Curious about why we cry? I wish I had a dime for anytime someone apologized for crying in front of me in counseling. As if they were offending me. (More likely, offending themselves.) Why do we shame ourselves for something that can be such a biological relief to our parasympathetic nervous system? Why do we–all too often– hold back what energetically frees us of heavy emotion?
Too many times being told, “Crying is weak” I guess. Or a fear that once you start you can never stop. (Keep in mind this has never happened in the history of the world. Everything is impermanent.)
When I worked in a preschool for kids who were at risk of being removed from their homes because of maltreatment, we noticed an interesting phenomenon. When one child cried, it made the other children nervous. Some had learned early that vulnerability was not OK to show, and this might prompt them to go over and hit the crying child. As if saying, “stop crying.” They were not trying to be bullies in this situation, they were trying to remind him to toughen up, lest he be worse in trouble.
Indeed if you are in a situation where someone is misusing power over you, being vulnerable is not safe. In these situations we learn not to show our vulnerabilities early, because they would only be used against us. Using someone’s vulnerability against him or her is a tactic of getting and holding power. Just to be clear, that tactic is the problem, not your crying.
Is crying helpful?
You judge yourself far worse for crying than people around you. There is nothing inherently wrong with crying.
I like to take a benefits-risk approach: If it feels better, do it. If it makes you feel worse, then don’t. I always keep track of this when I speak to people. Upwards of 95% of people that I talk to see a benefit (when they get past the self judgement) and allow themselves to cry. Some feel exhausted, but relieved. The other 5% either strip themselves of the benefits by shaming their crying, or feel more down in the dumps because they focused too long on the problem story. If you focus on being a victim, you may feel worse.
Benefits and Reasons
I wonder if there is benefits in a balance of releasing what pains us, and then building a new story. Positive thinking might have you buck up and pretend nothing is wrong. If we pretend that nothing is bad and just try to see the good in everything, what is precious under the pain feels devalued and can remain unhealed. This has never been a helpful course of action for me or anyone I know. Neither is just focusing on the pain and staying in it. On the other hand if we deconstruct the pain, and find the preciousness of life, it is easier to build a new reality from that.
There are many reasons why we cry. No matter what the reason, tears speak volumes if you listen closely. They spotlight what we hold precious. For example, we might get choked up when we see something beautiful happen.
Or, we may let the tears flow when something close to our hearts is lost or threatened. This includes when someone hurts us. (This hurt says that we value kindness and respect, and that we give value to ourselves that we deserve these things.)
What makes you cry?
In my life I have often cried to express loss or release heavy feelings of grief.
Lately, we are all getting in touch with what is precious, especially when we watch the news: Life, children, the earth, finding joy, coming together, sharing, being generous. being a good friend, forgiveness.
These also make me cry…
Being misunderstood, or unable to express myself. (This is a doozy for me!)
Witnessing other’s expressions of grief.
Watching Leo’s boat go in the water.
Hearing someone say aloud something that had never previously been put into words.
Watching my children succeed and feel good about themselves.
Watching someone be welcomed in the group.
Witnessing reunions at the airport.
Images of war.
Thinking about soldiers. (And their families.)
People expressing love after a long period when they had been too scared to.
People breaking down their walls.
When I have made the right choice and it meant something to someone.
When people give up their guilt.
What makes you cry and what does it say about what is important to you?