We tend to see crying as a problem, or at least a symptom of a problem. But you’ve felt it before – there’s something relieving and cathartic about being a blubbering mess.
It feels healthier to cry than to hold it in, right?
A study released today from the Netherlands tells us that might just be the case. Non-criers have more difficulty processing and understanding emotion, and that is also associated with decreased well-being.
The scientists studied a group of people with a condition known as Sjogrens syndrome — who have an inability to produce tears. Here’s what they found about these dry-eyed folks:
The patient group all had Sjogrens, which is an auto-immune disease occurring mostly in women, that has as a characteristic symptom the inability to produce tears. They found that this population was more likely to be “alexithymic” – having difficulty identifying and describing emotion. The researchers hypothesize that by not being able to cry, these patients have a more difficult time understanding their own and other’s emotional states.
They also found that the inability to identify emotions was related to worse mental wellbeing in both groups (the Sjogren and the healthy controls).
Crying gives us information about how we’re feeling, and it lets other people in on it too. Of course all good things have their limit — some people cry so they don’t have to get angry, or to stop someone else from saying difficult things. But crying is healthy, keeping it in is not.
I’m going to remember this the next time I tell my son it’s a “pants day” and he unravels into a puddle of tears. Sometimes we don’t need to make our kids crying go away. When he was a baby and I had cleared all the feeding-changing-hot-cold-burping bases and he was still crying, sometimes I would just hold him and say “let it out buddy, just let it out.” Sometimes things are just hard, and thankfully our little ones don’t have the defense mechanisms to block their raw emotion yet. A dose of that could be good for all of us.
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