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City Sanctuary Therapy - Dr. Joyline Gozho

Counselling, Psychotherapy, CBT and Couples Therapy in London Bridge, City of London,

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Emotions and crying: Embracing your full self through crying


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Emotions and crying: Embracing your full self through crying

Through my experience as a therapist and mental health practitioner l have observed that the societal attitudes towards crying are replicated in the therapy room. It is time that this problem is unpacked and addressed.


Although social attitudes towards crying vary greatly depending on cultural, societal, and individual factors, in Western society crying is seen as a sign of weakness and/or vulnerability. We have been socially conditioned to believe that certain things are good and bad, and we shouldn’t question why they are good or bad. We cannot always make any critical analysis of certain views, as it means deviating from the conventional opinions which always feel unsafe.

This is the case with crying, where there seem to be some implicit rules that forbid us from expressing emotions, and not crying in front of others as it is viewed as shameful and embarrassing. There is a lot of stigma around crying which also varies according to age, gender, and social status. Men are taught that to be masculine you must “toughen up” and not show emotions. The notions that “big boys don’t cry”, or “man up”, and for women, “it’s not cute to cry” and “crying makes you look silly” are embedded in our psyches.

Crying is often viewed as childish, a sign of immaturity, and juvenile because it is associated with babies. Babies cry a lot; because they cannot use language to express themselves or communicate their needs. Crying is also a fundamental part of the baby’s attachment behaviour, necessary for their psychological development.

The crying elicits a response in the caregiver which facilitates being taken care of. We know that in normal development, as babies get older and learn to use language, they tend to cry less. However, crying remains a fundamental part of our human make-up, in response to certain feelings and emotions such as upset, sadness, and hurt, and as a way of expressing emotional pain. It is therefore perfectly normal and healthy for adults to cry as an emotional expression when one is hurt, sad, upset and emotionally distressed.

Sadly, there remains a misconception that crying is anti-social, yet it is prosocial, driven by our innate drives, and the human part of us that emotes and seeks comfort. Crying remains an attachment-driven behaviour; when we cry, we invite others to attend to us and soothe us which fundamentally meets our attachment needs. The same process that happens in babies when they cry, it also happens in adults, and this is a perfectly normal human reaction.

Crying and the therapy room

I have learnt through my experience as a therapist, through interacting with other therapists, as well as from reading literature, that both male and female clients find it incredibly difficult to cry, or tend to apologise for crying in the therapy room if they do.

Therapists often have to remind some of their clients that they are human, it's normal to cry, and normalise crying. This reminder often brings down the barrier to crying and enables the client to permit themselves to cry and allow a full expression of emotions. Suppressing emotions could be the reason why that individual may have ended up in therapy after all. In his book The Myth of Normal, Gabor Mate makes the link between the psychological and physical, highlighting that unprocessed emotions can manifest as psychic or physical pain and repressed emotions undermine the immune system.

I use the term “emotional constipation” to capture what happens when we suppress emotions. In the same way as unprocessed food (meals) causes physical constipation and tummy aches, unprocessed emotions also cause psychological constipation, which compacts our minds and causes us pain. The only way to process emotions is by allowing oneself to lean into them, as painful as it is, which will free one’s psychic space up, and create room for other emotions. Crying is a form of processing, and clearing up that psychic space.

Tears are pregnant with emotions, and we know that a good sob feels like an outpour of emotions and release. There are words embedded in those tears that should have been said, we should respect tears as a manifestation of the unspoken words.  Bearing the pain, and witnessing those tears in the therapy room, is a powerful and transformative experience, which is key to healing.

I often remind my clients that if they expect to sweat when they go to the gym, they should not shy away from sweating in the room; crying is a form of emotional sweating, and there is nothing wrong with it. Saying this is neither reassurance nor patronising; it is creating a human connection, and humanising myself as someone who emotes and does cry myself when the occasion arises.

Therapists are humans who are deeply emotionally moved by their clients’ stories and sometimes tear up. There is nothing wrong with that, as long as it's not a matter of the client looking after the therapist who is clearly overwhelmed and emotionally flooded. Therapists have done many years of therapy and some still go to therapy. They do cry in their own therapy, and that makes them human.

Social status and personality

There is a perception that people of high status in society must remain stoic and not seen crying in public, as it is a sign of weakness and ineptitude. Although there is no direct message that crying is bad, modelling these defensive behaviours reinforces the notions that crying is anti-social, and a sign of weakness and perpetuates the negative attitudes towards crying. Many a time it is the parent, head of the family, or older sibling who is made to just carry on, no matter how much they are emotionally struggling and pretend everything is fine - “crying means l am weak, and l let everyone down”.

One’s personality and temperament is shaped by their unique experience growing up in their homes and the quality of care they received from their caregivers. Growing up in a home where crying is not permissible, or chastised, one internalises certain beliefs about crying and constructs “core beliefs” around crying. In adult life, this enforces the idea that crying is bad.

Core beliefs are conclusions about oneself based on life experiences. Core beliefs are fortified by rules for living which are standards in which self-worth can be measured, which supports the core belief. For example, one can have a core belief that “l am weak” and can build a rule for living that “l must not cry and remain stoic, otherwise l will be seen as weak". These core beliefs are difficult to shake off or reframe particularly if they are supported by societal views, and modelled by people we look up to.

Crying and well-being

I am sure you can relate to the idea that “sometimes all l need is a good cry”. Crying can be cathartic, and lead to a release of emotions that cannot be accessed in any other way but a good sob!

The negative attitudes towards crying and full expression of emotions lead to suppressing emotions and hiding one’s true feelings. It also means we never learn to become emotionally literate as emotions are a big part of who we are which helps us understand what matters to us. They make life more meaningful and colourful, and crying is an expression of those emotions. Emotions make us want to act, and different emotions guide us towards different kinds of actions.

If you are watching a sad film or hearing a sad story, you are moved to tears - embrace it as it's your emotions in action. The suppression of emotion is harmful as every emotion is valid. If emotions are suppressed, they will find a way to leak out - for example, unresolved grief/loss can manifest in depression, suppressed anger can manifest in depression or anger outbursts, and a traumatic event can lead to anxiety or PTSD symptoms.

In Gabor Mate’s book Myth of Normal, he highlights how unresolved trauma (suppressed emotions) can manifest in a physiological form, emphasising the need for emotional processing which may include crying. The same sentiment is echoed by Van de Kolk - The Body Keeps the Score - in his work on trauma addressing how trauma becomes embodied and translated into a psychological state.

By crying we are also able to soothe ourselves as crying releases oxytocin (love hormones and endorphins (natural painkillers), which support natural bonding. Bonding is a key element of our innate make-up as social beings. When we cry, we are likely to get attention from others who come forward to comfort and soothe us. This is a pro-survival skill which in many ways is linked to our desire to seek connection, comfort, and care from others. Crying can also make us feel calmer as one is likely to take in more deep breaths, balancing the oxygen-carbon dioxide ratio.


Dissociation is a state of emotional detachment from one’s thoughts and feelings which can lead to forgetting memories, periods in life, events, and experiences that would otherwise be readily accessible. Dissociation can happen on different levels - benign (zoning out) and more severe forms of dissociating which require professional treatment.

Dissociation develops as a defence mechanism against experiencing certain emotions which are deemed too painful or difficult at a young age, or in reaction to a traumatic event - for example, in the form of PTSD-related dissociation. When one dissociates, they do not experience any physical and emotional pain - they do not cry since they have no emotional reaction to the experience.

Dissociation is often a result of trauma - historic or acute. Trauma is not just what happened to you, for example, physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, dictators, accidents, or loss, but also non-events such as the emotional deficit in not having an adult who is emotionally available to an infant who may be experiencing complex emotions.

Wilfred Bion (1962a) writes elegantly about the baby’s caregiver’s function of receiving the baby’s complex emotions, handling them, detoxifying them, making sense of them, and handing them back in a palatable form. Bion (1962a) termed this function containment, which is related to the baby projecting into the mother and the mother being affected and responding to these projections, a term called projective identification. Bion (1962b) emphasised the caregiver’s ability to turn the Beta elements (unprocessed and unmetabolised affective experiences) into Alpha elements which the infant can think about and make sense of.

The absence of an emotionally attuned caregiver leaves the infant unable to process complex emotions, which can lead to dissociation as a way of dealing with what is for the infant viewed as life-threatening. People who experience some form of disturbances in this parental function are likely to dissociate or struggle with availing themselves to their emotions. They are likely not to cry as they are not emotionally affected.

Crying as a normal human experience

Crying is indeed a natural and healthy expression of emotion. It is not simply a reflexive tear production, but an emotional tear production. Crying can be seen as a way to release stress, sadness, or frustration, and is often considered a normal response to certain life events or situations.

If we are more accepting that crying is not a sign of weakness, but simply being human, we are likely to experience secondary physical and mental health problems related to suppressing emotions. When we embrace crying, we can even encourage others to express their emotions through tears and be vulnerable with us without fear of judgement. People tend to feel more comfortable crying openly when they know their feelings are validated and they will not be judged for it.

As a society, we must eradicate the stigma attached to crying, particularly for men, who may be expected to display emotional stoicism and not show any signs of weakness. I believe this is why both addictions and suicide are high in men in comparison to women. Women should also be allowed to express their anger, and cry despite it being viewed as “not being ladylike” and crying seen as “silly”. Embracing these emotions and fully expressing them through crying is healthy.

Overall, it is important that we create an environment where people feel comfortable expressing their emotions authentically without shame, and fear of judgement. In the therapy room a big part of our work as therapists is enabling clients to develop an emotional vocabulary, to help them better understand their emotions, and to allow a full expression of emotions.

When we can be vulnerable with each other, we can process emotions that we otherwise suppress, leading to depression, anxiety, problem anger, and other physical health problems. This also translates to people not carrying so much emotional baggage and utilise therapy as their only way to learn about their emotions and process.

Benefits of crying

1. Stress relief

Crying can help to alleviate emotional and psychological stress. It provides an outlet for releasing built-up tension and pent-up emotions, which helps in reducing anxiety and promoting relaxation and overall well-being.

2. Emotional catharsis

Crying serves as a form of emotional release. It allows individuals to express and process their feelings, enabling them to gain a sense of relief and clarity. It can help in dealing with grief, hurt, sadness, anger, frustration, or any intense emotions.

3. Mood enhancement

Crying triggers the release of endorphins and other feel-good hormones in the brain, which can improve mood and provide a sense of soothing and comfort. Crying helps individuals feel better and experience a sense of emotional release and renewal. Oxytocin and endorphins released in crying are natural feel-good hormones which promote physical and mental well-being.

4. Social connection

Crying can foster social bonding, empathy and connection with others. When others witness someone crying, it often evokes compassion and support, leading to a sense of connection and understanding. This can strengthen relationships, provide emotional support and foster connections.

5. Physical benefits

Tears help to lubricate and cleanse the eyes, preventing dryness and irritation. Crying can also stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to regulate heart rate and promote relaxation. Deep breathing in crying helps regulate the body and bring it back into a homeostatic state.

How to tune into your human self

1. When you are emotionally affected by something, reflect on how you are feeling. Gently lean into those feelings and cry if you feel like it. Distancing yourself emotionally or dismissing any emotionally impactful experiences will only make it harder for you to tune into your emotions and cry. This also means not fully emotionally processing the meaning of the event.

2. Learn the habit of confiding in someone you trust. We tend to find it easier to cry if we feel safe, not shamed or judged. If there is something you are finding difficult to deal with, call a friend you trust, or arrange to meet and confide in them. If there is a compulsion to cry, embrace it.

3. In your therapy - if you have found it difficult to cry, explore this with your therapist. Understanding the reasons behind our behaviours is key to remedying them. Also, allow yourself to be human in the therapy room and embrace what unfolds.

4. It is important to note that excessive or prolonged crying without relief may indicate an underlying issue, such as depression or chronic stress. If crying becomes overwhelming or interferes with daily functioning, see an accredited therapist or mental health practitioner as it could be a sign of deeper issues that need addressing.


  • Bion, W. R. (1962a) Learning from experience. London: Karnac.
  • Bion W.R. (1962b). The psycho-analytic study of thinking. Int J Psycho-Anal 43: 306–10.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

© Joyline Gozho

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