If I had a dollar for every time a client has apologized for crying during their first visit to my office I would be a very wealthy woman. I find myself telling all of my clients at some point that crying is not only allowed, but encouraged.
It is all too common that people in this society view crying and expression of emotions as something bad, wrong or weak. And it’s not only men who have a hard time expressing emotions. I see women and children holding back.
In the field of psychology there is a lot of common talk about “emotion regulation.” For the rare individuals who are truly overwhelmed by emotion so extremely and ongoing that their functioning is impaired, learning to “regulate” emotions through specific skills training is tremendously valuable.
Feelings need to be felt. At all ages! Stuffing and suppressing emotions is a real problem for many of my clients. I find myself most often teaching people how to allow themselves to be friends with their feelings and how to allow the feelings to be felt and expressed.
I’m not suggesting that emotions should be allowed to take over our interactions with self and others. On the contrary, when we allow ourselves to feel honestly and express openly we actually can take greater responsibility for our actions and our choices.
The magical gift of tears
Intense circumstances can trigger intense hormonal responses in the body often called “stress.” Particular hormones such as cortisol are released as the body’s way of going into protection mode. But when we experience high levels of these stress hormones without proper outlet or release, our health is endangered over time.
Tears are a mechanism through which the brain and body can RELEASE excess stress hormones.
YES. When you allow yourself to cry, you are RELEASING STRESS.
And you NEED to release stress. Your brain and body need the equilibrium that can occur after a good cry.
Infants cry to communicate they need to be fed, changed, held. Toddlers cry to express frustration, disappointment, sadness or exhaustion. Children cry when sad, angry, frustrated. Those expressions need to be allowed and whatever is under the need to express needs to be met as well.
Adults often cry when they are inspired, moved, sentimental, have mixed emotions, or when sad, angry, afraid. It’s okay to cry.
Other benefits to feeling our feelings
When we allow ourselves to feel and express our RAW emotions for others to witness, social research suggests that feelings of sympathy, empathy and connectedness to others most often follows. When you allow yourself to show your true feelings, allow yourself to cry, you are demonstrating to others you are real, you are human and you are willing to be a bit vulnerable.
Deal with your discomfort and stop apologizing for your feelings.
Whether you are the one emoting or you’re in the presence of someone else experiencing a wave of feelings, it’s important to not allow discomfort to dictate. Remember, feeling and expressing feelings is healthy.
If you feel a wave of emotion come over you, stop apologizing. You didn’t choose to feel what you are feeling. Acknowledge and allow the emotions you are having to move through you. It’s healthy. It’s human and it’s important for your growth and healing.
Tips on how to respond when someone else is crying and expressing emotion
1. Keep in mind if someone is crying, they are releasing stress and that’s a healthy thing.
2. Notice any discomfort you may feel and take a breath. And another breath. Just be and breathe for now.
3. PLEASE do not shove tissues in their face at the first sight of tears! We may mean well but when you push a box of tissues in front of someone when they begin crying it can be interpreted to mean they need to dry their tears and stop crying. See #1 and #2. After they’ve been crying and seem to need a tissue you can gently ask, “Would you like me to get a tissue for you?” or just have a box nearby.
Check in with your feelings regularly.
Consider it like a devotional time for your emotions. Dedicate time each day – maybe throughout the day – to check in. Ask yourself internally, “How am I feeling? What emotions are hanging around inside of me?”
Do a body scan. Often emotions are trapped in tight muscles or achey joints. Breathe into he physical sensations and see if you can connect the sensation with a particular feeling or memory.
The tried and true old advice is still good advice. It can be very helpful to write about your experiences, your feelings, your fears, your visions, your dreams. It will help you to stay in touch with your feelings.
Start a conversation
Don’t be afraid to talk with someone about what you’re feeling. It can be helpful to process and work through what is happening for you on an emotional level whether with a counselor, coach, friend or trusted family member.
Connect with a Licensed Professional Counselor, Therapist or Social Worker
Sometimes professional support is the best route for feeling safe in unpacking long suppressed emotions. Contact a professional, schedule an appointment and don’t hesitate to go regularly as psychotherapy and counseling support can do wonders.