In healthy doses, crying is cathartic and healing

For many people—especially men—crying creates an effect the way garlic has on vampires. It repels people. Some people don’t know what to do and don’t know how to react around someone in tears. It’s considered a weakness, and in some situations like in the office, a taboo. While there are inarguable reasons as to why, when and where crying is appropriate, crying—in healthy doses—is actually a cathartic process that is not only healing, but also builds resilience and strength.

I’m a cry baby. There, I admit it, although I wouldn’t call myself such. Ever since I was a little girl, the people around me called me weak-hearted because of it. I would cry out of joy, sadness, grief, anger, fear, pain, and frustration. I would cry if I felt lost or vulnerable. I would cry over tear-jerking scenes on television or the movies. Hard as a I try, I do not seem to have an off switch like many people. The waterworks would just come and I have no control over it and I had always wondered why.

I wanted for it to change. I wanted for me to have control over it. I still do. So I kept searching for the answers. It was not until the recent past that I found it. I learned that not only am I a highly sensitive person (HSP), I am also empathic. Judith Orloff, M.D. on Psychology Today defines an HSP as someone who has “a low threshold for stimulation; the need for alone time; sensitivity to light, sound, and smell; and an aversion to large groups. It also takes highly sensitive people longer to wind down after a busy day, since their ability to transition from high stimulation to being quiet is slower.”

By itself, this description does not necessarily offer an explanation as to why emotions trigger the tears so easily for me. Dr. Orloff further explains that empaths sense and absorb subtle energy from other people and the environment into their own bodies—experiencing the energy of emotions and physical sensations in extremely deep ways. This means an empath “energetically internalizes the feelings and pain of others — and often have trouble distinguishing someone else’s discomfort from their own.”

I cannot speak for other people but this helped explain the countless tears I’ve had to shed for whatever reason I shed them. Whatever the emotions are, whether they’re my own or other people’s, I feel them so intensely they express themselves in tears. I don’t find it very handy or appropriate at times. Often, I wished I could turn off the emotions like a tap including the tears that come with them. There are times I hated myself for it because I felt like people were judging me for being weak.

But then, I sat with myself and took a long hard look at my life and what I’ve been through. And I can proudly say that those tears were merely a way for me to release the intense energy behind the emotions that accompanied every experience, good or bad, that I’ve had my entire life. They are not an expression of weakness by any means but, in fact, a necessary process that helps get rid of everything that could build up and tear us up from inside out so we could heal and stay balanced. Think of it like the release valve of a pressure cooker which prevents it from exploding.

A good cry—meaning, one that is not excessive—is extremely cathartic. It leaves us in a calmer and more relaxed state because emotional tears release stress hormones.

According to Dr. William H. Frey, author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, emotional crying gets rid of harmful stress-induced chemicals in our body. In an interview with The New York Times, he said that, “Crying is an exocrine process. That is a process in which a substance comes out of the body. Other exocrine processes, like exhaling, urinating, defecating, and sweating, release toxic substances from the body. There’s every reason to think that crying does the same, releasing chemicals that the body produces in response to stress.” This is why people feel better after crying.

Further in that article, Dr. Margaret Crepeau of Marquette University College of Nursing reported to an American Psychological Association meeting in Washington that people with stress-related disorders were more likely than the healthy people to regard crying as a sign of weakness or loss of control so they cry less than their healthy counterparts. Clearly, I’m not one of those people.

Going deeper

To emphasize the healing and cathartic effects of crying, those that do yoga have been known to suddenly shed, even burst into tears as they connect with their body and emotions. So not only does it relieve physical stress, it could also trigger deep-seated emotions stemming from traumas and painful experiences, therefore making them feel more relaxed, lighter and stronger afterwards.

Author Glennon Doyle described in her book Love Warrior how she attended a hot yoga session with the intention to just stay on the mat for 90 minutes and not run out of the studio. She ended up being confronted by the fears brought about by her marital problems at that time, with tears streaming down her face. She allowed herself to feel through all the emotional pain and not only did she survive, she became stronger for it.

In Serusha Govender’s article on WebMD, she shares that: “The Japanese are such strong believers in the health benefits of crying that they’ve taken that wisdom to the next level. Some cities in Japan now have “crying clubs” called rui-katsu (meaning, literally, “tear-seeking”), where people come together to indulge in good old-fashioned sobfests. (To help the tears flow, participants watch tearjerkers.) The premise? Crying releases stress and is therefore a great practice when it comes to staying mentally healthy.”

While I agree that there needs to be a place and time for crying, there are times when it simply needs to happen much like when we need to eat when we’re hungry or drink when we’re thirsty. If you continue to ignore that need, it could potentially harm you physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.  It is part of a healthy living process. So, whenever your eyes start to well up from emotions that rise to the surface, give yourself permission to let it all out in a sacred space where you feel safe and will not be judged, so you would feel better.

Emotional spring cleaning

Think about it. We clean our house regularly. We brush our teeth two to three times a day. We take a shower once a day or more. We do all sorts of things to clean and maintain ourselves and the things that we have, so why not “clean our internal plumbing” as well? Our emotional health needs purging, cleansing, and proper “maintenance,” from all the beating we take every single day of our life. We had been taught to be strong and keep it together and were discouraged to cry, completely dismissing our emotional state.

Some people say that crying is a way for some to get sympathy from, or even manipulate, others. Personally, I don’t like others to see me cry because of the stigma attached to it, but there had been times when I could just not hold back the tears but not because I want someone else’s pity. But 80% of the time, I go somewhere private to give myself some space. I’ve become so used to doing this that I am able to take a few minutes in the bathroom crying even when other people are visiting. I could be crying in tiny bits throughout the day without anyone noticing. When crying is not enough and I need to scream to release pent-up emotional energy, I learned to scream at the top of my lungs without making a sound. How’s that for a skill?

The best scenario for a good cry-cleanse is to be with someone who could offer you a shoulder to cry on and just be there without criticizing, analyzing or attempting to make you feel better. They are just there to allow you to go through the process and get to that place of healing on your own. But if you feel that doing it alone is much better for building your inner strength, then do so. This is what I prefer to do.

This way, I can go into the ugliest cry without any care in the world, be alone with my feelings, examine my insides carefully and lovingly, and gauge my emotional tank (Is it still half-full or am I running on empty?) independently. I can do it on my own terms, at my own pace, and bare my raw self in its full glory.

If you’re one of those people who hardly ever cries, ask yourself why. Is it really because you’re not the tiniest bit emotional or have you just trained yourself not to do so? Or worse, are you consciously or unconsciously running away from your emotional mess simply not wanting to face them ever? Realize that if you keep doing this, you could end up like a hoarder whose house become filled with useless junk that ruins their life. Tear ducts are there for a reason—to help us perform the emotional “spring cleaning” that we need to stay healthy and balanced—so use them. Let the tears fall and allow them to take you to that place of much-needed healing.