We are designed, deep down in our genetic structure, to heal naturally from emotional injury, including trauma. Amidst all of the focus on modern invention and discovery, we are missing the oldest, and for most people the most powerful, route to emotional wellness: deep crying.
Crying is the most misunderstood aspect of human experience. If we could get this one right, we could get everything else right; our failure to grasp how crying works is in many ways the core of the difficulties faced by our species.
I read a book a few years ago about crying that went on for chapters and chapters about what a mystery there is about why people cry. But there is no mystery about tears; they exist to make us well. From the time we are born until we grow as old as the ancients, we cry to relieve our pain. There is no more effective pain-killer on the earth, and that’s what it’s there for.
But crying does much more than make us feel better; it literally heals grief, and does so more deeply and powerfully, and in a way that is much longer lasting, than any other emotional healing approach we know about. Tears literally wash our grief away.
So why are we putting so much energy into trying not to cry, and to trying to stop each other from crying? Here are a few of the reasons:
• We confuse the pain (the grief, for example) with the healing of the pain. We think that when someone is crying, that’s a sign of how much they are hurting. But it isn’t. It’s a sign that some of their hurt is getting out of them. We mistakenly believe that if we stop them from crying (by “cheering them up” for example, or by “getting their mind off of it”), that we have made them feel better. But we haven’t. We’ve stopped their healing process, and left them with all the same pain they started with, which will come up to hurt them another day soon… So remember, the sadness is the pain, and the crying is the healing of that pain.
• We’re afraid that people will feel sorry for us if we cry, and it doesn’t feel good to have people feeling sorry for us… So stop feeling sorry for people who are crying, and just love and support them, and hope that people will learn to do the same for you.
• We believe that crying makes people weak. But it doesn’t, it makes them strong, especially if they cry long and hard. (It’s true that hours and hours, or years and years for that matter, of shallow, hesitant, lonely, weepy crying can sap your power. But deep, gut-wrenching, cleansing crying will leave you with more strength than you started with.)
• We don't cry long enough and hard enough to discover its benefits. If you cry only a little bit, keeping it shallow and short, which is what most people do, you’ll come out thinking that crying doesn’t really do much. But watch how babies and young children cry; they cry with every fiber of their being, their heart just pours with grief as if the world were ending. And then – if no one makes fun of them for it or treats them unkindly – they keep it going for quite a while. And finally, they get the cleansing of their pain that they needed, and they are in high spirits and high energy for a long time afterward! Why are we denying children a healing process that obviously works so well? Just watch and see what happens when you love a child while he or she cries, and let them – in fact encourage them – to cry as long and hard as they need to. You will see what I’m describing.
• We’re afraid that we’ll get ridiculed for crying. And tragically, that is sometimes exactly what happens.
A study years back found that 80% of women and 70% of men said that they felt better after a “good” cry – meaning a deep and extended one. You will not find it easy to unearth any other healing approach that is successful with three-quarters of the population. Participants in that study also described numerous additional benefits, including that they found that they could think more clearly after crying, that they were capable of finding solutions to problems that previously had seemed impossible to overcome, and that they felt more loving and understanding towards other people.
And we are born to do it. No one has to teach us how to cry. It's in our biological programming.
Rather than being seen as a sidelight in the healing of trauma, we should come to recognize deep crying as the key.
This is the first round of a series of posts I am going to write about crying. In the weeks ahead, I will be answering questions such as: 1) How come some days I can cry my pain out and other days I can’t?, 2) But what if I’m one of those people who feel worse after crying, not better?, 3) How should I deal with my children’s crying?, 4) What should I say when a friend starts to cry?, 5) Does crying have to be a lonely activity?, and 6) How can I bring more crying -- and more deep emotional healing in general -- into my life?
In the mean time, I would love to have people write in with stories of transformative experiences you have had through crying.