by Traci Knight
“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts. I was better after I had cried, than before–more sorry, more aware of my own ingratitude, more gentle.”
― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Putting aside questions of why Jesus wept, we understand very clearly from this and other passages in the bible that Jesus very clearly cried. He more than cried, he wept. The most common words for extreme emotions involving tears are crying, weeping, and sobbing. These indicate varying extremes of sadness and evoke primitive emotions in those participating or witnessing the activity. This extremely human response is indicative of our personal lives, coping mechanisms, and the human condition itself. Crying in its many forms represent vulnerability and loss of control over our emotions. It is this loss of control perhaps that allows for the cathartic quality of a crying episode.
The Physiological Benefits of Crying
Like the ocean and our bodies, tears are salty – metaphorically similar to the state of emotions that tears represent. The three types of tears are basal tears, reflex tears, and emotional tears. Basal tears lubricate the eyes and keep them dust free. Plasma-like Lysozyme is emitted through these types of tears, along with water, mucin, lipids, lysozyme, lactoferrin, lipocalin, lacritin, immunoglobulins, glucose, urea, sodium, and potassium. These substances provide antibacterial and immune protection to the eye. Reflex tears are a reaction to irritants such as onions. The role of reflex tears is to clean the eye. Emotional tears contain more protein based hormones like prolactin, andrenocorticotropic, and leucine enkephalin. These assist in natural pain release and endorphin stimulation.
Emotional crying also lowers harmful manganese levels, and during a crying spell breathing and heart rate goes up and blood pressure rises. Simultaneously, cortisol levels drop. Hypothesis are that this serves as a release of emotion, allowing the mind and body to rid itself of toxicity. Dr. William H. Frey, an expert on tears and crying, describes the act as an exocrine process and likens it to sweating, exhaling, urinating, and defecating, all processes which eliminate toxins. He theorizes that crying is a stress reduction strategy that removes toxic, stress induced chemicals from the body. He cites evidence that people suffering from stress disorders cry less, as do people with serious illness. He also describes crying as environmentally determined rather than genetic, although he notes that along the normal scale of crying are those who cry daily as well as those who cry infrequently.
Emotional Benefits of Crying
The vast majority of people report feeling better after crying. The exception to this is during clinical depression, a condition where crying is often increased and yet no discernible relief is felt. Nearly 90% of the general population feels better after a tearful bout, having faced and released otherwise pent up emotions. The vulnerability of crying allows people to connect with others in a way that is not possible when emotions are carefully controlled. Crying is a vehicle to processing real grief, which otherwise can lead to long term depression. Evolution favors processes with a purpose, and emotional tears facilitate healing.
Creativity and Tears
“I didn’t want my picture taken because I was going to cry. I didn’t know why I was going to cry, but I knew that if anybody spoke to me or looked at me too closely the tears would fly out of my eyes and the sobs would fly out of my throat and I’d cry for a week. I could feel the tears brimming and sloshing in me like water in a glass that is unsteady and too full.”
― Sylvia Plath
The intense emotionality of crying is a common experience for highly sensitive people. Up to 20% of the population are rated to have sensory processing sensitivity, and these highly sensitive people do cry more readily. Not only does expressing your emotions aid in the creative process, so to do creative types cry more easily. The creative brain processes information and reflects upon it more deeply. Highly creative and sensitive people tend to have a compulsion to cry, that is easily engendered through art, music, and interpersonal relationships. These people, as well as the general population should embrace their tears and see them as a deeper connection to humanity as a whole.
“All the books of the world full of thoughts and poems are nothing in comparison to a minute of sobbing, when feeling surges in waves, the soul feels itself profoundly and finds itself. Tears are the melting ice of snow. All angels are close to the crying person.” Hermann Hesse