After my mom passed away, I didn’t allow myself to cry about it for several years! I was afraid that if I started crying, I wouldn’t be able to stop. I’d developed a bad habit of suppressing my feelings because of past criticism for being emotionally sensitive. I missed my mom terribly but held back my tears — because I knew that letting one tear trickle down would unleash a torrent of tears that could overwhelm me and others like a gushing waterfall.
So much time went by without me weeping, though, that eventually I felt guilty that I had never cried over my mom’s death. Crying certainly seemed like the right thing to do in that situation. Remaining stoic made it seem like I didn’t care about my mom, and that couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
One day, as I was driving home from an aerobics class at my gym — a route that takes me past my mom’s former apartment — a wave of grief rolled over me and I decided not to fight it. I just relaxed into the grief so I could feel it. Then I gave myself permission to express it by crying. Sure enough, after the first tear fell down my face, a torrent of other tears followed. After pulling into a nearby parking let, I sat in my car weeping for a long time.
Then a wonderful peace settled in my soul, and my body felt refreshed. Crying had cleansed me.
Just like a refreshing shower washes dirt off the body, a good cry cleanses the mind of negative emotions stored deep inside. A great way to detox feelings such as anxiety, sadness, frustration, loneliness, anger, and disappointment is simply to cry.
Research from St. Paul Ramsey Medical Center and the Primal Institute shows that the act of crying releases stress hormones, detoxifying people from the effects of storing up negative emotions.
If crying is so good for our well-being, why are so many grieving people still embarrassed about letting their tears flow? I think it has to do with our culture’s expectation that there should be an end to grief after a brief mourning period — that we can somehow overcome grief completely. But those of us who have experienced the deaths of people we dearly loved know that grief permanently changes us, because there is a lasting void left in our lives by our late loved ones’ absence. That void isn’t bad; it’s actually a gift we can use to grow.
What are you grieving right now that you can cry about to heal more? It could be a friend or family member who has died — but it could also be another major loss in your life, such as a job you loved that ended or a broken relationship with someone who is still alive. Go ahead and cry about it.
Who do you know who is grieving right now and could use your encouragement to express his or her emotions — even the most difficult feelings, like anger, worry, or disappointment? How can you make time to be there for those people, showing compassion and unconditional love when they cry? Reach out to them.
The more you let yourself and other people you know cry during the grieving process, the more those tears can teach you all about compassion.
Whitney Hopler works as Communications Director at George Mason University’s Center for the Advancement of Well-Being (CWB) and has written for many media organizations, from About.com to the Washington Post. Connect with Whitney on Twitter and connect with CWB on Twitter and Facebook.