Two Categories of Crying

When people cry for emotional reasons, I have observed that it generally falls into one of two categories. The first is grief-crying, and here are my observations about it:

  1. Although often painful, it brings a sense of relief and hopefulness afterward.
  2. It makes people’s faces look younger, healthier, and more free—and sometimes unrecognizably different from their regular faces.
  3. It brings out inner beauty, and has lasting effects.
  4. Its intensity can wreak temporary havoc on the immune system, though ultimately it is good for the health.
  5. It can sometimes kick up resistance from a person’s inner stuck sides. This resistance can take many forms, including physical symptoms, fears, anxiety, panic, and desire to escape.
  6. It is a cure for depression.
  7. It is a rite-of-passage into a higher state of psychological and emotional development.
  8. It is simultaneously a visceral mourning of a traumatized version of the self and a welcoming of a truer, more integrated self.
  9. It may be tinged with sorrow or defiance, and sometimes can be overwhelming.
  10. It is a graduation anthem of the growth process.
  11. Though people are sometimes shy while doing it, deep down they know it is good for them.
  12. It sometimes sets off a chain of events, which may include more grief-crying.
  13. The best things you can do to promote a lot of it in your life are take healthy risks, be honest with yourself and others, don’t have children, and explore and connect with the emotional history of your childhood.

The second category is stuck-crying, and here is what I have observed about it:

  1. It doesn’t make people feel good, rather, more deeply unsatisfied.
  2. It makes people look older, tighter, and awkward, and often highlights their least attractive qualities.
  3. It serves as an attempt to meet a person’s hidden and unacknowledged needs, but it fails.
  4. It is an expression of frustration, hopelessness, alienation, even rage—and tends to enhance these feelings.
  5. It heightens depression, because it increases feelings of powerlessness and futility.
  6. If intense enough, it can catalyze a psychic devolution from a state of depression into dissociation, which, paradoxically, can feel good and comfortable—because dissociation mimics enlightenment.
  7. It does not mourn a loss but wallows in it.
  8. It is self-absorbed, in that it leaves a person more lost in their false self.
  9. It does not encourage growth, rather, indicates stuckness.
  10. It can be used for manipulative purposes (i.e. guilt-tripping) or laden with ulterior motives (i.e. crocodile tears).
  11. When people do it they often feel ashamed, because it lets them feel how off-track they are in their lives.
  12. If the tears here could speak, they might say, “I am broken, I am pathetic, I am a victim of life, and I have no idea what to do.”
  13. The best things you can do to promote it are to avoid exploring and feeling the emotional reality of your childhood, and especially to replicate this history on others, particularly children of your own.

Some reflections: I think sometimes people can emotionally cry in a way that falls into some degree of both categories. But I think in most cases crying is colored largely one way or the other. In short, grief-crying is a reflection of growth as well as a catalyst of it, and stuck-crying is a reflection of just being stuck.

20 thoughts on “Two Categories of Crying

  1. “Don’t have children?” How does this help? Honest question. I know taking care of children gives you little time for reflection, but children also tend to trigger your most deeply hidden wounds. Just my opinion.

    • I know this is an old comment, but it really isn’t appropriate to use a child for your own self-discovery. You require all of your emotional resources in order for you to be able to meet all of your child’s needs. Do the emotional work before you decide to have children, so you can resolve these things, and not have to take emotional resources away from your child do to that work.

  2. “13. The best things you can do to promote a lot of it in your life are take healthy risks, be honest with yourself and others, don’t have children, and explore and connect with the emotional history of your childhood.”

    Please, may I recommend you rewrite this piece about why you cry in the first person, thus:
    “13. The best things I can do to promote a lot of it in my life are take healthy risks, be honest with myself and others, don’t have children, and explore and connect with the emotional history of my childhood.”

    • Mr Rainbow, I don’t know if Mr. Mackler requested that you post rewrite suggestions here in form of commentary. Frankly as a believer in freedom of speech and expression, I find that such “corrections” are both rude and inappropriate.;If Mr. Mackler indeed asked for your “rewrite suggestions,” maybe you should consider sending these to him privately. I have attended numerous writing workshop classes and now hold a master’s in writing. I learned to allow writers to write however they please without criticism they didn’t ask for, whether well intended or not. Mental health is a human rights issue.

      • Sorry you’re so angry about my heartfelt, on topic and informative suggestion, Julie. What is it that really angers you?

        • Jack,
          this post of yours comes across as rude, and that disrupts discussion. this isn’t the first time you’ve engaged people in that way on this blog (you were more aggressive in the past), and as i said some months back, i will have to block you from commenting if you continue to do it.

          that said, i didn’t mind your suggestion — as i said, it made me curious — though i didn’t agree with it. disagreement is fine, but rudeness and aggression are not.


        • That’s interesting. I didn’t state that I was angry. I stated that your comment, Jack, is rude. If anything, if we are talking about MY feelings, I find this all amusing and little else.

          I am well acquainted with online spats, and this is rather benign compared to other conflicts I’ve witnessed.

          Have a very nice day.

    • hi jack (and julie),
      i just saw your request that i rewrite it in the first person, and at first i wasn’t sure why you would request that and i was curious. then i thought about how it would change the essay. the implication if i wrote it in the first person would be, i think, that it was just an observation about myself, and perhaps only applied to me. and that wouldn’t be correct, because although of course some of this is based on my own personal experience of crying, a lot of it is based on my observing others’ experiences of crying (and growing, grieving, and staying stuck). so it wouldn’t make sense to write it in the first person. all the best, daniel

      • Yes, I also noted that the “suggestion” added the phrase, “don’t have children.” You didn’t include that in the original. Was that a suggestion that you not have children, or for you to suggest to others not to have them?

        I think I will ask my dog. She might clue me in on this mystery.


  3. Reconozco ese llanto que permite pasar a un momento superador y también haber llorado por estar perdida en la vida y fueron lágrimas dolorosas que no produjeron cambios… sino, estancamiento girando en el mismo lugar como un perro que se muerde la cola, no pudiendo reconocer qué había de mí en la desgraciada situación.

    También he llorado de manera descontrolada y violenta por una desmesurada noticia que ni corazón ni mi espíritu podían albergar, en presencia de otros que sólo atinaron a darme una copa de cognac…tal vez siguiendo la tradición del tango* que en una estrofa dice: “Esta noche me emborracho bien, me mamo, ¡bien mamao!, pa’ no pensar”…
    Creo que la intención de la copa de cognac estaba en la dirección que dice el tango, que no pensara la tragedia que estaba viviendo… pero esa fue la intención de otros y tal vez no era lo que necesitaba.

    Hace pocos días, en mi sesión de terapia, di rienda suelta a las cosas que me apenan en el presente y lloré… llanto que no terminó con el final de la sesión, y se prologó por largo rato mientras caminaba y cuando terminó, me sentí cansada, dormí y desperté renovada y con proyectos. Dispuesta a poner una negativa a situaciones que siento desamoradas para con mi persona y no saben de la ternura ni de la fraternidad.

    Lo siento, estoy cansada para hacer la traducción con el traductor automáticos y validrla, Va en mi idioma materno, la lengua argentina-española.

    *Esta noche me emborracho. Música y letra: Enrique Santos Discépolo 1928

    • hola lucila,
      gracias por tu comentario — interesante para mi, y lo lei en español… pero probablament es dificil para otros entenderlo… pero el video que tu describes no existe. es posible que puedes compartir el correcto? hola de nueva york — daniel
      ***¡el video — lo arreglé!

  4. Thank you for this essay Daniel, it sure is helpful at this time in my journey. It describes so clearly my own blind, painful wailing in the past before I understood my childhood trauma, my friends’ weeping as they begin to look at their childhood trauma, and my currently dry eyes as I work through my healing, trying to befriend long buried feelings. It’s is lovely to read your honesty and clarity, your truth, lovely to know there are others out there on their journey. I haven’t been here for a while & it’s just wonderful to read your new work here!

  5. Agreed! But why assess? That’s what MH professionals do. Why not ask? Or just be with the person. Crying is what it is, and there could be many reasons.

    I don’t think crying over something being beautiful (such as at a wedding or while reading a beautiful passage of poetry) is covered in those two categories, but I’m not sure. If I am giving a reading of my works and I see tears in the audience, I know I have moved them in some fashion, so in that sense, I know my reading was in some way successful.

    What I was saying was that on the whole, if a person known to be “mentally ill” is seen crying, it is interpreted by the general population in a certain way, through the fake lens of “diagnosis.” This makes me sad. Often, if I was seen crying, people would assume I was “falling apart” or even that an ambulance should be called, lest I do some terrible violent act. Or shove a pill at me. I felt offended that I was often instructed when and how to “breathe” when I have been doing this rather successfully for over half a century. I am happy to get away from being a person with a “diagnosis” and therefore, have the freedom to cry if I want without being assaulted by “treatment” or other reactions borne of panic and delusion about me. It is a blessing.

    • when i wrote this essay i considered types of crying that seemed to fall outside of these categories (like crying over art/music) and ultimately i decided that it actually did pretty much fall into these categories — kind of like luigi said, and for the reasons he said.

      as for assessment, yes, mental health professionals do assess, but often badly. but everyone assesses. to assess is human. and of course people can ask about what someone is experiencing. that’s part of getting to know someone. i’m not saying i can look at someone and know instantly why they’re crying — but often there are clues. and i’m not speaking as a therapist (which i quit five years ago). just as a person who observes. some of these things on the list of indicators in the essay may be somewhat (or very) visible to an outside person, others not at all unless you know someone really well, and maybe even not then.

  6. I find the ideas here interesting though I find the assignment of behaviors into the different types of crying somewhat arbitrary. Though you acknowledge that sometimes they are mixed but usually more aptly fit into one or the other category is different than both my experiences and observations of others. Mostly I find them to be very mixed, both with features of both and sometimes with a weaving: back and forth with both types. I’ve wondered if what you’ve described might be due to inherent temperamental issues. Finally I think the Chronos/Kairos issue needs to be considered, as Bo Lozloff says:”We’re All Doing Time.”, but what kind of time is the crying occurring in? “Time is the fire we all burn in.” Ultimately I think you’re right, I hope you are, that some kinds (perhaps all kinds eventually) will be transformative.

  7. This is an insightful post. Perhaps you are right. However, it’s not the place of another person to judge what’s behind the tears.

    I recall once I was at a church and felt moved by the music, so upon leaving the sanctuary, the tears in my eyes were apparent to another parishioner. She knew I had a “diagnosis.” She saw my tears and assumed I was “upset” and “having a bad day.” I wasn’t too keen on that because I felt profiled. I wasn’t having a bad day nor “upset.” I believe if she’d seen anyone else crying, she wouldn’t have assumed that, but instead, assumed that like everyone else , the person was moved by the music. I think MH professionals, on the whole, misinterpret people’s tears, one way or the other.

    • hi julie,
      i agree that people often misjudge what’s going on inside another person, but that doesn’t mean that people always incorrectly assess others’ feelings and behavior — or, on the contrary, that people always understand what’s going on inside themselves. that said, in general i agree that mental health professionals are mostly clueless, for sure. but i don’t agree that it should be a rule that no one should ever assess anyone else’s behavior or feelings. i think when we get to know people very well we can know all sorts of things about them just from looking at them. it’s just that many times people think they know others well when in reality they don’t have a clue.

      • Hi Julie! I think the bigger problem is that in order to asses someone correctly, or even have a clue about it, it takes the desire to want to get involved with that persons life journey rather than just having a professional interest. The latter will in many cases fail.

    • Sometimes i cried listening music without understanding why (it was far to be a problem), but when i recognized i had urgent childhood needs, i noticed that simply substituting the subject of the majority of the love songs (a lover ignored or mistreated, etc..) with a child asking parental love, it opened a river of tears from my eyes (and, for being my needs still unsatisfied, actually it does).
      So i am actually convinced that music (and arts generally) express unconscious childhood needs and, when in makes me cry, i feel deeply understood by the inner child of the author.

      • Indeed. Two pieces that will bring me to tears are Brahms’ 1st Symphony, especially the first movement, and Peer Gynt, especially the part called “Morning.” There are no lyrics, it is the power of the sound itself. I was a composer of music myself. I was amazed that it took Brahms 20 years to compose his 1st Symphony. Upon initial performance, reviewers stated that the music was chaotic. It was received similarly to Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. The audience tossed tomatoes at the dancers on stage. How amazing to provoke such emotion, powerful indeed.

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