How often do you cry?
You feel like it’s too much? Too little?
Does it make you uncomfortable to cry? Maybe you even try not to?
I know people who cry every day, people who haven’t cried in over five years, and everything in between.
Some comments I hear from clients are:
“If I start to cry, I’m afraid I won’t stop.”
“If I start to feel it all, it’ll just be too much, too overwhelming.”
“I hate to cry.”
“I only cry by myself, never in front of other people.”
Men, specifically, have told me that thinking about crying feels more or less equivalent to being punched in the stomach.
For such a universal human experience, isn’t it a bit odd how uncomfortable it makes us?
Like most of us (before we’re socialized), I was naturally a pretty sensitive person. And then quickly learned sensitivity didn’t fly in most environments. I took in the subtle messages coming from every angle and learned to suck it up, not let it get to me, and just keep a smile on my face. I remember moving into my college dorm room and putting this quote on the wall: “Live to the point of tears” (… a simple attempt to be more myself). Less than 24 hours went by before a girl walked in and commented on it. “Why would you want to be in tears?“ she asked and laughed. I’ll never forget my feeling of embarrassment. I guess I still shouldn’t show that part of me. Not here. Not anywhere.
I know you can think of just as many examples as I can, of when, and how, and from who you were taught not to cry. Or at least not to cry too much. Now, instead of me giving you all the clinical reasons why holding in your tears isn’t healthy, I wanna ask you instead:
How do you think holding in your tears has affected you? Do you know? Have you ever thought about it?
I finally connected the dots after many years. Like I’ve written about before, I realized holding in my tears made me feel anxious, depressed, and led to a ton of chronic physical tension. Funny thing is, even knowing this, I still sometimes do it! Why? Probably because I want to fit in, in a culture where my tears don’t.
But the good news is I do it much less. Partly because with each year I find it harder and harder to NOT be myself, partly because I care less about what people think, and partly because I see this culture of “hardness” and shame taking us nowhere good.
In attempt to be part of the change, I wanna share some little known info about tears:
1) Humans have always cried, and for good reason. From an evolutionary perspective, tears are a way to enhance bonding and connection (contrary to what many of us fear: “if i cry, he or she won’t want to be near me anymore“). Tears show others we’re vulnerable, which is critical to human connection. In fact, the same areas of the brain are activated when we see another cry as when we ourselves cry. Michael Trimble, a behavioral neurologist (and one of the world’s leading experts on crying) says, “Actually being able to cry emotionally, and being able to respond to that, is a very important part of being human.” He then goes on to explain that those who don’t cry often report more distant relationships.
2) Tears remove toxic substances that build up in the body due to emotional stress. No joke! I thought this was so cool. Dr. William Frey, a biochemist, found that tears cried by subjects who had watched a sad movie had a different chemical composition than tears cried by subjects cutting an onion. The emotional tears contained stress hormones, meaning these chemicals can be released from the body through a “good cry.”
3) Crying does not mean you’re depressed. And, from my perspective, the severity of much depression in this world could lessen if we embraced our own (and each others) tears. Brilliant spiritual leader, Marianne Williamson writes, “No matter what happens in life, it is our choice whether to play it deep or to play it shallow. And whenever we play it deep, we feel our feelings deeply. Times of great sadness might open up painful wounds that were buried before. They might be wounds that are not just ours but generational or societal. Suffering through them with our hearts wide open is not for sissies, but for seekers.”
4) Tears change people. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a Jungian psychoanalyst and one of my favorite authors, writes about fairytales. She noticed that across fairytales of many different cultures, “Tears remind people what’s important and save their souls.” She says, “Tears call things to us… they correct things… they provide the missing part or piece.” In the African tale, “Golden Falls,” for instance, a magician shelters a runaway slave girl by crying so many tears he creates a waterfall under which she takes refuge. In the African tale, “Bone Rattle,” souls of dead healers are summoned by the sprinkling of children’s tears upon the earth.
So how much should you be crying? Well, that’s not something I can answer for you. These days, personally, I’m not only “ok” with my tears, but I welcome them, even sometimes seek them. I go through periods of time when I cry once every two weeks, and other times when I cry once every two days. And no matter the frequency, it feels right. Not necessarily because it feels good all the time but because it feels real, it feels honest.
Ok, maybe you’re still thinking that opening up the flood gates is just going to be “too much.” If that’s the case, I’ve got a final suggestion I hope will help:
>> Seek “containment” <<
What do I mean by that? When experiencing strong emotions it’s important to have a physical and energetic structure in place for support. This will help you feel safe, in control, and less overwhelmed by your emotions. There are a number of ways to find/create this “container”:
(*) Talk to a therapist or coach. The structured sessions, the unique space, and the presence of a compassionate professional can offer this sense of containment, and a level of comfort to move through emotions. In a month, I’ll be leading a group through a90-day process of exploration, healing, and growth, during which myself and the group members will be this container for one another. Click here if you’re interested in that opportunity.
(*) Talk to a trustworthy friend. Although I’m a big fan of tears, I don’t believe tears are necessarily meant to be cried in front of anyone and everyone. Tears are sacred. They’re an extremely personal expression of yourself. Choose to share with someone who is empathetic and warm.
(*) Choose a physical space at home where you feel this energetic sense of containment. For me, it’s my yoga mat. For you, it might be your bed. Or a meditation pillow. Or your favorite chair. Wherever it is, make it a holy space. Light candles. Burn incense. Let that safe space become an invitation (perhaps daily!) to explore some of your deeper feelings. If at any point while in that space, emotions become too overwhelming, roll up the mat, walk away from the space, and try again another time. That’s the beauty of the container. Once you’ve created it, you can come and go, and it’ll be waiting for your return.
Was this useful? As always, I’m open to your questions and/or response. And more importantly, please reach out if you’re in need of more love and support.