What’s All The Fuss About Crying?

There’s this famous story that’s been quoted so often by now that it’s hard to pinpoint where it originated from. It goes something like this,

There was once a wise man, a comedian who was addressing his audience one evening at the club. He started with a joke that cracked them up like anything. People were laughing like crazy. Once the laughter subdued a little, he cracked the same joke again. People still laughed. Once again, when the laughter subsided, he cracked the same joke again. This time some people laughed, some didn’t. The man continued repeating the joke till no one could laugh at it any more. They had heard the same joke so many times, that it stopped being funny anymore. It was boring now. When silence fell all over, the man said, “That’s the thing about jokes, we can’t laugh at the same joke over and over again. Why can’t the same hold true for life? If we can’t laugh at the same joke over and over again, then why must we cry over the same thing over and over again? Why can’t we just cry once and be done with it?” The audience was left wondering.

Crying is a basic human expression just like smiling. It can express a variety of emotions — hurt, anger, joy, disappointment, grief, achievement et al. However, it is also highly stigmatized in our society. It is seen as a sign of weakness, cowardice, and lack of resilience. There’s nothing weak or cowardly about it. If anything, it’s just a sign that says you’re human. Had crying been such a crime, such a sign of weakness as it is made out to be then every single baby born into this world would be a criminal, a coward, a weakling because that’s how we all start the journey of our lives — by crying. The irony is, that’s the very moment when everyone present around us jumps with joy, heaves a sigh of relief for the baby is alive.

But babies are weak, they need protection, they need training, they need the education to become strong, and once they are strong there’s no room for crying.
Who are you kidding, bro?

Why else do you think everyone asks you to, “stop crying, you’re not a baby”, throughout your growing up years?
No, it isn’t. That’s just how we’ve been brought up in most societies. Growing up, every time we fall down, every time we get hurt, every time we’re scolded, every time we fall short, we cry. And all we’re told to do is “grow up!” What’s the need to tell anyone to suppress any emotion? Why can’t someone cry to express their fears, their hurt, their disappointment, their sadness, their grief, or even joy and achievement? What’s this inherent need to regulate someone’s emotions, to be so controlling?

So that we can be more civilized.
No. Technically, then we can be no different from robots (and as far as I’ve heard, even they are being programmed to cry? Or maybe just in sci-fi.).
Every person has the right to express every emotion in whichever way they feel it. And it is high time we started accepting the fact that it is okay to cry. However, it is not okay to cry over the same thing again and again. Cry once, as much as you want to, and be done with it. Isn’t that the moral of the story that I started with?

Elaborate.
Crying is a natural tendency for us humans to express something we’re feeling whether that is on the joy or the grief end of the spectrum of human emotions. And it is important to express our feelings. If we suppress our emotions and resist the urge to cry, and if we’ve been doing so since our childhood for fear that we may be reprimanded for it, then we become vulnerable to developing unhelpful coping mechanisms.
Think of it this way, during the course of our development, especially in the first seven years of our lives, we are like sponges — we absorb everything we’re exposed to. We are yet to develop a conscience, the ability to distinguish right from wrong. We take everything that’s presented to us on its face value. We don’t question it, we don’t analyze. We just accept. Over the rest of our years of development, that sponge hardens and hardens, until it can absorb no more. The sponge now functions according to what it has absorbed already. If a person has grown up being asked to constantly suppress his emotions and stop crying, the person will naturally develop a strong exterior with a dislike towards crying. But his inner child, the one who wanted to cry, the one who wanted to express his emotions, will be left wounded in a corner desperately trying to come out and cry. The result? The person will develop unhealthy coping mechanisms — anything that can oppress the cries of the inner child, anything that can mask his tears. Resorting to anger, rebellion, substance abuse, dependency on other people, perfectionism, or become emotionally unavailable after a point. And it’s not just because you’ve suppressed one particular emotion, sooner or later your start suppressing everything related to it — fear, shame, and guilt.

That sounds a bit harsh. Does that really happen?
Yes, it does. It’s like a butterfly effect — one small act now can turn into a huge set of problems later.

What do we do then?
If you feel like crying, let the tears roll down your cheeks. Don’t resist them. Don’t wipe them off. Don’t dismiss the act as you being “stupid”, or “a baby”, or “needy”. If you’re hurt and feel like crying, cry. Don’t wipe off your tears. Let them dry up. Don’t stop yourself until you feel that you can’t cry no more. Once you reach the point where you feel there are no more tears left to cry, that’s when you’ve expressed yourself fully and completely. We all need an emotional vent, and crying is one of the many ways you can vent.

Is crying always healthy?
No. If you find yourself crying for no reason, not once but more often than you’d like, or at odd times and situations. Then chances are, there’s more to the picture than what can be seen. It could signal depression, hormonal imbalances, trauma, among other issues. And that’s when you need to seek professional help.
However, if you’ve recently lost someone you were close to, then you may find yourself in tears every time you’re reminded of them. That’s okay. It takes more than just a fortnight to come to terms with that kind of loss. It can take days, months, even years to fully process the grief. You can still seek professional help if you feel you’re unable to function in your life following such an episode of loss, or if you need a listening ear and have been unable to find one.

So if you feel like crying, it’s okay. Cry. Don’t wipe your tears. Let it all out. But once you’re done, make sure you don’t cry about the same thing again. That’s how you mature. That’s how you become strong. Not by suppressing your emotions, but by expressing them. There’s no shame in crying. There’s no cowardice, no weakness, no lack of resilience. You’re human, and you’re allowed to feel what you feel.

Originally published at http://wordsandinbetveen.wordpress.com on June 16, 2019.

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Aparna Nayyar

I write to help people lead more fulfilling lives by helping them take care of their psychological well-being.