Goethe wrote about crying, “It’s not the tears we cry that hurt us, but the one’s we struggle not to cry for they drip within our sad and weary hearts.”
One of our deepest human needs is to be understood. So, it naturally follows that one of the most painful experiences in everyday life is to be misunderstood. And a lot of misunderstanding happens around the act of crying.
People have different interpretations of what it means to cry. And those differing interpretations can be a source of interpersonal pain. A client’s marriage distress illustrates this principle. “Josie,” as I will call her, would often go to church with her husband, hoping that the shared experience would support their closeness. The trouble was that whenever she teared with awe and gratitude in the service, her husband would get all worried and distressed. No matter how often she told him that she was HAPPY and that her tears were not something to be worried about, but joyful about, he continued to wish she wouldn’t cry. He would always try to stop himself when he felt close to tears. So they both ended up feeling frustrated with each other instead of the desired harmony. Josie had the same problem with others as they misunderstood her tears. Josie distanced herself from a friend when having these joyful tears and a classmate sitting next to her leaned over to whisper in her ear, “If you need someone to talk too, I’m available.” She knew the woman was trying to be kind, but was completely misunderstanding the tears.
Another example demonstrates the differing meanings of crying, and therefore the different responses to crying. Just last week I went to a conference and was so struck by the different ways two of the presenters responded to their own tears. One allowed himself to be present with himself with his feelings of gratitude, tenderness, even love, as he teared at the standing ovation given him. Another presenter, also moved, kept trying to stop her tears and made self disparaging remarks, as she expressed concern that she would not be able to complete her presentation if she cried.
So often I encounter, both in the therapy room, and in “outside” life that people are confused about the simple act of crying. Admittedly, I’m sensitive abut the subject, since I’m a crier. But I usually only cry when I feel intense joy, love, tenderness, and awe. Sadness, ordinary daily sadness, never finds me crying. Only cataclysmic loss finds me crying, and then it’s not just tears dripping out, but sobbing.
Some people-usually, but certainly not always, women-cry when they are angry. Their anger is fused with hopelessness and/or guilt and shame about being angry. They may also be extreemly anxious at displaying anger. And, of course, many people cry with severe loss.
And then there are those who cry because they are (unawarely) hoping to receive affection and caring, and have learned that it doesn’t work for them to ask for it directly. And rarely, very rarely, someone may intentionally try to manipulate another into feeling guilt, hoping to “make” the other do as he or she wishes.
Many limiting beliefs may be embedded in concerns bout crying. Everyone is unique and has his or her own reasons for coming to their own interpretation of the meaning of crying, but some common beliefs are:
1. It is “weak” to cry. It means the person not in a “powerful” state or feeling. “Vulnerability” is bad.
2. If one doesn’t condemn the dastardly vulnerable feelings, they will grow and grow. (The “Spare the rod, spoil the child” mentality.)
3. One may get “stuck” in the shameful feelings.
4. One will not be able to feel powerful again.
5. One is being “negative” and therefore “bad.”
Tips for crying from sadness
Crying may be the strongest act of self healing and self nurturing. Tears of grief nourish the seeds of growth. The direct opposite of self-pity, healthy crying is the natural method of self renewal.
But how you cry is crucial.
By allowing yourself such a deep expression of sadness, you put value on your emotions. Crying without inhibitions, in private, confirms the importance of your emotions.
I believe that in the words of the song, “There’s a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” So when you are feeling like crying, cry. Whatever it means to you.