“But ordinarily we do not discover the wisdom of our feelings because we do not let them complete their work; we try to suppress them or discharge them in premature action, not realizing that they are a process of creation which, like birth, begins as pain and turns into a child.” — Alan Watts
Known as the acoustic umbilical cord, crying in infancy is only a vocal signal. It’s not until later that humans shed tears.
Intriguingly, humans are the only animal to cry for emotional reasons. Such a unique display of feeling suggests that crying plays a meaningful role in emotional processing and relief. Yet so many people repress their tears, seeing crying as a shameful or even unproductive act.
However, crying is the path onward and into higher levels of understanding. Not only does crying have physical benefits (discussed below), but it lets you plunge through the layers of artifice that prevent you from making contact with motivation and purpose-driven action, key ingredients to a truly gratifying life experience.
Cry your way out of your persona
Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung described the persona as “a kind of mask designed, on the one hand, to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.”
Due to western culture’s emphasis on consumption, productivity, and security at the expense of authenticity, it’s easy to delude oneself into thinking a particular pursuit is important, only to become overburdened by it.
People spend entire lifetimes pursuing persona-driven action only to become disillusioned, later realizing that they were acting primarily to align with a culturally sanctioned story of success. Life is an exercise in denial with the persona in the driver’s seat.
Alternatively, when you welcome tears, you let go of the shackles of your persona. You embrace what lies beneath it, the scared, sad, sheepish person holding up the mask. While many social psychologists describe crying as an attachment behavior designed to elicit help from others, it’s also an invitation to oneself. It’s a truce, a pact of stewardship — it’s alright to stop pretending, to stop fighting experience and to instead embrace and unite with it. Crying allows you to look honestly at your experience without the contractions associated with trying to force or cajole yourself.
In his introduction to spectral consciousness, Frederick Dodson describes crying as a method of releasing stuck energy. In crying’s absence, energy remains locked in the body where it’s allocated to managing that suppression rather than to modes of being that excite, inspire, or otherwise evoke forward-moving emotions. In this sense, crying is an initiation ritual fundamentally necessary to evolving beyond whatever is at the root of your inner turmoil.
Illness as an invitation to re-calibrate
In a meta-analysis of the impact of repressed emotions and disease that included 6,775 participants, researchers discovered that “repressive copers” were at a high risk of developing cancer and cardiovascular diseases such as hypertension. Evidently, emotions go to striking lengths to ensure they get resolution.
Although people like to separate illness or physical pain from emotional wounding, the body may not be able to tell the difference. Crying is a kind of release valve. Research has established a clear physiological distinction between emotional crying and basal (lubricating) tears, with emotional tears containing higher levels of stress hormones than others.
Likewise, on the topic of emotional release, holistic psychiatrist Dr. Kelly Brogan writes:
“When you let yourself cry, you release prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and leucine-enkephalin, none of which are secreted when you cut an onion. Our bodies are built to dance with this connection to ourselves, to feel pain, accept it, and let it open us bigger to receive more joy.”
Pain is a signal. A compass. A map. Pelicans circling. When we repress or deny our struggles, we’re rejecting an opportunity to optimize, re-orient and turn our lives in a direction that supports thriving.
Also, Charles Darwin suggested a dose-response relationship between crying and relief wherein more intense crying resulted in a more potent sense of relief. I’d carry this hypothesis further: although it can seem overwhelming or frightening, often the most painful events and circumstances are those that contain the lessons most crucial to our expansion.
“Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent advantage” — Napoleon Hill