At the end of a client-packed day, the trash can in my office is often overflowing with used tissues. Richard, seeing this, usually comments; “Good day, huh?” and we both laugh. He knows that, when clients cry, they’re usually breaking through and healing something. I’ve been known to joke with clients that I’d like to create a “crying spa:” a gorgeous resort with boxes of the finest tissues everywhere, even towels, which are great for a really good cry. We’d play sad and soothing music, there would be big, soft beds, lovely overstuffed chairs and sofas with cozy throws and soft lighting. Big bathtubs, hot tubs and roomy showers with lots of hot water, and secluded outdoor areas for being alone. A good cry can be the most healing thing you can do.
American culture is perky. We’re enjoined to be happy, and grief and sadness is too quickly labeled “Depression” and supposedly banished with drugs. People who are legitimately grieving are often told to feel better, when what they need is to honor their profound loss by grieving.
A dear friend of mine who lost her husband of about 50 years recently told me that now, after two years, she has had the first glimmers of feeling energized and hopeful about the future. She did not spend those two years at home, wallowing in her grief. Indeed, she went on with her busy life as much as possible, surrounded by friends and family. But she did grieve: writing poetry and talking with a few close friends who could understand. No matter how profound the grief, if you honor it, a day comes when the clouds lift and optimism rises again. Human beings are not easy to keep down. We are resilient, and one reason we are is that we can cry.
However, there’s a difference between a good cry and wallowing in self-pity. A good cry is cleansing, and leaves you feeling lighter and more able to cope.
My clients have many different reasons to cry: • A relationship breakup • Loss of a dear friend, relative, partner or pet • Recognition of damage done in the past • To relieve pressure from stressful situations • Relief at finding out their feelings are normal and healthy
Crying Facts As people mature, they tend to cry less. As you gain more life experience, you can handle the resulting emotions better. In youth, everything seems critically important (a snub, a breakup, a bad mark) but with age, you learn that life has its ups and downs, and you’re less reactive to them. Plus, with experience, you develop coping skills: positive ones, like talking yourself out of feeling bad, or talking to good friends and getting support; and negative ones, like eating, drinking, smoking, all of which help you handle emotions without tears.
Your emotions and your hormones are intrinsically connected. Emotions are hormones. Emotional reactions to events send hormones coursing through your body. Crying is your body’s and mind’s way to re-balance after a physical or emotional shock. Crying helps deal with emotionally shocking events and assimilate them.
My clients sometimes say they’re afraid to start crying, because they won’t stop, but that’s not true. You may cry a lot at first; even cry yourself to sleep, but it’s almost impossible for people to damage anything by crying too much. Most people cry too little, and wind up suppressing sadness, which leads to depression.
In over 35 years of counseling, I’ve had clients who cry a lot and those who find it difficult to cry. The ones who cry are usually more resilient and bounce back faster. The only problem with crying too much is if you wallow in self pity, blame others for whatever went wrong, and don’t figure out how to handle the problem. Even if you think you’re crying “too often,” it’s probably a good thing. Hardly ever crying (unless your life is serene all of the time) could be a sign of trouble. A good cry is cleansing.
Crying, Grief and Depression When you’ve had a loss, there are a certain number of tears you must cry to let go. Getting on with the crying is the fastest way. If you gave it your best shot, and you know it’s over, don’t waste time in resentment and anger, it’s self-destructive. Let go. Do your grieving, cry, journal, and talk about alone, or with a trusted friend. Have a “letting go” ceremony with close friends, and say goodbye to whatever or whomever you lost. Put reminders away for a while.
Everyone needs to know how to grieve, to be sad, to get over difficult events.
Many people, even professionals, mistakenly classify normal emotions, such as the grief and upset after a relationship problem, as depression. A lot of drugs have been sold by labeling normal emotions as “depression;” but it doesn’t help people’s mental health.
Heartbreak is a part of real life: the more you love, the more you risk a broken heart, and the older you get, the more losses you encounter. You need to know how to grieve, recover and bounce back; it’s a healthy human psychological skill. Counseling and grief groups can always be helpful. We live in a social environment that’s very uncomfortable with grief, so your friends and family may not be able to support you well enough, so if that’s the case, counseling and groups can be very helpful.
If you’re trying to help someone cope with a loss, don’t try to make the bereaved person feel better. It just shuts down their grief, and makes them feel that their feelings are unwanted. Listen if you can. Have patience with the grieving person. Support them when they cry; it’s part of the process.
If you are bereaved, find at least one person you can trust, such as a dear friend, relative, clergy person or therapist. If you can’t find someone who will listen to you and support your grief, find a support group. Most hospitals and hospices have support groups open to anyone who has experienced loss.
Writing and journaling can help, so can doing something for others. But, eventually, you have a certain number of tears you have to cry, and the more you let that happen, the better. Eventually, however, your spirits will begin to rise again, and you’ll feel ready to actually live your life. At that point, the intense part of your grieving is over. Grief is as natural as digestion, and if you stop either one from happening, you’re going to have trouble. If you allow yourself to grieve and cry, your will to live will inevitably assert itself. Grief is like going through winter. Spring eventually comes, and things begin to bloom and live again. You can feel bad, complain and cry, and still keep trudging toward your goal.