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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 Two

In Crying—Part One, we focused on the idea that it can be dangerous and counterproductive to attach our personal ideas and beliefs to how other people express their grief. Especially the idea that many people will communicate tremendous depth of emotion and never shed a tear, while others cry all the time but don’t seem to complete the pain, nor derive any long term benefit from crying. In Part Two, we are going to address issues of gender and the uniqueness of individuals and relationships; and discuss exactly what function crying serves, and for whom.

We are aware of the research that indicates that tears of sadness differ in chemical makeup from tears of joy. We are also aware that tears perform the valuable function of washing the eyes. From time to time, we have even alluded to the published studies that indicate that women cry, on average, five times more than men. In attempting to discover if there is any physiological basis for that five to one ratio, we ran into a stone wall.

Failing to find any valid studies on crying that would support a physical distinction by gender, we did a little of our own research. While anecdotal, we believe that it represents the truth. We called some nurse friends whose life experience is working with infants. Without exception, they indicated to us, that the circumstances and frequency with which very young infants cry, is NOT dictated by gender. Little baby boys and little baby girls cry co-equally. There are clear personality differences between individual babies. Some cry more than others, not by gender, rather by individual uniqueness. We did not limit our search to those who worked only with newborns. We got the same responses from experts who work with children up to the age of five. From age five onwards, distinction by gender, and the resultant attitudes and beliefs begin to appear. The logical extension of our informal study led to the inescapable conclusion that socialization, not gender, was the key to later differences of attitude and expression regarding crying.

Although there may be no innate physiological difference between males and females when it comes to crying, we must still ask, what purpose or value, if any, does crying have in recovery from loss. Let us say that crying can represent a physical demonstration of emotional energy attached to a reminder of someone or something that has some significance for you. In fact, during our grief recovery seminars, when someone starts crying, we gently urge them to "talk while you cry."

The emotions are contained in the words the griever speaks, not in the tears they cry. What is fascinating to observe, is as the thoughts and feelings are spoken, the tears usually disappear, and the depth of feeling communicated seems much more powerful than mere tears. In Crying—Part One, we talked with an adult child whose Mom had died. The caller was worried about their Dad’s reaction to Mom’s death, and the fact that Dad had not cried "yet." We asked the caller if they thought that their Dad’s heart was broken. They said yes. We believe that their response, based on their observation of Dad’s body language, tone, and other factors, showed them that he had been massively affected by the death of his wife. It would be unusual, uncommon, and probably uncomfortable for him to cry. And, frankly, it might not have any real benefit for him.

On the other hand, do not be fooled by those who cry frequently. In the strangest of all paradoxes, people can actually use crying as a way to stop feeling rather than to experience great depths of emotion. The tears become a distraction from the real pain caused by the loss.

The key to recovery from the incredible pain caused by death, divorce, and all other losses, is contained in a simple statement: Each of us is unique and each of our relationships is unique. Therefore, we must discover and complete what is emotionally unfinished for us in all of our relationships. Our personal belief systems about the display of emotions are also unique and individual. We may not even have a conscious awareness of what our own beliefs are. An alert to everyone, young or old: "Don’t let anyone else dictate what is emotionally correct for you - not even your children - or your parents. Only you get to determine what is correct for you."

If you need some help in discovering or determining what might help you deal with a broken heart caused by a death or a divorce, get thee to a library or a bookstore, and get a copy of The Grief Recovery Handbook. It contains the kind of information that will lead you to your truth, which in turn will help you complete the pain in your heart.

Please do not interpret this article to mean that we are in any way against crying. What we do provokes tears all the time. At the restaurant across the street where we take our friends to lunch, they don’t understand why everyone who dines with us seems to cry. And if you visited our office, you would have to giggle when you see the gigantic stack of cases of Kleenex piled in a corner of the room. We are neither for nor against crying. We are for recovery from emotional pain. We are for fond memories not turning painful. We are for you having a life of meaning and value even though a loss or losses may have made your life massively different than you had hoped or dreamed.

© 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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