Betty W. Phillips, Ph.D., Psychology
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Crying on the Path to Happiness

                                   Crying on the Path to Happiness          


YES! Crying is one of the paths to happiness.  I hope this subject intrigues you to continue reading.. There are many reasons for crying, many types of tears and many ways to cry. Everyone, both men and women, should be able to cry. I encounter an interesting situation during initial therapy sessions when the new client finds him or herself dripping tears. Last month I found myself telling a new client, "It's OK; I cry all the time."  Then I thought I'd better explain myself; I didn't want to appear as a big black hole of sobs. I had to clarify, "Oh I did not mean 24/7 crying, I just cry whenever I want to cry." We often don't realize that occasional crying can be a very healthy way to live.


Misconceptions about crying include the idea that crying indicate sadness/depression or is a sign of weakness. These are myths which cause people to try to suppress healthy crying. Tears indicate various kinds of emotional release, and people usually feel positive or at least better after crying. No one should ever be embarrassed about shedding tears; it's a natural human response and has nothing to do with weakness. In fact it's rarely even possible to suppress this response as crying is just a part of being human.


In this article I will describe three levels of crying. The most basic physiological level of crying is as a response to pain due to injury or bodily dysfunction. While you wouldn't look forward to this type of crying, your wails of pain do register a protest and express your frustration.


The second type of crying is an expression of varied emotional states. Scientists studying this type of crying discovered that tears are a part of a physical/emotional recalibration and recovery when a person shifts rapidly from a tension or stress state of sympathetic activation to parasympathetic release. Whatever the stress, the crying typically occurs while the adrenaline level drops and the body relaxes. The individual usually describes this as a "letting go" response. Most of you have  found yourselves shedding tears when a stressful problem is unexpectedly resolved. For example, when finding lost car keys after frantic search, you may find yourself shedding tears even though the problem has been solved. If you think about it you will realize that you rarely if ever cry at the height of a crisis while you are actively engaged in the situation. The crying usually occurs a little later when the crisis is over and/or you give up successfully or unsuccessfully. Emotional thoughts causing tension may often be followed by a release of tears. These may be experienced as a "good cry" and are recuperative for your system. The crying episode will allow for time and space to process your thoughts and feelings.


People typically consider emotional crying as expressing sadness which is not necessarily true. Tears are neither happy nor sad but instead express a physiological and emotional reaction. Most depressed people do not cry all the time, nor do they cry primarily because of sadness. The association of depression and crying usually occurs when anger is suppressed and turned into angry tears of frustration. The best way to cope with such a situation is to allow the release of frustration, then initiate an action plan to deal with the problem causing the anger.


Tears after a loss or a death can similarly be encouraged as an emotional release and are not necessarily a sign of depression. Crying from loss should be honored as a powerful act of self-nurturing, self-healing and self-renewal. Such tears honor and value your emotions and your loss. Deep, meaningful crying will again provide the release called a "good cry." When crying to express these feelings, there will be no chance you'll get "stuck" in tears (unless there are other emotions such as guilt or depression to be addressed.)


What about tears at a time of celebration such as a graduation or wedding? Again these tears can be seen as a release during a state of high emotional arousal. These types of tears are the ones you'll experience during a romantic movie or other situation inspiring a positive emotional release.


This leads us into the third type of crying during states of deep heart-based emotion. Not everyone actually gets to this emotional level to be able to use crying to express feelings of appreciation, gratitude, joy, awe, tenderness and love. A strong compassionate response can bring empathetic tears. As a therapist I respond to my clients in an intuitive and heart-based manner, sometimes raising tears of compassion and understanding. Tears at this level, even crying together, promotes human bonding at a profound level.


To be complete I should mention that some people use tears as manipulations, either consciously or unconsciously hoping to receive care and concern from others. These situations should be addressed individually as they are different from the emotional concepts addressed in this article.


I hope by now you understand tears and crying as an important and necessary human emotion. It's important not to feel embarrassed but instead to feel positive about your participation in this emotional release. Being vulnerable is living in your power, not a sign of weakness. It would be important to communicate this understanding to others, especially men or any people who feel like they must keep a "stiff upper lip." Tears can sometimes be suppressed temporarily but actually will accumulate in your heart and soul until they dry up leaving you barren and depressed or burst forth at unanticipated times. I used to help a school district deal with crisis intervention after tragedies. I was struck by the number of people who became distraught and unglued during these times even when they were not even acquainted with the victims.  They were truly carrying around internal mountains of grief which erupted like volcanoes in these emotional situations.  The moral of the story is to cry whenever you need to do so, then reach out for happiness.


"Let your tears come. Let them water your soul."  Eileen Mayhew.

                                      When You were Born   
You Cried
And the World Rejoiced!