I used to think it was a bad idea to cry without a reason. As a kid, my parents would sometimes say, “I’ll give you something to cry about” when my siblings or I were pouting about something. (This implied threat rarely was acted out, you’ll be glad to know). But, in hindsight, it’s clear to me that my parents didn’t know what to do with their unhappy children: not my Dad, who never cried, or my Mom, who seemed to cry more from anger than frustration (it was the sixties in small-town Ohio).

Lately, I find myself crying for no reason.

No obvious reason.

I’m sure there’s something going on inside that I may not yet be aware of. In fact, it’s easy to think of perfectly good reasons to cry:

  • This world is a mess and is getting worse every day
  • Driving on the freeway, everyone hates everyone
  • I can easily think of people who have treated me badly (and vice-versa)
  • I compare myself with other people and feel insignificant and unsuccessful
  • I feel some combination of confusion/frustration/helplessness

You get the drift.

Popular psychology says that we cry because we’re sad, but what about when we’re angry, yet don’t feel safe enough to cry? Many of my clients want to let themselves be pissed off, but, they just can’t do it. Being born in 1953, there was a whole generation of women my mom’s age who were taught not to be angry: “It isn’t ladylike” and “No man wants an angry woman” I heard my grandparents’ generation say.

As a result, millions of women (and some men too) grew up pretending not to be angry, instead, crying from frustration at having to keep their rage and fury inside.

Crying for no reason? Hardly.

And what about feeling helpless? Isn’t that a good reason to cry?

When I worked at San Diego Hospice with terminally ill children and their families, some of the kids’ parents would get angry at the staff: yelling at them and finding reasons to be pissed off. The staff nurses and nursing assistants would ask me, “Would you please talk to Mr./Ms. Angry Parent? They’re giving us a hard time again.”

Of course, these parents were actually pissed off at God (or whomever is in charge of life down here) for allowing their child to be terminally ill. When I would meet with them,  I was just the “stupid staff psychotherapist” who knew nothing about their dying children and was just there to get them to be “nicer” to the staff.

These parents had every reason to be angry. The way they were expressing it wasn’t helping their kids (or anyone, really), but as one parent told me, “How could God let this happen to a five-year-old kid? How could He give him a brain tumor that would kill him before his sixth birthday?”

My response: “I have no idea how God could let this happen. No idea. None.”

This usually slowed the parent down. Then I continued: “But, I would imagine how helpless I’d feel if I couldn’t save my own child from an early death (long pause) and what do you do with that helplessness?”

Then, they cried. Behind their anger was sadness, helplessness and tears that were afraid to come out. These amazing parents, who had been through unimaginable pain and sorrow, were terrified to admit what the real problem was: my child is dying and I can’t stop it.

(Long pause)

So, I wonder: is it possible to cry for no reason? I doubt it. Don’t we always have a reason for our tears, our sobs, our weeping? We may not be conscious of the reason, but it’s there.

More times than not, when I meditate/pray I find myself weeping, unsure of why. When I make a gentle inquiry into what’s going on, I discover that I am sad for the world, the pain in the world, all the people suffering, hungry and dying. It isn’t about me, I’m feeling empathy, sympathy and connection with all the other people in this sad, beautiful, crazy, terrifying, exhilarating world we live in. I am crying for us all.

You too?