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A Good Cry: The Healing Power of Tears

As the result of a therapeutic exercise, I once attempted to make a list of all the places I have cried. The effort was futile; I have cried in nearly every place and situation I could think of. It is—fortunately or unfortunately—my way of experiencing things.

I have what one might call “a sensitive heart,” which really just means that I have already cried enough in my lifetime to fill the equivalent of the seven seas (plus a few rivers and lakes). For me, each day holds within it a reason to weep, whether in sorrow or celebration. My waterworks know no bounds; I invest in Kleenex over mascara.

Birthday cards, sad movies, airport goodbyes, you name it—I am crying. It began as a primal reflex, and continued as the emotional cleanse I could count on in times of frustration, giddiness, or loss. As the youngest of four children, you can imagine the sorts of nicknames I earned—including, most notably, Crybaby Kate.

This used to bother me—and admittedly, as I find myself misty-eyed over a video of a Husky befriending a stuffed animal that looks exactly like him—it still sort of does. But I have realized that I cannot control it. I simply need to surrender my acceptance to the sea (of tears that I have created).

While I continue to make peace with the pack of tissues perpetually pressed into my hand, I wonder. What can we gain from all this crying?

As it turns out, we can gain quite a bit.

According to numerous psychologists and medical doctors, the health benefits of tears give purpose to this often-undesirable process. Dr. Judith Orloff, author of Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life, writes that tears, for both men and women, are a sign of “courage, strength, and authenticity.”

Our tears tend to act as messengers when we least want them to communicate with us. Pride can motivate us to remain stoic—untouchable—and the act of crying can make us appear vulnerable and weak.

Though it is that exact vulnerability that we must encourage in ourselves; it is that perception of weakness that we must shed—and permit ourselves to feel.

The intensity of our emotions in recovery can be unpredictable. Our bodies experience a physiological reaction to these emotions, which can result in a rollercoaster of thoughts and feelings. Crying can provide a physical release of these stressful, negative emotions, and can drain the anxieties we carry with us on a daily basis.

As children, we cried as a means of communication. Words were still a developing medium of expression, and we didn’t know another way to voice our internal processes of thought.

As adults, we often believe we should be tougher. After all, “there’s no crying in baseball.” It has been ingrained in us to be resilient, though in order to be resilient, we must first understand the importance of addressing—and releasing—the powerful emotions that affect our day-to-day interactions and experiences.

Tears that result from crying contain stress hormones. The process of releasing them allows a further process of detoxification to take place, leading to the production of endorphins.

A study from the University of South Florida revealed that crying can be self-soothing, reducing stress and improving mood. This tangible practice of emotional release—while it may be initially unwelcome—leads to lighter shoulders and calmer minds.

In the novel Great Expectations, Charles Dickens aptly described the phenomena of crying, writing, “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before—more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”

And it is this awareness that links us together, creating a space in which we can feel good about the work we are doing, no matter how frustrated with our progress we may be.

The tears may not solve everything, though they may soothe the worry or grief that is boiling inside of you.

They will not erase, but they will ease.

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