“There ain’t no use in crying/
It doesn’t change anything /So baby what good does it do?”
– Lyrics from ‘I Sat by the Ocean’ by Queens of the Stone Age
It’s a great song. But is it really true that crying won’t help and can’t change anything?
Maybe there are more ways of looking at what happens when we get tearful.
Because there are situations when crying makes us feel worse; and yet in other situations crying can make us feel soooooo much better!
First, let’s get clear on the difference.
Then you can start to figure out some ways to make your tears the ‘feel better’ kind, more of the time.9 Signs Crying Isn't Helping You - and How it Could! Click To Tweet
First off, when does crying make you feel worse?
9 Signs Your Crying Isn’t Helping You
Crying can actually make you feel worse when:
- You are shamed or not taken seriously by others when you cry
- Your crying seems to be happening a lot, and you don’t know why
- You don’t have periods of feeling better, in between the bouts of crying
- You always (or almost always) cry alone
- You get angry at yourself for crying
- You believe that crying shows that you are somehow inferior to others
- Crying seems to ‘happen to you’ and you feel scared and overwhelmed by it
- You cry (or are on the verge of tears) most of the time, even though you haven’t had a recent loss or trauma
- You are unconsciously using crying as a ‘cover feeling’ so that you can avoid feeling or doing something important. For example, some people cry when deep-down they actually feel angry but are too scared to feel the anger or to set a healthy boundary with someone (Note: this can happen the other way round, too).
So, What Should You Do if Some of These Apply to You?
First, don’t try and suppress your tears.
Crying, in itself, is not your problem.
Instead, view your tearfulness as a sign that something needs to be attended to.Crying isn't the problem, in itself. It's a sign saying 'Pay Attention!'. Click To Tweet
If your crying is making you feel worse, and two or more of the above list applies to you, it might be a good idea for you to consult with your physician/GP to identify if there could be something going on that needs attention (perhaps a hormonal imbalance or other physical problem; or you may be suffering from depression or anxiety).
Improving your sleep, getting some exercise, and being well-nourished can also make a big difference.
Seeing a therapist or counsellor for a while could also be extremely helpful for you.
Your therapist can help you identify what needs to change, and what you could do. The needed changes might be internal (an inner mindset shift, some emotional processing work, or healing from trauma), or external (such as a relationship that is bringing you down, discrimination, bullying, or a social justice issue that needs addressing). Often, it will be a combination of both.
Your therapist can also provide much-needed support and guidance through the process of change.
Make sure you pick a therapist who you click with, and can feel safe and supported with, because the quality of the relationship will directly impact your body’s stress response, affecting the amount of brain-change that can happen.How to get clear on the difference between helpful and unhelpful crying - and what you can do. Click To Tweet
So How Can Crying Make You Feel Better?
Here’s the thing: Crying can also make you feel better.
Sometimes much better.
By ‘feel better’ do I mean ‘happy’?
Maybe. Sometimes crying is a relief, and clears the way in order to let happiness in after it. (And of course we may even cry tears of happiness.)
But mainly by ‘feel better’ I am talking about feeling more whole, more connected, more understood.
Crying can make you feel released, and relieved.
It can make you feel more truthful to something authentic within.
And crying can help you trust your own growing ability to express your feelings in a way that feels safe and appropriate, and not out-of-control.
How to do that? That’s the subject of my next post, ‘How to Feel Better from Crying – a 4-Step Process’.How crying can make you feel more truthful to something authentic within. Click To Tweet
A Few Words about Grieving
We experience losses all the time. Sometimes they are small, like losing keys or gloves.
Sometimes they happen slowly, over time, like losing youthful skin, a firm bottom, or muscle tone.
Sometimes a loss can also be a gain (“My baby is all grown up!”) and we’ll have all sorts of mixed feelings, both tearful and delighted.
And sometimes, as you already know, a loss will be profound and devastating and life-changing.
Some losses need to be grieved deeply, over time. And revisited again and again until the grief feels different in quality, and not as urgent.
And crying is a very necessary part of the grieving process.
When we are able to cry freely, in the presence of someone who is able to calmly, caringly be alongside us and hold the space for us to weep and wail and rage and lament, we are allowing the grieving process to unfold at its own healing pace.
Crying and the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP)
If you’re a highly sensitive person, you may have a natural tendency to weep very easily. If you’re lucky, this wasn’t frowned on when you were a child, and so you learned to simply accept it as part of who you are, without judgement or difficulty attached.
But if you’re less fortunate, you may have endured a lifetime of complaints, criticism and even being bullied for being a so-called ‘crybaby’.
If this happened to you, getting teary might be bound up with feelings of shame and and an all-pervasive vague feeling of ‘something’s fundamentally wrong with me’.
You can help yourself by learning more about the HSP trait (start here, on my Highly Sensitive Person page).
When a sensitive person can’t cry
Some HSP’s (just like many non-HSP’s) tried so hard to suppress their crying when they were young, that they became too successful at it, ending up being unable to let themselves cry when they needed to.
In fact, I was inspired to write this blog post today by remembering just how impossible it felt for me to cry, right through my teens and early twenties. I vividly recall sometimes feeling really upset and knowing that it would help if I could cry and release some feelings; but I seemed simply physically unable to let the tears flow. It was so frustrating to feel so stuck! (Guess what helped in the end? Seeing a therapist!)
Highly sensitive people can do really well with the right support, whether that’s from understanding friends, loved ones or an HSP-knowledgeable therapist.
Note For Parents
An important warning for parents: don’t use your child as someone to cry on (unless both you and your child are grieving a loss together and are well supported by another adult).
It can be overwhelming and damaging for a child to feel that their parent requires them to be an ongoing emotional support.
This applies even if your child appears to be a steady, dependable kind of kid. And be careful: if it looks like a child is the mature ‘adult one’ in the family (when compared to the adults) this could possibly be a red flag indicating potential problems further down the line.
Crying Just IS
When you get used to crying when it feels necessary and appropriate, you gradually discover the variety of experience that crying can offer.
You’ll find that weeping, sobbing, tearfulness and being moist-eyed can feel different, and have different significances to you, at different times.
Sadness will just be part of a tapestry of ever-moving feelings that you freely experience, and not a huge inner stone weighing you down.
You’ll become more able to deepen your experience of living, and express yourself with greater confidence and clarity.
The 4 Steps to Help You Feel Better from Crying
In my next post, I take a look at the 4 steps you can take that can help you feel better from crying.
See you there!
*Songwriters: Dean Anthony Fertita / Josh Homme / Joshua Michael Homme / Michael Jay Shuman / Troy Dean Van Leeuwen
I Sat by the Ocean lyrics © Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd.
‘Is it Normal to Cry in Therapy?’ by Rachel Baker PLLC
Cal Nield says
Hi Emma, thanks for another beautifully articulate piece of writing that, as usual, really touched me personally. It makes such sense on an emotional level, but is also helpful from a therapist perspective too.
I found myself wondering a bit in awe, where do you get your inspiration from! Thanks for sharing the blog, and something of yourself within it too.
Emma Cameron says
Thank you Cal! The inspiration for this particular blog post came while I was walking my dog through the woods, and I had that song (mentioned at the start of the post) in my head. I started thinking about how the lyrics, and about my experience of crying (from both sides of the therapy couch!) and decided I could write something about it…
Tatiana Nieves says
If I cry when I’m sad or frustrated, I only feel much worse. If I cry tears of happiness or laughter instead, then I will always feel much better. Negative emotions will more likely increase cortisol in your body and you won’t be able to live longer when you only cry from any negative emotions. Having a REAL good cry comes from happiness, not sadness.
Emma Cameron says
Ideally we will be able to appropriately express a wide range of emotions, without having to block or hide them (depending on the circumstances). To learn more about emotions, read my post Emotions – 17 Things You need to Know About Your Feelingss