It’s a highly effective and completely natural stress reliever, and a coping mechanism for sadness, anxiety and frustration. So why aren’t more of us giving our tear ducts a workout?

Psychologist Daniel Koh says that “personality, culture or upbringing” prevents some Singaporeans from letting it out. Daniel explains that these people “may not be in tune with themselves emotionally, or it could just be that they express their emotions differently.”

While some people see crying as a sign of weakness or instability, the opposite is true too. Although we’re often trained “to get over certain sad or traumatic situations quickly”, it is healthier and better to let it out all. Daniel says that this “shows that you’re in touch with your emotions and that you’re comfortable expressing them.”


Singapore experts explain why crying helps,
in times of duress. Image: Corbis

Still, crying is cathartic: “When you cry, endorphins – feel-good hormones – are released into your system, helping to stabilise your mood to bring about a sense of serenity.” That’s why, after a good cry, you feel better and no longer as emotionally weighed down.

Identify the reasons for tearing up to deal with them accordingly; and figure out the best situations to let it all out. We ask Daniel and counsellor Elisabetta Franzoso for expert advice on how to handle the situations when these waterworks begin to flow.

WHAT’S IN A CRY?
According to Daniel, there are various degrees of crying, each one indicating the level or intensity of emotion felt. Being aware of these different “crying types” is important, as crying is a non-verbal cue to show others how you’re feeling, and it shows others how they can help or approach you.

So if you see someone crying, you should be able to tell whether he or she needs to be comforted – hugged, held or spoken to – or if you should just leave him or her alone.

Tearing can mean disappointment or controllable sadness. Crying hysterically can indicate great distress, depression, or intense emotional or physical pain/hurt. If the crying is accompanied by uncontrollable behaviour or confusion, it could mean that the person has lost total control of his or her emotions.

Crying should match the emotion you’re feeling, so there are differences when you cry out of joy, frustration or sadness. “You would expect a sad person to cry and not laugh, unless he or she has emotional problems.”

A cry of joy might be easier to control, be shorter and less hysterical than, say, a cry of distress or sadness. Crying for joy can even help you “feel the happiness more intensely, and those tears eventually become a laugh”, says Elisabetta.

TO CRY OR NOT?
Built-up distress, fear, anger and sorrow are released through the act of crying. If you try to suppress it, you are actually internalising your negative emotions; which can manifest as a temper outburst, burnout, an emotional breakdown and a whole host of other emotional issues later on.

“As long as the triggers are still present and the negative feelings have not been resolved, the crying can continue until one is ready to stop or move on,” says Daniel.

While not allowing yourself to cry is not healthy, crying too often can also have an adverse effect on your state of mind. It might indicate deep-rooted feelings of hopelessness and despair, which, if you do not address, can lead to serious emotional disorders.

“If you find yourself crying all the time out of sadness, it could give way to a negative emotional state, and it could also be a sign that you are depressed,” says Elisabetta. So if you find yourself in tears all the time, and sometimes for no reason, it might be wise to seek professional help to find out what exactly is bothering you.

“WHAT’S WRONG, MUMMY?”
Is it okay to cry in front of your children? Certainly, says Daniel, if you’re comfortable showing your emotions in front of them. It is also a good way for them to learn about feelings and coping with various emotions positively.

If they see you cry, they will make that association that it is acceptable to be in tune with and express your feelings. “However, you must be careful to remain in control,” warns Daniel, “and not teach your children that crying is the only coping method available.”

Elisabetta adds that “crying is a form of healing and that is what you should teach your kids. It’s not true that big boys don’t cry and it’s not true that crying is an indication of weakness.” So when your kids see you cry, use that as an oportunity to teach them that it is a natural coping mechanism.

IN FRONT OF HUBBY
Whether you should cry in front of your spouse or not is a personal preference, says Daniel. It also depends on the situation and the reason behind your crying.

If you are crying because you’ve been hurt by somebody or had an argument with your boss, for example, and need support and understanding, then it might be okay to cry in front of your husband if you know he is supportive, sensitive and caring.

Daniel says that “if you don’t think he will support you the way you want and instead might get critical or judgmental, you might feel even more hurt.” In this case, you should find another shoulder to cry on, so to speak.

GO ON, CRY IT OUT
If you find yourself emotionally burdened and unable to cope, try some individual and deliberate therapy to deal with built-up negative emotions.

Crying is normal human behaviour, but not everyone thinks it’s acceptable. “Nobody seems to support crying therapy the way they do laughter therapy, probably because society attaches a negative meaning to crying,” says Daniel. Choose a time and a private place and release those tears. You will feel a lot lighter, after that good cry.

Daniel Koh is a psychologist at Insights Mind Centre. The private practice is located at 20 Maxwell Road, #07-18e Maxwell House, S069113, tel: 9363 5815; opening hours 9am to 5pm on Mondays to Fridays and 9am to 12 noon or Saturdays. To find out more about the psychological and counselling services offered at the centre, email insightsMC@gmail.com or go to www.insightsmindcentre.com.sg.

Elisabetta Franzoso is a counsellor and facilitator at Inside Out You Coaching & Training. Contact Elisabetta and her team at elisabetta@insideoutyou.com, tel: 9621 3858 or visit www.insideoutyou.com for more information on the corporate training and personal coaching services offered by the company.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer June 2011.