. This is the process whereby we are able to self-soothe through crying. (9 Benefits of Crying and Why It’s Good and When to Get Help (healthline.com))
How Crying Helps
Crying helps to alert supportive others to our distress and encourages emotionally supportive actions like kind words, attentive listening, and hugs. Crying is a signal to others that attention and assistance are needed to help us regulate our distress levels. “Crying has also been shown to increase attachment behavior, encouraging closeness, empathy, and support from friends and family.” (3)
With all of these exciting benefits, why wait to begin expressing your inner turmoil and distress freely where you feel safe to do so? Social stigma towards all kinds of mental health issues is lessening all of the time and fighting back tears is so outdated. Let’s join together to promote acceptance of crying as a normal human bodily function. Healing is so valuable; why let old stigmatizing and inhibiting social norms dictate how we live our lives?
What Great Minds and Historic Figures Have Said
“Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.” ― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre.
“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.” ― Edgar Allan Poe
“Before the reward there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.” ― Ralph Ransom
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” ― Winston Churchill
“Certainly, tears are given to us to use. Like all good gifts, they should be used properly.” ― Loretta Young
So Why do People Thinking Crying Is Bad?
Often times, people who believe crying is a bad thing are people who grew up in families where expressing emotions was not safe or was not allowed. When it happens over and over again, during important development periods, not being allowed to express emotions openly is a form of emotional neglect. This emotional neglect can lead to problems identifying and expressing emotions as an adult. If you would like to learn more, follow me on Instagram at what.we.learn.in.therapy or join my Facebook group Trauma Recovery for Cycle Breakers. If you live in Tennessee and would like to see me for therapy, you can schedule a free-15 minute consultation on my Fees & Scheduling Page.