You're crying...
but are those your tears or someone else's?


Crying is a wonderful thing. Emotions come and they go, and they temporarily change our bodies as they pass through us, and some of those short-lived changes include leaking from our eyes. A very visually obvious signal to others that we are feeling intense feelings. It's not always emotion of course. Anyone who has prepared onions for a meal can tell you that. Tears come in different varieties. There are the tears that keep out eyes moist and functional. There are the tears that we shed to remove debris from the surface of the eyeball, and then there are emotional tears. These emotional tears are brought on by usually intense feelings, but not always negative. We cry tears of joy too. And if you pay careful attention you'll find that emotional tears are not just tears. There is usually a fair bit of bodily movement involved too. There may be heaving, coughing, shaking, trembling, muscle contractions, or other movements we normally don't engage in. Emotions are a whole-body experience, but we often only focus on the watery aspect.

And speaking of the water aspect, it isn't just water. Emotional tears contain more hormones that the other types, and there are theories about the purposes of the differences. Research shows that emotional tears in women can lower sexual arousal in men, for example. Or that some animals use the tears spread over their bodies to lower the aggression of other males of their species. Yes, tears are a lot more interesting than you might have thought. So, they affect other people and animals on the outside, but what about the inside? What about the person crying?

There is a lot of research on why we might cry and how others respond to us when we cry. Mirror neuron research helps us to understand how we experience the emotional state of people that we observe, or sense. The ability to understand the emotional state of another person is incredibly useful, especially pre-language. If you have ever tried to speak to someone in a highly emotional state who is sobbing you'll understand how language is very much a secondary source of information. Many people will avoid interacting with someone who is crying likely because their mirror neurons will tend to create the same feelings in them, and for many that might be a little too uncomfortable. Those people might find they try to avoid the situation altogether, or dissociate from their bodies to handle the situation. But why would this be necessary if the purpose of our bodies ability to recreate the feeling is to understand the experience of another person? Surely that is a good thing?

I think in a securely-attached adaptive person we can experience another person's feelings, and our own, in a stable way, and it is a good thing. We can feel, understand, and connect, and still stay balanced. In the case of an insecurely-attached or maladaptive person, feeling those intense feelings, whether their own or someone else's, could easily trigger early traumas that could leave them in an unbalanced unstable state, struggling to remain functional. Such people might go through life avoiding feelings in general, either by isolation or by dissociation. So trauma in childhood can set the stage for a problematic emotional life. No real surprises there.

Statistically, you or someone you know well has likely experienced some trauma early on, but what about those times where you find yourself triggered into deep sadness, or anger, but are almost certain that you didn't go through any traumatic experience? Many people report this and the usual response of the therapist is that they likely did, but they are either blocking the memory, they were too young to remember details of it, or they have normalized the trauma and think it was an everyday experience. And these are all valid possibilities that should be explored. There is another possibility however.

How do you know that the feeling you are feeling when you cry is your feeling? Unlike the autonomy of adulthood, much of what we experience in early childhood is heavily influenced by, or filtered through the reactions of our caregivers, usually our mother or father. It is a time when our mirror neurons are incredibly helpful in sensing the safety of our surroundings via our parents, but can also be a liability in the cases of parents who are struggling themselves to maintain a healthy emotional state. A child observing, and feeling, the emotional states of a secure parent is a wonderful way to learn about its feelings and how to manage them. But consider for a moment an insecure parent who cannot manage their feelings, and the child who is immersed in that environment, observing and feeling those intense and unmanaged feelings in someone they depend on. As a child there is no getting up and going for a walk, or talking to a friend. In such a situation is it easy to see how the child, experiencing the intense feelings of the parent's trauma and have no way to manage it, nor understanding of where it came from. Skip forward a few decades and that child, now an adult, may find themselves dropping into periods of intense sadness, anger, or depression, and have no understanding where it came from. "I don't even know why I'm crying" is a common refrain.

It's not all doom and gloom however. There are many ways to work through such issues and in my hypnotherapy practice I watch carefully for such situations. I find that helping the client under hypnosis connect to those feelings, and connecting them to their memories of their parent's feelings can often help greatly in the release. Moving forward with such feelings reduced and in their rightful place can make life a lot easier to understand and manage.


Written by Stephen King
Stephen King is a practicing Hypnotherapist and Certified Health Coach
Find out more at

Copyright (c) Stephen King. All rights reserved.



Verna Strickland's picture

I often cry for others going through but even when I'm crying to God

We're Here For You