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Unexpected Crying: How Do You Handle It?

Unexpected Crying: How Do You Handle It?Today I got a surprise. I was at a day-long training with a variety of activities, and one of them was watching a short video about older people in the hospital. It depicted them being in their own thoughts, remembering times when they were younger, and how they looked at different stages of their life. It was intended to give us a better appreciation of the people who come for physical and mental care.

The room was dark, and I could feel the emotion coming in the last 30 seconds or so. I was happy there was a tissue box nearby because the tears were practically squirting out of my eyes by then. I could not do a thing about it except to soak them up on the tissue. I was over the edge from the undeniable emotion that swelled inside, and I wouldn’t be coming back for a little while.

I know that if I’d tried to stifle that, I’d probably have gotten a headache. And I may have cried later anyway. Thankfully, this was a fairly safe group of about a dozen people. The facilitators had planned the video just before a break. Each time they’ve done the training, someone has needed to take a private moment before joining the group because they cried. The timing helped to make it less embarrassing or noticeable if someone was missing for a few moments.

While I was definitely caught off guard, I’m so glad I had the chance to express myself and recover with a bit of privacy. It gave me a chance to connect with some work associates I hadn’t gotten to know very well yet. And truthfully, ever since I was pregnant with my first child, touching family stuff like this video has made me much more prone to crying.

I can also expect to cry at least a few times every time I’m at Disney World. I have gone with my kids and parents the last couple of years, and I also went as a child many times with my sister and parents. When I’m watching the parade, seeing Cinderella’s castle for the first time, watching the performers in front of the castle, all of it. It floods my senses and nearly always overflows my emotional channels. So technically, that isn’t unexpected. But it is in public and I have no control over it.

I used to be more self-conscious of this, and in a less comfortable circumstance, I’m still more wary of letting it go. However, I’ve simply decided that in those kinds of situations, I’m more willing to be authentic than to appear in control. The tears say to me that the experience is meaningful. It stirs past fond memories, makes me think of important people, connects generations together, or impresses other deep things on my heart.

If I can’t control the flow of tears or emotion anyway, what good does it do to deny myself the expression? Some of these are tears leftover from grieving a death, some of these are tears of joy for passing on traditions, some of these are tears of nostalgia for happy experiences that shaped my life.

That’s just how I have learned to deal with these expressions. I also spent some years crying in private shame from depression that no one really understood or knew about. Perhaps because of that, I’m both more easily triggered and more ready to be open about it.

Anyway, I’m interested to learn more about how you have handled unexpected emotion that has caused you to cry or almost cry in public. Did it feel OK, or did you feel uncomfortable and fight it? What were the circumstances?

Unexpected Crying: How Do You Handle It?

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska. She blogs regularly on the Psych Central blog, Family Mental Health.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2018). Unexpected Crying: How Do You Handle It?. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 10 Apr 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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