What Chokes You Up? Why We Cry And Why It Is Helpful

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?

I wonder.

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…

Standing ovations.

Being understood.

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.

Etc, Etc.

What makes you cry and what does it say about what is important to you? 

44 thoughts on “What Chokes You Up? Why We Cry And Why It Is Helpful”

  1. In the first days and weeks after the relationship that almost killed me ended, I had to give myself permission to cry — and then, once the buckets were released, teach myself that I had the capacity and the power to heal. So, I gave myself crying times and other than those times, I had to take one step forward, keep doing one thing that created ‘better’ in my life. At first, I allowed myself to cry for 15 minutes on the hour. And then, I started cutting back on the crying time. If I was overwhelmed by the tears in a ‘non-crying’ time moment, I would remind myself I could cry about that on the hour, for now, I had to take one step that was healing.

    It was amazingly powerful — it allowed me time to cry and grieve, and taught me I had the power to heal while keeping me from getting lost in the story that was hurting me — I was free of his abuse, that was something to rejoice about!

    Thanks for a great post Jodi.
    Louise Gallagher recently posted..All that I dream ofMy Profile

  2. Reading this. A deep, deep loneliness that most people I try to explain it to, don’t understand. Sadness that hurts so bad, it paralyzes me. Thinking of my daughter going to college. Fear.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Telling yourself people don’t understand is a tactic of the loneliness, and succeeds in getting you to feel lonelier. It strengthens the loneliness and makes it seem more true and real. There are people who are willing to keep you company, let them. Sadness wins if it paralyzes you. Try something different. Love yourself. 🙂 I love you!

      1. Hi Jodi, I feel that your response validated what I was trying to say. Not all people experience deep loneliness.
        I don’t tell myself that people don’t understand. I live it. If there are people that are willing to keep me company, I guess I haven’t met them.

        1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

          Did you mean invalidated? I’m sorry. What about me, Valerie, Nikky, your girls, your sister? And I barely know you! <3

  3. Harleena Singh@Freelance Writer

    Hi Jodi,

    Lovely post 🙂

    Oh yes…I think crying is good for anyone and everyone. It’s a great outlet to your emotions, whether good or bad. I tell my kids also to let themselves out when they feel pent up and it lightens all of us I think.

    You listed out all of the reasons one cries, and just as you mentioned, I also cry when I am happy or touched, and not only in my sad moments or in grief. I guess with age, we tend to cry more 🙂

    Thanks for sharing. Have a nice week ahead 🙂

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I like the persepctive that we cry more when we are older. This turns around the idea that it is babyish! I am going to reflect on this further.

  4. Wonderful post, Jodi! I appreciate you pointing out that crying can clue us in to what we value. I had never thought of it that way. Many things make me cry: bad memories when they’re stirred up, seeing others’ grief, thinking of others’ suffering, beauty, poetry, being in church, anger, fear . . .
    Tina Barbour recently posted..OCD and fear of changeMy Profile

  5. I know that crying is good, but it seems so embarrassing and sometimes scary when you feel that if you let go, it would never stop.Things that make me cry are very similar to what you said maybe except images of war (it makes me angry.
    I cry when I hold a baby, when I see a pregnant woman, in a wedding, when I see kids performing at school. I cry when I feel loved, when I miss someone, when I feel helpless. i cry watching a movie, goodbyes, listening to music and most of all if I try to sing.
    Nikky44 recently posted..I died at the age of 44My Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Really singing? Sometimes I cry when I sing also. But not always. BTW, You’ll stop! I added a line in the post as a response to this comment. It is a very common fear.

    2. Today I think it’s frustration, a lot of frustration. It’s the feeling of “loss”. It’s sadness. It’s weakness. Not being able to do what I know will make me happy

  6. “Crying is not a weakness crying is a sign of strength” I was once told that by somebody far wiser than I will ever be.

    I can’t remember that last time I cried, it may have been when I lost a five pound note (I Jest).

    I know some things that make me immensely sad and almost move me to tears and they are things like.

    Somebody with nothing but happy with their lot.
    Children whose parents shout at them rather than comfort them.
    When I see somebody with a problem I can do nothing about.

    Things like that almost move me to tears certainly they make me sad.

    I am lucky to live in a country with the ability to provide and look after the poor and the vulnerable, it’s a shame many times we don’t do it. We will go to war in the name of fighting terror, but in the process we have people at home terrified as to where their next meal is going to come from, to me that’s wrong and that makes me sad.

    Beautiful post Jodi it’s made my Monday better just reading it.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Robert, You are always so sweet to me. And even though I haven’t gotten back to you about your house. I feel like there is more of a soul connection with who lives there now, than there is a future thing. I have been meaning to ask if you KNOW you will live there or just assume from the situation. My reason for saying this is that you see the weather, etc of today, not of the future. You are seeing with the eyes of today. But it is just a hunch, that is all.

      Your comments make my days so much better, too!

  7. This post made me tear up a bit, especially reading your list — I cry at all those things, too. My sister and nephews love to tease me about it, but they tease with love.

    It has always bugged me that crying in the corporate world is so frowned upon. Work can be stressful, dang it. People need to have their stress release without feeling like it’s going to be held against them.

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      At touching parts of movies, my kids always look at me and smile also. They think it is hysterical. I think it means I have more compassion.And I know you do too!

  8. When I tell anyone that I’m afraid of nothing but one thing and then say what it is I’m afraid to death of….my 19 year old son
    (an only child) who’s slated to be deployed to Afghanistan this summer…that he gets injured or worse…

  9. What an interesting reaction by the children–to hit rather than comfort a crying child. In their own way, I guess they were trying to help in their own way.

    Lots of things make me tear up, but I rarely boohoo cry. Sometimes I think it would be better if I did–very cleansing and healing.
    Galen Pearl recently posted..Benefits of Being a Spoiled ChildMy Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      I have boo hoo cried a few times in the past couple of years. All about past losses. It was incredible the layers of hurt I was holding. And amazing how it felt to let go of it!

  10. Jodi, Thank you for giving us “permission” to cry. For saying it’s okay to release emotions in this way. I cry pretty easily and I always feel bad about doing so. Sometimes I cry because I’m overloaded, stressed. Today I cried because my daughter, who is home from college for a little while, hurt her back really bad and is in so much pain, she cried. I didn’t cry in front of her, but while she was napping, because I can’t help relieve her pain. I cried because of frustration. The doctor is recommending physical therapy and we both see that she needs it asap, but still we have to wait for the insurance to approve it. That’s so frustrating. Anyway, I so appreciate this post. Thank you! Very timely indeed.
    Monica recently posted..Lightning in a Jar: Go Ask AliceMy Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Oh, Monica, I hope she feels better soon. What is her name? I will send her white light while she is waiting, if she wants…

  11. Need to cry to get rid of emotions. I feel much better after that, even if I ‘m a man I have to admit I cry, no so often, around 5 times per year. Not more than that.

    I cry because I’m happy, I cry because I’m very sad.

    Best regards from I. C. Daniel -Romania

  12. I feel like everything makes me cry. I’m a blubbering mess pretty much all he time. But you know what gets me the most? When my Dad or husband cry. I don’t know why or what it says about me but whenever I’ve seen or heard them cry (which has not been often) it wrecks me. Seriously.

  13. All the things you mention are things that make me cry too, I think. Especially understanding, feeling deeply understood, and–as a therapist–feeling that I understand someone who’s felt misunderstood for a long time.

    Also–Relief! Relief makes me cry sometimes. When you hold it together and hold it together and then … there’s that moment you suddenly realize it’s all going to be ok–whatever IT is–and it’s okay to let go of all the angst? The tears just flow. Happened with my daughter; we got our wires crossed, both missed messages from one another–she wound up on her own, walking all over town, looking for me. So scary! My son saw her across the street; I drove up and retrieved her. Tears, hugs, all around.
    Great post. 🙂
    Lisa W. Rosenberg recently posted..Writer of Color, White YA Protagonist: Where Weightism cuts deeper than RacismMy Profile

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Oh yes, that is our parasympathetic nervous system. When we are in danger, we hold it together to survive, but once danger is past, we let it all go! I forgot to add that into the post! Thanks for reminding me! So glad you found her. Must have felt so great to be found!

  14. Things that choke me up:

    Sad movies
    Movies or shows that end with the hero/heroin winning
    Losing someone close to me
    watching my grandchildren learn new things
    seeing someone hurting
    having an ah-ha moment
    not being understood
    a beautiful sunset
    holding someone who is in pain
    feeling alone
    being judged wrongly
    feeling stupid
    righting a wrong
    truly helping someone
    thinking I am too old
    when something that seemed huge gets resolved
    feeling overwhelmed
    feeling unloved
    feeling angry

    These are some that came to me. There are more. When I get choked up if I let go I would cry but I seldom go any farther than being choked up before I stop it right there. I have been choked up a lot lately.
    Thank you Jodi!

  15. Tears have a way of changing everything. I get choked up when someone humbly accepts an award … when listening to children’s choirs … and when listening to some movie scores. If I cry after being wounded emotionally, I feel like I’ve let it go and then I move on. Thanks for what you do Jodi!

  16. Lately, every time I watch the Heart cover of “Stairway to Heaven” when the gospel singers start in, I get goosebumps and the tears begin dripping out. Happy tears, sad tears, dunno, but somehow it touches something inside me. Puppies and kittens. Video clips of families being reunited, especially soldiers coming home from overseas.

    There was a great line in a book by Celeste de Blasis, I think it was The Tiger’s Woman, about tears being the rain of the soul, there to wash you clean and make everything whole again.

    I like having regular showers, and the occasional rainstorm.
    Beverly Diehl recently posted..Slut of the Month: Ava GardnerMy Profile

  17. i am fully agreed with you Kelly same is the thing with me,i cannot hold on my feelings i want to let it go or i should spoke out my heart loud and this feeling of sensitivity kills me….!

    1. Jodi Lobozzo Aman

      Sometimes saying them alloud helps release them. We become a witness to our own feelings and can validate them and this can be relieving!
      Thanks for your comment, so glad to have you here!

  18. I get teary eyed and sometimes cry watching studio audience members winning gifts or families in need receiving answered wishes. Guess all I can explain is I do have a conscious lol 🙂

  19. Tears fall silently down my face when I hear beautiful, “heart-choking” music. The feeling inside is hard to describe, perhaps of being in awe and feeling a touch of the eternal. So very profound.
    I also have been deeply crying alot recently when thinking of a close friend who has had a shocking diagnosis of an aggressive breast cancer. And after 2 chemo treatments, she landed up in the hospital with a most terrible infection. I cant name my emotions – maybe grief, sadness.
    When I tried to talk to my 32 yr old daughter about my cancer friend, my daughter was very “cold-hearted”, unemphatic and uncompassionate. Her attitude hurt me alot. It’s enough to also choke me up with sadness and cry, as we have never been very close.

    It seems like it’s of the ultimate, infinite beautiful times and yet on the other end of the spectrum, those of the deepest saddest times.

    1. Kris, I am so sorry for what you are going through. I feel the love in your heart for your friend and daughter. Let the tears wash away the pain. Hug to you, my dear!

  20. Every single thought
    Every I love you I read
    Every memory that comes to my mind and there are plenty
    Remembering the sound of her voice saying : Yes Darling, everytime I mentioned her name
    Looking at my screen and knowing her name will not pop up
    Having no one I can feel safe enough with to just scream and cry and say how I feel
    I’ve been through a lot but nothing like that. I just can’t do it

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