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John James, founder of The Grief Recovery Institute

John W. James

Founder of The Grief Recovery Institute®
Co-Author of The Grief Recovery
Handbook & When Children Grieve


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If I Start Crying Will I Be Able To Stop?

Grieving people sometimes hold back their tears based on the fear that if they start crying, they won’t be able to stop. To the best of our knowledge, no one has ever been unable to stop crying. The body has its own emotional thermostat which shuts off what sometimes seems to be an unending supply of tears.

The fear of not being able to stop usually has much more to do with an idea that we will be judged for showing our emotions than any reality connected to crying. It is partially based on the fact that most of us were taught when we were young that sad, painful or negative feelings were to be avoided at all cost, and if we were unable to avoid them, not to show them in public. Growing up, we heard things like: “If you're going to cry, go to your room”; “Knock off that crying or I'll give you a reason to cry”; or, “Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.” That’s just a small sampling of remarks which may have dictated how you react to the grief events that affect your life. With just a few of those comments planted in your belief system, it’s logical that you might be unwilling or unable to show or express the normal and natural painful reactions to the death of someone important to you, and that you could believe that if you started crying you wouldn't be able to stop. [A study indicates that by the time we are 15 years old, we have been subjected to more than 20,000 references indicating that it is not appropriate to feel bad, and if we do, we should not do it in front of others.]

While we’ve never known anyone to be unable to stop crying, we have seen too many people who could not or would not take any actions to deal with their grief because of an inordinate fear of any expression of their sad, painful or negative feelings. If you’ve been a little hard on yourself for not crying, give yourself a break. Trust the fact that you have some feelings about not crying to indicate that you really do have feelings about the person who died. Recovery from grief is achieved by a series of small and correct actions taken by the griever. The first action for you may be just to allow yourself not to cry.

© 2017 John W. James and The Grief Recovery Institute®. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint this and other articles please contact The Grief Recovery Institute at info@griefrecoverymethod.com or by phone, 800-334-7606.

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