Crying is considered a taboo subject in our culture. It is seen as a weakness, being too vulnerable, unnecessary and even to the extreme of calling others a "cry baby." However, what if tears serve a purpose for our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing? What if by not allowing ourselves and others the freedom of expression we are the one's causing a society that is full of fear, anxiety and depression? It is time to open this can of worms and embrace this natural phenomenon that people are so afraid to experience and witness.
When I was pregnant with my son I attended a Calm Birth class and in the back of the booklet was an essay on Aware Parenting written by Marion Rose. My husband and I had been searching for an approach to parenting that was very different from how we were raised and many "mainstream" parenting approaches. From the first paragraph we knew we had found something that resonated deeply with us and this was how we were going to raise our children. It was Dr Aletha Solter Ph.D a developmental psychologist who had come up with this approach to parenting. You can view her website and more of her work here. However, in a nutshell Aware Parenting uses the main style of Attachment Parenting and combines it with non-punitive discipline and freedom of emotional expression.
It is the "freedom of emotional expression" that will be the focus of this article. What do we mean by "freedom of emotional expression?" When babies cry they are communicating that they have a need that needs to be met; whether that be food, nappy change or sleep. However, there is also the legitimate need to cry and release feelings such as fear, frustration, overwhelm and anger. Dr William Frey a biochemist has proven that tears sed for emotional reasons are chemically different from tears shed because of an irritant such as cutting an onion or the wind. He has suggested that the purpose of emotional crying (when we are upset, depressed, afraid, angry) is to remove waste products or toxic substances from the body through tears. The majority of this "waste" is a stress hormone called cortisol.
What is my point in all this? Well if we don't release our stress through our tears the stress (cortisol) increases in our body and we feel more stressed, agitated, angry and depressed. It can then continue into all kinds of different diseases. In fact scientists have proven that the number one cause of all diseases is? You guessed it; STRESS! So how do we get rid of all of this accumulated stress? Well one safe way is to cry it all out, let it go, release it. How many of you have felt better, relieved even after having a good sob-fest?
In babies and children it is extremely crucial to NEVER leave them to cry it out alone. When I studied psychology at university this is one of the first things I learnt. I took a great interest in developmental psychology and have read numerous studies and research on the devastating longterm effects of letting a child cry it out. It leads to feelings of abandonment, betrayal, trust issues, helplessness and hopelessness just to name a few. On the other hand you then have parents (like mine who I love dearly) who repress your tears with rocking, dummies and other forms of distraction because they believe that crying needs to be stopped to make the baby/child happy. This can lead the child to grow up always repressing how they really feel which then accumulates in the body as stress and leads to a whole range of problems such as depression, anxiety and even physical disease.
Now I'm not bashing on other forms of parenting because there was a time when I thought crying needed to be stopped. The only way I changed my mind on that was by researching other methods and realising how the body works, the purpose of tears and that there is another way. So what is this other way? As I have mentioned above I found all these answers in Aware Parenting.
So what do we do if we don't let our child "cry it out" or stop them from crying? Well it can take a bit of practice to know the difference between what their cries are saying they need, but once you get it, it is easy. When my son has an accumulation of stress from being overwhelmed, frustrated, scared, etc he has a big cry (sometime what people may refer to as a tantrum). When this occurs I sit with him and give him my full loving attention and support. I tell him "it's ok to cry", "I love you," "I'm listening and I'm hear for you." Depending what's been going on sometimes this can last a while. However, after he has released all those emotions and all that cortisol he is one relaxed and happy child. We also feel a deep emotional connection as I was there to listen to his troubles and allowed him to express his emotions.
This topic can be hard to wrap your brain (or your heart) around so I'll leave it at that. Let it all soak in, and of course you don't have to agree with anything I just wrote. This is just a perspective on crying that is often hidden from view. So next time you need to have a big cry; let it all go. You really will feel better. If you have kids and know all their other physical needs have been met give them your presence to allow them to release their stress too. Like I said if you need more information check out Aletha's site and her fabulous five books that are must reads.
Please leave a comment below with how you feel reading this article, how you feel by either repressing or letting your tears out or if you have any other questions.
Love & Gratitude,