Let the Tears Flow: It's Okay to Cry
Do you judge yourself when you cry? Have you found yourself apologizing or expressing disappointment in yourself for crying? When this happens in session, my clients and I will often explore messages they have received throughout their lives about what crying represents. We also look at how to challenge beliefs about crying and identify how crying can often be a powerful release that facilitates healing. Today I’d like to write about some of the most common judgments people express about crying and how to reframe these beliefs in order to develop a more compassionate approach towards yourself when you find that you need a good cry.
Crying means you’re weak: People often share that crying is a sign of weakness. Clients share that these beliefs were formed based on messages they received about crying as they were growing up. Objectively, crying is a natural human response to numerous emotions, such as anger, frustration, grief, or sadness. Just as we feel the urge to laugh when we feel happy or joyful, we naturally feel the urge to cry when we are suffering emotionally. It can help to view crying as a natural reaction and that it is your body’s way of processing difficult and painful emotions, not as a weakness or failing on your part.
If you let yourself cry, you’ll fall apart: People often express that they don’t want to let themselves cry as soon as they feel tears coming as they worry that they won’t be able to stop crying, that they’ll feel worse, or that they feel like they will fall apart. These are valid worries and it makes sense that these thoughts would discourage a person from allowing themselves to fully cry. Many people find that when they allow themselves to cry, there’s a natural point where the crying ceases, and that a crying spell does not typically last very long. Crying also releases oxytocin and other relieving chemicals, which often causes people to feel better after a good cry. Indeed, clients will often share that they feel a sense of release and relief after allowing themselves to cry.
Crying means you don’t have control over your emotions: We may feel the urge to stifle our tears because we feel we’re no longer in control of ourselves and our emotions when we cry. However, by repressing our urge to cry, we are also repressing and stuffing down our emotions and cutting off the opportunity to gain awareness of our emotions as well as the opportunity to release and let go of the emotions that are affecting us. It can help to view crying as a natural emotional response, rather than a way of losing control, in order to allow ourselves to cry when the need arises.
Boys/Men don’t cry: Young boys often receive toxic messages around crying, such as “boys don’t cry,” “crying is for girls,” and “toughen up, be a man.” These messages are highly detrimental toward boys and their ability to emotionally regulate as they grow older. Boys and men learn that they need to compartmentalize, stuff down, and ignore all vulnerable emotions in order to conform to gender expectations, and thus find themselves ill-equipped to confront and effectively handle feelings of sadness, loneliness, pain, and insecurity.
It helps to remember that ALL humans are meant to feel ALL emotions, and that emotions and the expression of those emotions are not limited to a person’s gender or station in life. I believe it is important for boys and men to start hearing messages that it is okay and normal to feel their emotions honestly and to cry if they need or want to. Men who are able to understand, label, and validate their own emotions are bound to experience decreased levels of anxiety and depression and are bound to be more compassionate partners, leaders, and members of their communities. So if you’re a parent who feels the urge to tell your child not to cry, notice this urge, where it originates from, why you believe this, and challenge yourself to experience the discomfort that will allow you to sit with your child’s feelings. If you’re a man who struggles to connect with your emotions or feels unable to cry, ask yourself why this may be, ask yourself how you can view crying as a healthy expression of emotion, and how you can allow yourself space to feel your feelings authentically.
I invite you to deeply explore your relationship to your tears and to crying, to investigate the beliefs you’ve developed over time based on your childhood and cultural messages around crying. Take a look at the last time you let yourself cry, what did you notice about how you felt afterward? Was there a sense of relief or calm afterward? In many ways, allowing ourselves to cry and authentically feel our pain and sadness is a way of honoring our true selves, our emotions, and our search for comfort. The next time you feel the urge to cry, perhaps you can gently coax yourself to move through the urge and let yourself release the tears. It’s okay to cry; let the tears flow.