What's so bad about crying anyway?
Many of my clients often burst out crying during their counselling session. This seems perfectly reasonable to me – after all, most people who come for counselling are experiencing some kind of emotional turmoil.
However, one thing I notice is that a lot of them seem to be very ashamed of their tears. They’ll try and hide them; they’ll turn away; they’ll apologise or make excuses for themselves.
They can often say some really judgemental things about themselves as they cry. They’ll say things like “oh this is terrible… this is so bad… this is insane”
Yes, I’ve had people actually tell me that they think they’re insane because they’re crying. And all they’re doing is shedding some tears.
The act of crying often brings with it such a lot of shame and embarrassment, and this always makes me sad. When you look at it from a logical point of view, crying is simply a very effective mechanism that the body has for releasing emotions in that moment and making us feel better.
So I just wanted to remind you that it’s OK to cry. Look at it as just a simple bodily function to release something that shouldn’t be stuck in there. Just like we sneeze or cough to rid our respiratory tract of dust, imagine that you’re crying to rid your emotional system of another type of ‘dust’ – the kind that’s caused by trapped feelings.
A friend of mine once said ‘it’s better to be in a good crying place than a fake happy place’, and those words of wisdom really rang true for me.
Perhaps you can recall the feeling of relief you had after having a really good cry. There’s a logical reason for it: tears (or at least the kind of tears you shed when you’re upset about something) allow the body to release hormones and other toxins that accumulate during times of stress, and they also contain a natural painkiller.
If our emotions become trapped with no way of escape, they cause tension in both the body and the mind. So if we can find ways to let the emotions flow out, then we can reduce the pain and suffering.
And crying is one of the simplest most effective ways to do this.
Babies know all about this. Just watch them – whenever they experience some strong emotion, they will simply release it by crying, laughing, screaming, or doing whatever they need to do to let that overwhelming feeling flow out.
Of course, in order to fit in with society, at some point we have to curtail these displays of emotion. Our parents and others around us teach us how to behave so that we don’t cause any discomfort or awkwardness for others.
This is perfectly rational of course – it certainly wouldn’t be very good if everybody was screaming like babies on the tube and at work (even though sometimes we might feel like doing it).
The problem often lies in the shame and guilt that can be laid upon children by whoever is desperately trying to stop them from ‘causing a scene’ in public.
They might say things like - ‘don’t be silly.. don’t be a baby…” or even punish them in some way, in their efforts to quieten them down (or bribe them with sweeties – which is a whole other discussion in itself!).
And these memories stay stuck somewhere in our minds, perhaps not consciously, but they’re in there anyway, giving us the subconscious belief that it’s completely unacceptable to show negative emotion when anyone else is around.
These beliefs are then strengthened by those around us, who react in horror or awkwardness if they see anyone crying. People feel the need to stop those tears just like theirs were stopped all those years ago.
The counselling room can be a haven if you want somewhere where it’s safe to vent your emotions – even the ‘unpleasant’ ones such as anger, sadness or fear.
Counsellors are thoroughly trained so that they can ‘hold’ a safe, non-judgemental space for somebody who is experiencing uncomfortable emotions. They won’t try to stifle you, give you advice, or get you to stop. They’ll simply stay alongside you, facilitate the process, and give you support while you express what you need to.
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