Cry your heart out

It's Okay to Cry

Tears - An outlet for powerful emotions

What would it be like to be in a family in which young and old gathered together to cry their way through the pain of life, letting it out freely through tears and sobs rather than angry words and hurtful actions? Imagine a workplace with a room designated for crying where people could go to let out there overwhelm, frustrations, and fears. Consider the possibility of churches with tissue holders next to the hymnbooks, placed with the expectation that tears will fall both for grief and for joy as songs are sung and heartfelt words are spoken. As we will see, the overall impact of such emotional freedom could well be a very healthy alternative to the current emotional climate in which most of us live.

When was the last time you were told, “It's Okay to cry?” Who do you know that is willing to allow you to express your feelings through tears? If you are a woman, chances are better that you have at least one person who will encourage such heartfelt expression. However, few men have anyone in their lives who can tolerate the image of a man shedding tears. Even parents have difficulty being with a child who is crying, without instantly trying to “make it better.”

Our society tends to admire and elevate those who appear to be strong, through an emotionless exterior that guards against any display of deep or painful feelings. As a result, people fear being viewed as weak or out of control and work hard to choke back or push down tears that would otherwise flow freely. Few circumstances of life permit us outward and open tearful release without risking embarrassment to ourselves, or the discomfort of others.

Crying is always a cleansing of the heart, whether if comes from laughter that is so intense it flows into tears, or from sadness that overwhelms us with sobs of grief. This intimate contact with the heart, which shows itself so visibly, may well be the source of our discomfort. Our tears become a window to the inner self, revealing pain and hurt that we have spent years trying to protect, deny or wall off. Tears reveal our vulnerability and we shrink back in an effort to hide the soft and tender places within.

Dr. Karl Menninger, in his book The Vital Balance writes, “Weeping is perhaps the most human and most universal of all relief measures.” Indeed, many people describe crying as deep feeling of release. This process of letting go may well be a natural and effective source for healing that many have denied themselves.

Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States today. Pathways to the heart slowly become blocked until the heart is completely closed off. In many ways, this is a metaphor for what happens when we close ourselves off emotionally, and wall up pain, anger, and fear in our hearts. The distance we create between ourselves and our feelings may be at least partially responsible for some of the common illnesses of our day.

The burgeoning field of pschoneuroimmunology explores how emotional status affects the body's health, specifically the immune system. Many studies are being conducted that demonstrate the relationship between suppressed emotion and disease. As early as 1979 a study was done at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing to examine the relationship between the free expression of tears and health. Findings showed that “healthy people are more likely to cry and have a more positive attitude towards tears than those persons with ulcers and colitis, two conditions thought to be aggravated by stress.” The ability to cry, apparently because of its stress relieving quality, may have a positive affect on preventing or alleviating physical conditions, which are brought on or exacerbated by stress. Crying seems to be a natural outlet for powerful emotions that otherwise may become buried in our bodies, taking on various forms of ill health.

Thomas Stone is the author of Cure by Crying, which is his story about being kidnapped at the age of four and being brutally abused. He explains how the nervous system represses traumatic events in our life and gives techniques for moving through the pain. The essential ingredients he encourages for healing deep wounds of our past are to remember and cry until there are no more tears left. This process allows for release that goes beyond words into letting the body free itself from deep grief and sadness.

As individuals, and as society, it may be time to rethink our attitudes about crying and consider ways that we can free ourselves to take advantage of what seems to be a biological design to help us wash away the pain and stress of living. The next time you feel a lump in your throat, or your eyes beginning to well up, you may want to give yourself permission to truly feel your feelings and express them with tears. As we begin to be more accepting of our own tearfulness, we will naturally become more willing to allow others to express their tears. Life sometimes offers up many things to cry about. It is comforting to think that when such things arise, we can tell ourselves “It's Okay to cry” and that others would support and honor this process. •

Paula Becker is a Licensed Psychologist and owner of Burnsville Counseling & Healing Center. Paula is a speaker and workshop leader and is passionate about talking to groups about this topic. For information on her speaking or about Mind, Body, Spirit groups, please call 952-435-4144.

09/14/06 By Paula Becker

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