Does Crying Help People Cope with Grief and Loss?
The death of a loved one is one of the strongest emotional experiences in life. So its not surprising that it triggers a floods of tears (liquid love). Not every individual cries when they grieve. Some people cry more than others. Some people cry much more, or less, than they expected they would when the time comes. Similarly people's response to grieving can change throughout life for no apparent reason.
But should we be concerned that we or someone else is not brought to tears when faced with grief? The experience of grief consultants is that this is not the case provided the grieving person has not suppressed their tears for some reason. While crying is a significant part of how most people grieve, the absence of tears should not be interpreted as a signal that something is wrong. The reason for this is that people's tendency to cry differs so much in terms of what emotional circumstances and events may trigger bouts of crying, how frequently the occur and how long they last.
There is no correct or incorrect way to grieve. People should feel able to grieve freely and openly including crying. The same freedom to respond also appliers to the non-crier. They who should not feel guilty, uncomfortable or be judged in some way for not crying. What is really important is that every individual feels comfortable expressing themselves in the way they want to - including whether or not they cry.
The death of a loved one is truly one of the most intense emotional experiences that we will face in life. People can grieve for many reasons other than the death of a loved one. People can grieve when relationships fail or they experience some other setback in their lives. So it's no surprise that many people cry when they grieve. But should we be concerned when we do not cry ourselves or someone else does not cry as expected? Not necessarily according to grief consultants. While crying is an integral component of the grieving process for many people, the absence of tears shouldn't be interpreted as a signal something is wrong or missed in the response. That's because people differ so much in both their tendency to cry (under various emotional circumstances and events) as well as in their other responses to grief. There is no wrong or right way to grieve. People should feel comfortable crying if they want to. The same appliers to the non-crier, who should not be made to feel uncomfortable or guilty because they do not cry. made to feel bad about that. What really matters is that everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves in the way they want to.
Being unable to express yourself the way you want to makes things far worse. So if you are helping someone who's bereaved because they have lost a loved one, it is important to provide a private place and environment where the person feel comfortable doing what they want to do. Don't judge people's response by the quantity of their tears because this varies a great deal from one person to the next. If you're a person who cries twice as more or twice as less, it's just your crying quota and it doesn't matter.
Tears as natural painkillers
When we have to deal with intense emotions such as the death of a loved one, our bodies respond by naturally generating a number of painkilling chemicals - which resemble morphine. The tears can transport these chemicals to the eyes, where they are absorbed and may help ease some of the emotional pain, and so tears may have a physical and chemical role in responding to emotions.
This is probably why many people feel better after a session of crying. Our tendency to cry seems to be biologically-determined by our genes and sex. Research has shown that on average women cry four times more frequently than men, and this may be due the greater amounts of the hormone prolactin in women. This hormone plays an important role in milk production but it also may help to stimulate tears. Women also tend to dry for longer periods of time with average bouts of six minutes compared with four minutes in men.
Blocking crying may be detrimental
People want to cry but are blocked in some way may be denied some of the painkillers and emotional benefits of crying. It is important that those who want to cry are allowed to do so and are not blocked.
There is some evidence crying may help eliminate some substances that could build up in our bodies and affect our mood and feelings of wellbeing. For example a build up of the chemical manganese in the brain is know to be associated with poor moods and increased risk of depression. Manganese is known to be excreted through tears.
Extended crying can be a good sign
Many people get concerned about extended crying but it is not necessarily a sign that someone is no coping and their mood is deteriorating. Becoming upset and crying a lot can be just the opposite a sign that someone is dealing with their grief. Tears are a healthy display of passion.
Getting Over Grief
The concept of getting over grief is largely a myth. People learn to live with it and adapt but never really get over it. There is no time frame, and no right or wrong way to deal with it. You need do whatever helps you and feels right for you and feels helpful. You need to be able to express your feelings openly in a place of emotional safety. Tears may sneak up on you at any time, without any cause or reason and this is natural and to be expected. Many people get great relief from a good cry and feel a huge weight has been lifted and it helps people cope with their loss.
Nobody should judge or give advice about what another person should be feeling, doing or displaying in response to a major loss. There is no time limit set for grief and some people take longer to adapt and live with it than other. When the reaction to grief causes excessive disruption in a person's life professional help may be required. Sadness and honesty about the grief and loss and tears are all acceptable and natural responses. Do what is right for you, not what is right for someone else.
A major part of grieving is feeling sorry for yourself and other loved ones affected. Recognising this is important for living with grief. Grief should not threaten your own life. There is no need to "get over it" or to completely "stop feeling sorry for yourself" but you need to adapt by experiencing grief, feeling it and expressing it.
© 2012 Dr. John Anderson