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Emotional crying can be a response to overwhelm

You might remember back when you were a child to how your mother or carer always told you to stop crying. You’ve probably heard a parent at some time in your life tell you, “Stop that crying, it doesn’t do any good” or “Stop crying or else I’ll give you something to cry about!” The second one was the one I heard mostly.


Depending on your parents’ parenting style, they may have handled your emotional crying in some pretty creative ways rather than encourage you to stop crying. However, if you find yourself crying spontaneously as an adult, it’s a clue that you have something to cry about and you have perhaps not understood it yet or, you haven't found the words to express yourself yet. Honestly, crying is really not a big deal. In fact, many experts believe crying is adaptive and useful, and I tend to agree.


In the past two weeks I have had a number of clients, men and women, surprise themselves and cry spontaneously during their appointment with me. I have had emotional clients cry in sessions before however there hasn’t usually been so many at any one time and, I’m wondering if this is the impact of returning to work and adjusting to our new normal, Often, those who cry apologise profusely and are a little embarrassed, to which I find myself calmly saying, “If you can’t cry here, where can you cry?”


Crying research

In a research study across 30 countries, in every nation both men and women reported feeling better after crying, even though cultural norms are often less favorable to men crying than to women crying. Furthermore, it seems that people will even pay money to cry. Films we colloquially refer to as ‘‘tearjerkers’’ gross millions of dollars worldwide every year because it provides an opportunity for people to cry.


Other research showed that two-thirds of people report feeling a boost in their mood after crying. However, it also showed that it’s mixed for those who have a diagnosed mental health condition of anxiety or other mood disorder. This could be because the release of emotion is felt more acutely when coupled with a mental health diagnosis leaving an oversupply of emotions to process. Therefore making it necessary for those with a diagnosed mental health condition to regularly express themselves with words to experience the benefits of crying. 


Allowing yourself to cry could be the salve you need.


What is crying?

Crying is when tears drop from our eyes in response to an emotional state or pain. The emotions can range from across the happiness - sad continuum and includes joy, anger, grief and sadness. No matter how emotionally strong you may consider yourself, everyone cries, whether you do it in public or private. We all cry. Even the most successful people allow themselves to cry when it feels like that’s what’s needed. Crying is one of many experiences that every human being has shared.


Different types of crying

Scientists have found that there are three different types of crying; basal, reflex and emotional, and each one has different tear composition.

  • Basal crying help to keep the eyes moist every time a person blinks.
  • Reflex crying produces tears triggered by irritants such as wind, smoke, or onions. They are released to flush out these irritants and protect the eye.
  • Emotional crying is shedding tears in response to a range of emotions. These tears contain a higher level of stress hormones than other types of tears.


Emotional crying = emotional tears

Emotional tears are thought to only be found in humans. Emotional tears contain more protein. This makes the tear more viscous, so they travel down the face slower, making it more likely to be seen by others. Tears communicate to others that you are feeling vulnerable, and vulnerability is a key ingredient for human connection.


Researchers believe that tears automatically set off empathy and compassion in the other person or observer, in an effort to connect. So, responding with “Stop that crying, it doesn’t do any good” or “Stop crying or else I’ll give you something to cry about!” tells you something about the speakers’ ability to demonstrate empathy and compassion in that moment.


Research shows people who rarely shed an emotional tear have a tendency to withdraw from relationships and often describe their key relationships as less connected. They are considered to be less in touch with their emotions and also experience more negative aggressive feelings, like rage, anger and disgust, than people who cried.


Why do you cry?

Crying really doesn’t hurt or damage a situation or people. Emotional crying is a healthy expression of emotions. Particularly for adults who are struggling to express themselves with words or who are holding it all in.


Often, if you experience feelings you don’t understand it can be pretty confusing, especially if you consider yourself smart and you like to stay in control. Those feelings of confusion and frustration can quite easily be expressed by crying. Experience has taught me that emotional crying happens when we are overwhelmed by feelings, both positive and negative, and we can no longer hold them in.


Emotional crying doesn’t have to mean you’re sad or melancholy. You could be frustrated or angry and struggling to find the words. Or perhaps you are extremely overjoyed, and words wouldn’t do it justice. I often find myself emotional crying in arrival halls in airports as I am usually overwhelmed with the emotions around me. I also cry when I’ve decided that speaking my mind will do more harm than good and I want to maintain connection.


If you have found yourself crying more than you’d like to or for reasons you cannot identify, it could be a sign that you need to develop more stress resilience and also increase your emotional vocabulary so that you can better express yourself removing the need to hold on to it until emotional crying is the only option.


Whatever the reason to cry, emotionally healthy people do feel the need to cry occasionally. 


Do you allow yourself to emotional cry?

If you’ve ever experienced feeling like you want to cry yet are holding in your tears, you know how uncomfortable it can be. What were you experiencing at those times? It practically makes a person feel physically ill to override a crying response when the emotions and body are sending signals that it’s time to cry.


According to psychosomatic therapists emotional crying provides an outlet for the emotion which otherwise could become locked in your body and develop into an illness.


Interestingly, contrary to what many people think, when a person cries, it tends to last for just a few short minutes. Once the initial troubling feelings are expressed, they’re released. Often leaving the crier feeling a bit lighter.


The act of emotional crying has a calming effect on the body as your breathing often slows down. After shedding tears, you’re then free to go on with your day with a renewed passion and motivation. Interestingly, emotional crying can also help you sleep better.


Emotional crying and the loss process

It’s natural to experience sad and lonely feelings related to a loss of something that you valued whether that’s in relationship, at work or even within yourself. You may have had to let go of shared hopes for the future, dreams of buying a house or even missing out on getting that job you dreamed of. As you experience loss, you may be tempted to not acknowledge your pain as it could mean an ending and signal something else that feels acutely like failure. Remember failure is only feedback. As a result having a good emotional cry it can start to create the space for rebuilding and imagining an even better situation.


When grieving a loss, sometimes a good cry is all you need to release troubling emotions for the moment.


Emotional crying and the grieving process

Interestingly there is an expectation that emotional crying will take place at a funeral. However during grieving, you cry beyond your funeral experience and you might cry periodically over a few days, weeks, or months. There is no rule on how long people grieve for especially as in between crying episodes, you might feel fine.


Grief has a way of washing over you in waves which subside and minutes later, you’re feeling better. Over time, you’ll feel less and less like crying.


If you are avoiding having an emotional cry, I encourage you to consider it as a normal part of life that will occasionally happen. Let go of your fears regarding crying. However, if you or a person you know is crying almost daily for a couple of hours, or not feeling any better after a “good cry,” it’s probably time to consider seeing a professional to help you get a better handle on how you’re feeling and how to express yourself more regularly with words.


If you would like to be more aware of how you are feeling or reduce the amount of times you spontaneously cry, book in a confidential call with me and we can explore how you can become more emotionally aware and better at managing your day to day stress.

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