The other day I was watching the genealogy-based PBS show Finding Your Roots. In this particular episode, Dustin Hoffman learned of several tragic deaths in his extended family. As tears welled up in his eyes, Hoffman’s knee-jerk reaction was to apologize for becoming emotional.

It’s something we all do.

We feel the resistance build in our bodies. Our stomachs tighten, our chests ache, our throats close up. The minute we feel “bad” emotion rise within us, we fight it. We try to keep it together and hold the levee. But sometimes that levee cracks and the tears spill out. And when they do, what do we say?

“I’m sorry…I told myself I wasn’t going to do this…I’m so embarrassed…”

I’ve reacted this way for most of my life, and I see it happen all the time with friends, colleagues, even strangers who share their stories with me. We apologize for feeling what we feel, because, supposedly, what we feel isn’t right. If you cry, you’re weak. You’re “too emotional.”

We live in a culture where crying, especially in public (and especially if you’re male), is shameful. Many of us were subtly (or not so subtly) told as children that if you’re in emotional pain, you better hide it. You’re overreacting. Get it together. Stop crying. You’re fine. We learned that expressing our pain isn’t safe, so we instead suffered in silence, stuffing our feelings deep within us. This unconscious and unhealthy pattern is passed from generation to generation and continues to have a strong hold on our society.

We have been emotionally constipated for far too long.

It’s time to break the cycle and give ourselves permission to feel what we feel without restriction and without shame. Who decided that tears were the enemy? Who decreed that showing emotions makes you weak?

With all due respect to my ancestors, I call bullshit.

I came out of the womb as a highly sensitive, emotional soul. It’s part of my DNA, yet I fought against my nature for years, which only caused myself harm. I now have over a decade of personal experience intentionally exploring my own emotional landscape. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve worked with counselors for some heavy life challenges that have tested me to my core.

After years of self-imposed emotional repression, I chose to demolish my levee. Judgment and shame be damned! I ugly cried away lifetimes of tears. And in doing so, I didn’t feel like a weak, worthless person. I discovered just how strong I really am.

Sometimes bravery comes in the form of tears.

Most people would rather ignore uncomfortable feelings or pretend they aren’t that bothered by them. But deep down, we all have wounds. We all have things from our past or present that hurt. Allowing yourself to express your repressed emotions takes profound strength. You have to sit with your pain —feel it fully and deeply — to let it move out of you. Most people would prefer a colonoscopy.

Me? I’d rather have a good cry. Crying literally does a body good. In this article, Judith Orloff, M.D. describes how crying is actually healing:

Biochemist and “tear expert” Dr. William Frey at the Ramsey Medical Center in Minneapolis discovered that…emotional tears contain stress hormones which get excreted from the body through crying. After studying the composition of tears, Dr. Frey found that emotional tears shed these hormones and other toxins which accumulate during stress. Additional studies also suggest that crying stimulates the production of endorphins, our body’s natural pain killer and “feel-good” hormones.

So the next time you feel that emotional tidal wave rise within you, don’t be afraid to shed a few tears. It’s your body’s natural way of relieving pent up emotional and physical stress. And there’s absolutely no shame in that.



Image by Ismael Nieto – Unsplash