Q: Is crying important when you\’re grieving? A: Maybe. For some people, crying may be important to deal with a loss. Our expert: The death of someone we love is one of the most intense emotional experiences any of us will face. So it\’s no surprise it\’s often accompanied by floods of tears. Not everyone cries when they grieve, however or if they do, they may cry less than they (or others) expected. But is little or no crying a reason for concern when someone\’s grieving? Not necessarily, says bereavement counsellor Mal McKissock. While crying is an important part of the grieving process for many people, lack of tears shouldn\’t be seen as a sign something\’s wrong. That\’s because individuals differ greatly in both their tendency to cry (under any emotional circumstances) as well as in the way they respond to the specific stress of grief; there is no right or wrong way to grieve, McKissock says. \”You ought to be allowed to cry if you feel you want to. And if you\’re a non-crier, you shouldn\’t be made to feel bad about that. What matters is that you are able to express yourself in a way that\’s consistent with who you are. \”
In his experience, those unable to express themselves the way they\’d like to, feel worse. So if you\’re supporting someone who\’s bereaved, it\’s important to \”provide a safe place where the person can be themselves\”. Just don\’t judge them on the volume of their tears because this varies enormously from one person to the next. \”If you\’re a person who cries four times as much or four times less, it\’s still 100 per cent of your crying. \” Our tendency to cry (or not) seems to be at least partly biologically-determined. Research suggests greater amounts of the hormone prolactin in women may be one reason their cry four times as much as men, McKissock says. (Prolactin is best known for its role in milk production but some researchers have suggested it may also help stimulate tears. ) When women cry, they do so in bouts that average six minutes long, compared with an average of four minutes in men, he says.
So it\’s feasible there may be other biochemical explanations for differing individual crying tendencies within each sex. Some of the benefits of crying may also be biological. When we experience intense emotional distress such as the death of someone we love, our bodies produce a number of powerful painkilling chemicals similar to heroin and morphine. And tears are one of the ways these chemicals are distributed in the body, McKissock says. The tears carry the chemicals to the surface of our eyeballs, where they are absorbed and may serve to ease the emotional pain, and so, from an evolutionary perspective, help our survival, he says. This may also explain why many of us bereaved or not feel better after a good weep. \”How many times do you sit down and have a good cry and feel better afterwards? \” If people want to cry but are prevented, it\’s possible they are denied some of these natural painkillers that would otherwise help moderate their distress, McKissock argues. \”That may be a reason why it\’s important to be allowed to cry if you are able to when you are bereaved. \” He says there is also some evidence crying may be a way of ridding the body of substances that would otherwise build up and affect our mood and wellbeing. For instance, a build up in the brain of the chemical manganese, which is excreted through tears, has been linked with low mood and increased risk of depression, he says. But it doesn\’t necessarily follow those who are \’non-criers\’ are worse off as, in these people, natural painkillers may be distributed, and toxins excreted, through means other than tears, he speculates. While extended crying often concerns people, including the crier, it shouldn\’t be interpreted as a sign someone is going downhill, McKissock says. \”Becoming upset is actually a sign you are going uphill and it\’s a very difficult haul.
But you can make it. Tears are a healthy display of passion. They are liquid love. \” For those concerned by unexpected surges of grief, behaviours like visiting the grave or looking at photographs of the person can be helpful. \”My experience is that if people do that of their own volition, the likelihood of it sneaking up on them when they least expect it is diminished. \” So if crying (or not crying) isn\’t a reliable sign someone is dealing inappropriately with their grief, is there anything that is? \”Whatever you do is OK as long as it\’s safe,\” says McKissock. \”The concept of \’getting over grief\’ is not a truth. What happens is we learn to live with it. \” Mal McKissock OAM is director of clinical services at Bereavement Care Centre, a private practice in Sydney. He spoke to Cathy Johnson. If you are struggling with depression or anxiety, or if you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. Depends on what your sense of self is. For some people their sense of who they are ends at the surface of their skin. That kind of person tends to be a lonely sociopath. For other people who they are includes other people. Think about it. What are you? The thoughts in your head? Your feelings? Just your brain? What you is actually a mental model of yourself. It is not just your body. It is a concept you hold in your head. Something you can imagine and understand and kind of mentally see or at least use to make sense of the world. The whole concept of you, yourself, us is really just a trick the mind plays on us to give us a way of understanding the world around us. These concepts are not real things. They don t exist in the world. You cannot point to something that is you. It is a software model which exists inside our head. We use it to understand the body and brain we inhabit and the people our world is made up of.
Think of it this way. If you created a robot that had to make decisions about itself, it would need some kind of model of itself in order to understand what to do. If it needed power, it would need to understand what thing needed the power. It would need a computer model of itself to know it needs power. If have a robot that cannot imagine/model/understand itself, how does it know what it should do? Once you think of it like that you can understand how you could have a human brain without a sense of self. There are actually people with psychological conditions who don t really feel they exist. They are on some level missing this. If you accept that your sense of who you are is not a physical thing, but something your mind comes up with, then you can see there is no reason that this mental model should have just one person in it. Your sense of who you are can easily include another person. This mental model you carry around in your head that is your identity/self/whoyouare, can include other people. In fact that is how our brains are pre-wired to model the worcld. There are lots of situations where people give up their own life to let someone else live. Militaries are built on this concept. That some people will give up their lives for other people. Most parents will literally die for their children. This is completely irrational and impossible to understand if you think of a person s self being limited to their own body. It only makes sense if a person thinks of who they are as being more than just the body and mind that they inhabit. So when someone close to you dies, to your mind, it is literally like a piece of yourself dying. As far as your mind is concerned, it really is almost no different. The way your mind works it kind of builds up your sense of self and who you are to include the people who are close to you. It does not easily distinguish between you and the people close to you.