How do I cry more?
October 17, 2020 2:19 AM   Subscribe

My therapist says I'm so anxious I can't access any of my other feelings. But when I do access sad feelings, I find it very difficult to cry, which I think might help me feel some relief from the anxiety (and also frequent anger/frustration I feel). Does anyone have any tips for crying more? And stories of how this has benefitted them? I think there's a little voice in my head that's like 'This is pathetic and embarrassing' and can't let go.

I spend a lot of time very anxious and wired, which results in constant 'doing' and quite bad insomnia. I'm trying to work on doing less (very tricky with work).

My therapist says that at the moment I can't (and we can't in our therapy) access the feelings underneath the anxiety, which are probably related to sadness at my father's death and a lot of other things. I find I can access anger and annoyance easily (just like my mum), but sadness is really hard.

And crying is almost impossible. I never really do it in therapy, and if I do feel tears coming, I feel shame and maybe anger at my therapist?

I've noticed when I feel sad, I just kind of feel very distant from it. I naturally reach for my phone, or push it out of my head. The very very very occasional times I cry, I kind of immediately feel a bit numb and it feels like I watch myself cry, instead of just crying. Like I imagine someone seeing me and thinking I was a bit sad / pathetic, and it makes me feel very alone.

It doesn't help that boyfriends in the past have found me being vulnerable difficult to deal with / unattractive - I think this has made me very wary of opening up again (at the moment with a new guy i'm dating who I'm guessing would be super sweet), and the thought that I can't cry with someone makes me feel even more super alone.

I realise I need to learn to love myself even while crying, and this judgement is coming from me (and possibly a very cold mum), but I just don't know how to cry without feeling self conscious, even though I really feel that accessing my softer side would do me a world of good.

Can anyone else relate to finding it easier to express annoyance and anger over sadness, and do you have any tips for getting past the anxiety and into the real feelings? I was thinking of watching sad movies, but maybe this is cheating as I'm crying about someone else and not me?

I'd love to hear stories of what you've done and the effects it had in your life. I feel like having a solid business case will help my hardened heart maybe agree to open up!!
posted by starstarstar to Human Relations (19 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, also, I probably find it a lot easier to cry about someone else's hardship as opposed to my mine. Hence thinking films might help. But it's feeding my pattern of 'other people are more important than me' which I'd really like to stop.
posted by starstarstar at 2:21 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

The only business case I can offer is that using art to access emotions is fulfilling one of the purposes of art, so it is not "cheating". But that is the philosophical view that I ascribe to the purpose of making and consuming art.

I created a checklist for my journal that I use in moments of extreme feeling. I find it useful in helping me to analyze the root of anxiety or extreme anger or deep sadness or general numbness. It is just a list of feelings and possible causes, but seeing it has been really useful in helping me acknowledge, experience and move on.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 4:28 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

Meditation can help a lot with this, and with anxiety in general. I use the guided meditation app Calm. There are specific meditations about leaning into and feeling your feelings.
posted by medusa at 4:37 AM on October 17

I think feeling sadness, and especially allowing yourself to feel or express sadness for yourself, is a different thing than crying. So you could work on both things, probably in different ways.

FWIW, I think crying has different effects on different people, and the idea that it's helpful for everyone is misconceived. There was a period when I couldn't cry, and then that period ended and I've been crying ever since. It gives me no relief and no catharsis and I hate it :-) And feeling sadness wasn't ever difficult for me, even when physical tears didn't come. So by all means work on crying, but don't worry if it doesn't come easily or at all if you're still able to make progress with the other things you mentioned.

That said, definitely books and movies. A book that made me cry recently is Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter, which is about a fairly buttoned-up person working through layers of grief to get to the deepest one. Even if you don't cry yourself, you might find it relevant.
posted by trig at 5:10 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

Are you on any medication, in particular SSRI? I know it's a reported escitalopram side effect.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 5:26 AM on October 17

Are you on any medications? Lexapro has definitely had that effect on me. I used to cry at the slightest things and now it really takes a LOT to make me cry.
posted by bookmammal at 5:30 AM on October 17

I'm having a problem with this too! I also posted in the recent How to be sad thread, so I won't repeat most of what I said there.

I think, for some of us at least, crying needs to be very very private. When I mull over the purpose of crying it seems like it must at least partially serve the function of communicating distress to and summoning help from your community. But the effect of someone coming to you while you're crying is a social pressure to STOP CRYING. You are stressing other people out.

Even if the therapist is trained for this and knows how to "hold space" it is really almost a breach of the social contract you have lived with your whole life with to just wail and cry in front of another person. Certainly I think it can be a good thing to learn to do this (I'm not there yet BY A LONG SHOT) but it doesn't have to be your entry into "crying, it's a thing we do now."

So this is why I was sitting alone in my car yesterday in a parking lot in the woods, trying to cry. I had been feeling tears arise while working all day and been telling my emotions "Not now! Now is a bad time! I will get to you later, I'll find a parking lot in the woods somewhere."

I thought about the things that were making me sad. I leaned my head against the window like a sad character in a movie. I started making a little sound, a little tiny keen. I got a little teary, a little weepy.

And that's as far as I got. It was a little frustrating. BUT I think just creating the space, just letting the emotions arise and fall, that is something. Maybe the crying didn't arise much then because I wasn't trying to tamp it down, so there was no pressure.

Good luck to you. (and me! We’re gonna figure this crying thing out dammit!)
posted by Jenny'sCricket at 5:34 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

I hate having feelings and my default is to avoid them whenever possible, by tamping them down in order to make someone else happy and just live with it, or bury myself into some sort of business to distract myself until they go away.

But, they don't just go away. In my case, they fester and drive up my anxiety. I've learned through years of therapy that's it's more effective to take the time to feel and process my emotions, listen to what they are telling me, and decide whether or not to take any action. As posted above , art is a great way to access emotions and allow yourself to feel and process them.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 6:02 AM on October 17

Are there places or times when you find crying to be safer? When I was growing up, I found that I really liked crying in closets or under my blankets in bed, while listening to some loud sad music. I also found that I really liked crying during sad movies or reading sad books. For me it was around being somewhere small/safe/enclosed and possibly with some context so that I could "point" to a reason for being sad - well of course I'm sad b/c my favorite characters died in this book and this song is totally heartbreaking *brawwls* while also crying about my own life/situation/etc. There was something "freeing" in being able to relate to characters to give myself the permission to feel OK to cry for my own self.

During the last many months, I found it really hard to really be and feel sad. I ended up needing to just let myself be alone in bed and cry because I found it hard to be visibly sad around my partner -- not b/c I didn't think they would be supportive, but b/c it was just such a blocker for me to feel these very vulnerable emotions around others.

I've also found listening to this "Journey through Pain" guided meditation when my cat died last year to be helpful. It helps talk you through inching towards the difficult feelings while keeping you in control, and I used it many times to process my grief.

Recently, in trying to process my more difficult feelings about the past, I've also found trying to talk to and comfort my "sad child self" in the ways I wish I had been comforted to be helpful -- e.g., "there there, little ellerhodes, it's okay, you can cry as much as you want right now". And then, doing things to actively be comforting to myself - hot tea, warm pjs, vegging in front of a good TV show.

This is tough. I'm sorry you're going through this. It sounds like you've found the first step of your journey to accepting these very real and very valid parts of yourself, and I wish you much luck, comfort and safety.
posted by ellerhodes at 6:13 AM on October 17 [3 favorites]

Something maybe counter intuitive to consider: what about YouTube videos of uplifting things. For me, watching young athletes triumph get the tears going. I wonder if any kind of crying, including joyful crying, would be a release.
posted by CMcG at 6:51 AM on October 17 [5 favorites]

Seconding meditation. I never thought I would be the type but I weep like a baby when listening to guided meditations like this one by Tara Brach and this one about finding peace in crisis .

I am always moved deeply by the guided meditations that deal with shame, regret, forgiveness & self-compassion. I found I respond better to women's voices so you may need to shop around to find a voice that clicks with you.
posted by i_mean_come_on_now at 7:55 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

I felt just like this last month, where all I could feel was anxiety, annoyance, and rage, and every other emotion was not a thing. It was miserable. Shockingly what kicked me out of it was virtually attending Rosh Hashanah services and listening to the prayers for healing the sick, which is a thing that was unsurprisingly emphasized this year. I learned about the death of RGB a couple minutes before the first of them started and the floodgates opened. I sobbed in my bedroom on and off for a few hours and also the next morning. After that, my emotions started filtering back in slowly - I started to feel a bit of pleasure at eating nice food, and by Yom Kippur at the end of the month I felt back to my pandemic-typical emotional range.

My relationship to High Holy Day music and prayer is atypical because my dad is a Jewish liturgical composer, although I was never pushed to be religious or part of a synagogue past my bat mitzvah when I was 13 and have not reliably attended services or been part of a congregation since. So it was a trigger I suspect for a feeling of safety and a lot of those familiar hopeless and rage filled emotions like that of a 13 year old, you know? I also have a complicated personal history with depression, suicidal ideation, and an inability to hold onto joy. So my expectations are low, but my experience with crying is a lot. That I wasn’t crying in early September was a thing I was increasingly anxious about, too.

Anyway I guess, you’re not alone in feeling this kind of blockage, and I think everybody probably has something that can kick them in the butt and get those tear ducts flowing. Think about your own life and try to create an environment where you can feel safe enough to be vulnerable to yourself, and heighten the emotional catharsis in that place via art that has personal meaning to you. If it helps you can think of the art as a guided meditation tool of its own. It is absolutely not cheating. But all kinds of things could be better for you than sad movies. For me it is usually classical live music, which can often be really upbeat or passionate but not deliberately sad. I have an aunt who just bawls at those compilations of pets seeing their people for the first time in a while. It’s more about, like, intensity than it is about sadness, to kickstart the crying. It could even be reading a mefi thread about a lot of people’s shared experiences.

And then once you start to cry you keep, like... allowing your body to do it? It sounds like you have dissociated a bit in the past while crying, that watching yourself do the thing you’re doing feeling. That’s a trauma response, and makes sense with your history that you’ve shared. You should ask your therapist for ways to help bring you back to yourself when you feel this way. Honestly what works for me is petting and hugging my very fluffy and permissive cat, which is a valid sensory grounding technique!

Immediately after crying I can feel numb and sad a bit, but never pathetic, and a few hours or days later I almost always feel more able to experience positive things like joy and pleasure, especially on behalf of other people. I will do stuff like completely blank a whole comedy podcast, cry, listen to the same podcast and laugh at the jokes and actually feel the laughter. So it’s worth the brief numbness that occasionally happens. I think you will get better with practice and grounding yourself and repeated experiences of crying while feeling safe and not judged.
posted by Mizu at 8:16 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

I understand why you'd want to cry more. I often feel a big sense of relief after crying -- an emptying out feeling--but only when I've fully processed why I'm upset. If I don't identify first why I'm experiencing an emotion and what emotion it is, then crying will not feel good for me. When you are feeling sad and wish to cry, do you feel the shame already? Do you feel like you are fully experiencing the sadness and the distance only comes along when the crying comes up? If you aren't able to fully engage with the sadness or aren't able to identify it at first, crying shouldn't be the priority, but instead the feelings.

The shame seems to be a big problem for you, and you mentioned that you are dealing with some unprocessed feelings in regards to a parent's death. I've always had bad anxiety and suffered a difficult depression after my mother died, and I found the book When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron to be very helpful. Self-compassion and meditation, in my inexpert advice, seem like something to try on this journey towards healthy emotional expression, and I like this book a lot for that.

I also agree with CMcG that trying to cry about happy things may also help condition some of the shame out of it. There are compilations with the express goal of making people cry about happy things (dogs greeting long-gone owners, colorblind people trying those glasses that allow them to see more color, etc) and that seems to be a goal opposite of shame! No one thinks crying is pathetic on videos like that!

Whether you become a 'crier' or not, you can still let go of some of the shame associated with it, and the idea that other people's needs are more important than your own. You are people, you have needs, you don't deserve less. Hope any of this helps!
posted by wellifyouinsist at 8:19 AM on October 17

When I was younger, I used to cry at the drop of a hat as a response to feeling powerless and sad or angry. I found it cathartic. Everyone in my life told me I cried too much. I was excessive in my tears, I was devaluing sadness through overuse.

Eventually, I reinvented myself in a fashion. I had been hurt a lot and I decided I wouldn't let anyone hurt me again. I got tough. Instead of crying about work stuff and family stuff I began to snark about it and refuse to talk about it. I didn't get sad anymore, I got angry. I bragged about my comebacks. And I got such positive reinforcement about my toughness that that just became me. I stopped crying about anything. I buried my vulnerable side along with a lot of other things and I lost access to them.

When I started therapy I found it disturbing how much I would cry. I'd sit down and it would spill out of me, unrelated even to what I was actually talking about. I felt like I was having a pavlovian reaction to that damn chair. Not only crying - I was suddenly constantly overwhelmed by a welter of emotions that seemed to have no reason. And the thing is, I didn't mind the feeling. It felt strangely familiar. Even, after the initial weirdness, comfortable.

One day, I was walking down the street and I thought "fuck it, I'll cry if I want to!" So I was sobbing away and I got the strangest feeling, like I was face to face with the old, somewhat peeved me that I had banished. It felt good, apologising and embracing it. And sad, the thought that I'd locked a part of myself up for so long. So I cried a bit more about that.

Since then, it's all settled down to a more reasonable level, I'm happy to say.

Writing this out makes me feel overdramatic and a bit embarassed, but there you go, maybe it'll help. Good luck!
posted by Omnomnom at 10:28 AM on October 17 [2 favorites]

I definitely think the best training-wheel crying is the TV/movie moment just after it seemed all was lost and someone comes through and saves the day, complete with big swelling music. Lots of movies use that device, but I think the Sports Underdog film genre is probably best in class. And dear lord yes, The Dodo and other big feels clickbait channels on youtube specialize in that sort of triumph/relief crying.

Something to process: shaming someone for crying is a means of deliberately making your feelings small so they aren't obligated to care or do anything. It's abuse.

Crying has neurobiological functions and literally releases hormones that reduce anxiety, tension, and pain. It's literally good for you.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:31 AM on October 17

I read Burnout a little while ago, and found some of their suggestions for processing stress, anxiety, and other emotions helpful. One of the things they focus on is dealing with the physiological side of the stress response, so things like meditation, breathing practice, and intense exercise. I think it's helped me cry a little more easily when I'm doing well at exercising.
posted by sibilatorix at 10:48 AM on October 17 [1 favorite]

I know you want to cry but I wonder if it might help to be really gentle and curious with the part of you that blocks the crying. The next time you are feeling sad and think you ought to be able to cry, notice the part that is blocking it. What does the block feel like in your body? Sounds like it is protective - you learned not to cry for good reasons. Ask it what is it protecting you from? What's the bad thing that would happen if you cried? Appreciate the way that block kept you safe from the bad thing for so long. Notice how it feels to hold all those parts - the part that is scared, the part that is protecting, the part that is sad and try not to force yourself to let one feeling be in charge. At some point, you might be able to feel for the younger you who so scared that they learned to block and it may feel safe (especially if you are in a safe private place) to lower those defenses and let yourself feel that sadness.

I'm guessing the shame and anger at your therapist when you start to cry is protective part that is upset that your defenses have been breached. If you appreciate that protectiveness but gently try to help it see that it is fighting an old enemy and it is OK, things are different now. It might take a lot of repetition for that to sink in but your therapist can help you have the experience of being sad and even letting someone see it and it is OK.
posted by metahawk at 3:21 PM on October 17 [3 favorites]

Thanks all, there's so much great stuff here - really appreciate people taking the time! Nice to know I'm not alone also.

Seems like there's many suggesting meditation, and I love the links to specific ones. I have trouble sticking to meditation (see: wired), but I'm sure it will be easier with some guidance.

Love the movie and book recommendations also. If anyone has other suggestions please do send -
i'm an avid reader but never have any clue what to read fiction-wise, or to watch movie-wise.

Also really liked @metahawk's suggestion to hold ALL the parts of me - including the ashamed bit - and try and give them space.

Lots to be getting on with.
posted by starstarstar at 12:33 AM on October 18 [1 favorite]

Don't know if this would help you - but have you tried other physical ways to process your sad feelings? Could you hug yourself? Rub your chest and belly? Yell/mumble/let out how you are feeling e.g. WAAAAA I CAN'T CRYYYYYYYYY? Shake your whole body?

I've been unable to let out a whole bunch of feelings, but using this sort of method led me to stamping up and down like a toddler claiming "I'm not eating dinner" and it was pretty epic!
posted by london explorer girl at 7:20 AM on October 19

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