I am the “crier” in the family. I wear it all on my sleeve. I shed tears at movie trailers. A few notes of music can turn me into a blubbering mess. Anything that takes me back to a specific memory of growing up with my brothers or a moment with my late father, is a sure thing to open the spigot. A mental video of walking my late beagle, Peanut. A dead animal in the road. The re-occuring feelings of hopelessness and anxiety in COVID quarantine.
It is who I am. It is who I have always been. More recently, bi-weekly trips to my father’s gravesite have turned into “cry-therapy” for me. At first, it was loss and the grief missing him. That, of course, is still present, but, is now, more than that. It is quiet. It is secluded. It is a safe place to reach down deep into my childhood and let that little boy cry. I am not talking about little whimpers. I unleash gut-wrenching howls of the past that could wake the dead. It is therapeutic for me. Crying is a form of self-care for me. Studies tell us that it can be a good thing as a mood enhancer.
For a therapist viewpoint, I reached out to Maeve O’Neill, MEd, LCDC, LPC-S, CHC, CDWF/CDTLF. She says:
‘As a therapist, we learn to hold space and sit with people deep in emotion, and often that includes crying tears of joy or sadness. I remember early in my career, I would fight back tears of my own as I sat with people crying, thinking I needed to be stronger and not emotional for them. After 30 years of working with people in need, I have come to believe that crying tears is a therapeutic process in itself. Allowing others and ourselves to let the tears flow rather than holding them back is much more helpful. There is therapeutic value in crying.
The value lies in the fact that crying is a release of emotions that our body is best to process rather than hold inside. I discovered this true value when I started meditating on a regular basis and often times found myself tearful and crying while meditating. I didn’t at first understand why I would cry during mediation but when I shared it with others, I found they also experienced the same things. When we slow down enough in heart and minds the tears flow freely as our brains process all the emotions we have felt or even more likely repressed.
The act of crying is a natural response to our body feeling some emotions. It is our cultural response that shuts down tears by telling children not to cry or to quickly giving someone a tissue to stop their tears the second they start. But the physical and mental benefits of crying have been documented by research to include its soothing effects, it lets others know we need support, releases tensions, and can improve our moods.
In my years of clinical practice, I was able to see these benefits in patients at all levels of care. Often, we would see the person breaking down into tears as the point they opened up to the therapeutic process. I have a clear memory of a young person in treatment for addiction who started crying in a group and the counselors saying “welcome to treatment” as it was an indicator that the person was now engaged, less resistant, and more open to all the good stuff to come.
As people not in treatment and as professionals, we are often not as open to letting the tears flow but perhaps, we could also benefit, and it would open the door to our own therapeutic benefit of more joyful lives!
When was the last time you had a good cry? Do you feel better afterward? I’m off to a safe space to shed some tears. I know I will.