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John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve

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On Crying—Part One

Almost everyone has some questions and confusion about crying. How much crying is enough? If I start crying, will I be able to stop? Do I have to cry at all? I've cried and cried but I still don't feel better, is there something wrong with me? Are men and women different when it comes to crying? We will address these and other questions in this two part series on crying. We had intended this to be a single article, but as it unfolded we realized that it needed more than a little space to do it justice. Do not be alarmed if you recognize yourself in some of the scenarios highlighted here.

A common call to the Grief Recovery Institute starts like this: "My Mom died several months ago, and I'm very worried about my Dad." This statement is made by a young man or woman who is concerned about the well-being of their father. In the ensuing conversation, we determine that although the caller believes that Dad is devastated by the death of his spouse, Dad has not cried "yet." We have put the word yet in quotes to illustrate the son or daughter's obvious belief that in order to grieve you must cry. [The fact is that the son or daughter has not seen him cry. That does not mean that Dad has not cried in private, and has not or will not talk about it].

The well-meaning offspring is concerned, because they believe that there is an absolute and direct correlation between grief and crying. When asked if they think that Dad's heart is broken, they always respond that they are sure that it is. We ask them, "Where is it written that you must cry when you are sad?" We do not ask that question to be mean spirited, merely to illustrate that the caller may be laboring under a terrible mis-apprehension that tears must accompany sad feelings.

Let us pose a couple of other questions here, as we do in person or on the telephone. Have you ever known anyone who cries all the time, but never seems to change or grow? Have you ever known anyone who uses crying as a manipulation to get something? There is a high probability that you will answer yes to both questions. Both of those questions are designed to explain the fact that crying, in and of itself, does not necessarily lead to completion of the pain caused by death, divorce, or any other losses. At best, crying acts as a short term energy relieving action, and temporarily relieves some of the emotional energy generated by the loss. We know of people who have been crying over the same loss, daily, for years and years. We know that the crying has not helped them complete what is emotionally incomplete in their relationship with the person who died, or the person from whom they are divorced.

As our society has evolved, we have seen a quantum shift in the public display of emotion. In today's world, it is not at all unlikely to see a retiring professional athlete, often the paragon of "masculinity," weeping openly in a televised press conference. It is hard to imagine that same scenario occurring thirty or forty years ago. Yet now, most of us don't give a passing thought to that display.

But if your male parent is 70 years old or older, he is more likely to be affected by different beliefs about the open display of emotions than you are. Even your female parent is liable to be less willing to communicate sad, painful, or negative emotions than you. You must fight the trap of applying your emotional value system to others. It may seem odd, since your parents taught you, that you have different emotional views than they do. In Crying—Part 2, which will appear in this space in a few weeks, we will address issues of gender and the underlying keys to recovery based on the uniqueness of each individual relationship.

Question: If I start crying will I be able to stop?

Answer: In our more than twenty years of helping grieving people, we have never seen anyone who has been unable to stop crying.

© 2022 John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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