The Power of a Good Cry

The first sound a healthy baby makes is crying. It lets the delivery team and parents know that the newborn is vitally alive. Crying exercises the lungs. It is a celebration of life and something to be treasured.   

What are the statements you have heard about crying? “I’ll give you something to cry about,” and “Real men don’t cry,” are damaging messages. The first causes fear of emoting, the second dehumanizes boys and men. Imagine what relationships would be like, indeed, what the world would be like, if people felt free to cry as desired and needed. Un-shed tears turn into anger, withdrawal, and depression. ‘Stuffing emotions’ sometimes leads to addictive behaviors and substances to self-medicate.  

A paradoxical statement a parent sometimes uses with a daughter by way of encouraging emoting is, “Go ahead and get it out of your system.”  The parent may then hold their daughter and ride out the tears with her. Later in life, the daughter may ponder the double meaning. Although there was permission to cry, there may also a have been a feeling that the tears needed to be released and then ceased, like a solid sneeze. The truth lies somewhere in between.  

Tear ducts are part of the human apparatus that become activated when people experience physical pain or emotional release. In many cases, it is reflexive. It may indeed take more effort to withhold tears than to allow them to flow.   

Why cry?  

According to an article in the Harvard Health Blog called “Is crying good for you?”, states that crying is indeed beneficial. It goes on to share that in Japanese culture, tears are so valued that some cities in Japan now have “crying clubs” called rui-katsu (meaning, literally, “tear-seeking”) where people can shed tears in the presence of others. In a safe environment, imagine how cathartic it would feel to let the tears flow. 

The article indicates that on average, American women cry 3.5 times each month, while American men cry about 1.9 times each month. Infants and young children often cry when they are unable to verbally express sadness, frustration, pain, and anger. The message is heard, loud and clear. They don’t judge themselves for wailing, why should we?  

Reasons adults may choose not to cry:  

  • Perception of weakness 
  • Fear of being considered unprofessional if one cries on the job. 
  • It may make someone else feel uncomfortable. 
  • There is a misperception that once the tears start, they will never stop. 
  • Unwillingness to be vulnerable. 

Reasons to cry:  

  • It counters cortisol which builds up when we are under stress. 
  • It replaces stress hormones with endorphins (a feel-good hormone). 
  • It helps us sleep better. 
  • It increases empathy. If you are in the presence of someone who is crying,         it can help to join them.  
  • It humanizes us.  
How can we induce crying if it is not something that comes naturally to us? For some, a Hallmark movie will do it. Or, commercials about children with cancer will bring on tears.  For others, recalling the last time you saw a loved one who has passed is what will provide permission to emote. Or, crying may be an expression of loneliness.
Happy tears trickle from our eyes at milestone events such as weddings and graduations. Sad tears come forth at funerals. Happy tears emerge at the achievement of a goal. Sad tears arrive in the face of a serious illness or injury. Happy tears dance along when we watch others perform dance movements. Sad tears show up at the end of an era such as leaving a job or a home. Happy tears flow when we are in the presence of exquisite beauty such as a sunset or rainbow. 
Sometimes soul shaking sobs do our bodies good.
“Do not apologize for crying. Without this emotion, we are only robots.”  
Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love  
“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”
Charles Dickens, Great Expectations  
“…you know that a good, long session of weeping can often make you feel better, even if your circumstances have not changed one bit.”  
Lemony Snicket, The Bad Beginning 

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