The Case for Crying Out Loud

Suzanne Clores by Suzanne Clores | November 4th, 2010 | 11 Comments
topic: Personal Growth

Woman crying

The other night, I fell down the stairs. Not the whole flight, but the last four gray-slate stairs in the main lobby of the athletic club where I teach yoga. I was fully dressed and in view of at least three people when I tripped over my own boots, breaking my fall with my shins and hands. After the stars stopped swirling and the pain kicked in, I stood up, put on a brave smile and told the wincing front desk staff that I’d be okay. Then I limped out into the dark and, when it felt safe, I started to cry.

The whole experience was a bizarre emotional gauntlet. The fall was painful and humiliating, but the crying was perhaps the most foreign feeling. How long had it been since I had cried? I thought back to the difficult periods of the last several years: an emergency room visit, a random panic attack. There weren’t many instances, but the handful of cries I could recall struck, I realized, at moments when I felt a total loss of control. That is, extraordinary loss of control. No PMS cries, no marital fight cries, no professional frustration cries – I don’t even think I cried during my terribly botched natural childbirth. Clearly, I had rules for crying. Rules that speak volumes about my comfort level with my own image of wellness.

The (no) crying game

Despite the fact that crying is proven to relieve stress by releasing toxic hormonal buildup in the tear ducts, I had personal crying criteria. Crying in public was out of the question. Crying over misunderstandings with friends was a waste of time. Crying over family issues was a sign of giving up. Crying for no reason was just weird. My rules for crying had as much do to with a stiff-upper-lip attitude as it did with the confusion I felt post-cry.

I’m not the only one suffering from too-stringent rules for crying. For decades, men have been told by fathers and coaches never to cry in public. But now it seems more women have joined the ranks of the reluctant when it comes to crying, too. The stigma of crying in public carries with it weakness, or worse, incompetence. On some level, I, too, believe this. It’s okay to be vulnerable in private, but I should be able to restore my own sense of balance without embarrassment.

After I exited the athletic club and bawled my way to the parking garage, I sat alone in the car, utterly exhausted. Did crying change my situation? Did it make my bruised bones ache less? Soothe my ego? No, no and no. But after a moment, crying did introduce an odd calm. My breath deepened. My skin felt more sensitive to my clothes and the cool autumn air. I almost felt good.

The Buddhist philosopher Osho points out that the peace, silence and wellness associated with deep laughter are also secret benefits of crying, but are mostly unknown due to crying’s cultural repression. While crying didn’t necessarily inspire the calm of healing or resolution, I felt the calm of awareness – and acceptance – of my vulnerability. I was relieved to know I could get hurt and still be myself. I could let go and somehow feel more whole.


  1. Dear Suzanne
    Did you realize that humans are the only living beings that actually cry? We have this G-d given ability for a good reason. Tears contain many ‘healing powers’ since they are the other side of ‘laughter’.

    The ability to cry enables humans to get in touch with their deepest pain, remorse, past, embarrassments, hurt and so forth. It is a form of clearing. That is perhaps why you can breath more freely.

    Some of us cry more easily than others.

    many blessings

    Debby Bruck | November 4th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  2. Debby, It hadn’t occurred to me, no, but what an incredible detail you point out. It’s just a tiny example of our complexity and our potential to FEEL. Thanks for writing.

    Suzanne | November 4th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  3. Suzanne, wonderful piece. You’re addressing an essential issue here to who we are as individuals and members of community. There are such societal pressures to constrain our emotions or fit them to acceptable expressions and domains. Even more tragically the most permissible public displays of emotion these days often seem to be those of anger and fear. Thanks for giving voice to an expression which can be so hard to affect.

    Henry | November 5th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  4. I don’t know the exact moment in my life when I shifted from holding back tears to letting them out whenever I feel the need. I do know, however, that I also feel more calm after I let it out. My mind quiets, my breath deepens and I feel more connected to everything than I did before I started to cry. I’m so happy that you were able to experience that. Have you ever cried while laughing, now THAT is so cleansing!

    Tina | November 5th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  5. Debby,
    Actually, other animals cry besides humans, including elephants.
    Much research has been done on this subject and we are finally learning what has existed all along, we are more like “animals” than not.

    Kathy | November 5th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  6. I used to have a stigma about crying. But recently I cried in the airport lounge and on the plane – the attendent gave me tissues when I sat down. The people beside me were uncomfortable, but letting it out and letting it go was better emotionally, mentally (then and into the future) than trying to stuff it down. We should allow our tears to flow.

    Kristina | November 7th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  7. Agree, Henry. In an ideal world, we all feel free to cry. For that matter, feel free in general.

    Suzanne | November 7th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  8. Tina–I’ve never had the laugh/cry experience. I’ve seen it happen to people who were able to feel joy and relief in the same instant. The brain can comprehend more than we can at times.

    Suzanne | November 10th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. I am not really that strict of when I should cry or not. I cry when I feel like it and I love it. Crying helps me release emotions that otherwise is causing a burden to me.And upon release, there’s the feeling of comfort, peace and calm that takes place. So, I never really am embarrassed when I cry, instead I welcome it.

    Randall | November 15th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  10. I’m a hairstylist. Last week there was a 10 year old girl getting her hair french braided in the chair next to mine. Her lips were quivering as she was trying not to cry. I surmised that she had a sensitive head and was in pain. Her aunt was with her but no one was acknowledging her possible pain or the fact that she was afraid to cry.
    This sent waves of sympathy from me to the child and I put my hand on her shoulder and said I was sorry this was uncomfortable and tried to distract her with an offer of candy or at least some kind words.
    Then I thought of Suzanne’s blog and wondered why she was afraid to cry. The thought of possible abuse for crying made me sad. Unfortunately that was the feeling I was left with. Someone would smack her if she cried.

    Laurel | November 16th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  11. Dear Suzanne ~ I see that you searched this phenomena of tears and crying. I went to read the article from your link. It says that animals do have emotions. Certainly, I agree with that. However, no where in the article does it actually says that the elephants cry tears.

    A little more inquiry and we find that elephants have lachrymation, which means they can produce tears from ducts. However, that is for cleansing the eyes and not as an emotional outlet.

    While animals do not cry in the way that humans do, they do produce tears. Since tear production, called lachrymation, is necessary for healthy eyes, most vertebrates are capable of producing tears.

    Tears are produced in mammals by the lachrymal system, tissues which make water. In land mammals, tears evolved to replace the water bath that the eyes of aquatic animals and fish are constantly surrounded by. Tears serve to clean the cornea and keep it moist. When a speck of dirt, for example, is lodged in the eye, more tears are produced in order to wash away the irritant.

    Let’s continue the search. Something tells me only humans have this wide span of emotions where laughing and crying are so closely aligned and can flip from one to the other at the drop of a hat, or a certain thought or memory.


    Debby | November 16th, 2010 | Comment Permalink

Post a Comment

If you want to show your picture with your comment, go get a gravatar!