Why do we cry?

This week I had a beautiful session with a client about her grief over her parent's death. She was able to transform tears of loss for herself into tears of joy for a life long lived. I was honored to be a part of the process.

It got me thinking about tears and why we cry. Crying seems like such an odd thing for a body to do. What’s the point of squeezing water out of your eyes? And why does this strange thing make us feel better?

We cry for so many different reasons - when someone breaks our heart, when we fall down and hurt ourself, when we chop onions, when a loved one dies, when we experience release and joy. As it turns out, these tears are very different from each other.  There are 3 main types of tears: Basal Tears are the tears that keep our eyes lubricated; Reflex Tears are tears we shed when our eyes are irritated by things like wind, dust, or an onion; and then there are Emotional Tears which is what we usually think of.  Research has shown that emotional tears have a lot more proteins in them than the other 2 kinds of tears. One of those proteins is enkephalin, which is a natural painkiller.  So emotional tears are sort of nature's aspirin!  Another protein in emotional tears is adrenocorticotropic hormone which is part of the stress response. Researchers think that discharging this stress hormones through tears can help re-regulate our nervous system after a stressful or highly emotional time. That's why you feel relieved and tired after a good cry.

                                         Tears of Release, Rose-Lynn Fisher

                                         Tears of Release, Rose-Lynn Fisher

Photographer Rose-Lynn Fisher got interested in tears a few years ago and decided to look more closely at them. She has taken photographs of 100 different kinds of tears under the microscope and they all look different!!! (Click here to see some of her pictures)  So tears aren't just chemically different, but structurally different too.  One of my favorite of her photos is Tears of Release.

That brings me back to the client I mentioned before. She was able to release her grief, and in letting it go, it transformed into joy. She cried both when feeling grief and again after the release, but the quality of her tears was different. Her body language was different too. When she cried for joy she sat up straighter, breathed deeply and smiled through her tears. It was beautiful. She left the session feeling lighter.

I have experienced tears of release too and in looking at Rose-Lynn's photos I remember the feeling.  They are good tears.

Tears of emotional pain sooth us with a natural painkiller and release stress. And tears of joy leave us feeling lighter. Next time you try to hold back your tears, consider this.

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