Do You Need a Good Cry?





You can beat this. Think positive. You can do it. Stay positive.

I know people mean well when they say those things to people facing serious tough times, but I must admit they often rub me the wrong way.

Many caring people uttered those kinds of “encouraging” phrases to me after my cancer diagnosis, but I always had the feeling that they did more for the person saying them than they did for me.

In fact, rather than being comforting and encouraging, those phrases often created more distress in me.

I’m feeling worried the cancer may return, but I have to think positive so the cancer doesn’t come back.

I’m feeling down thinking about all I’ve endured, but I have to think positive so I get healthier.

And the real kicker: If I don’t get cured, it must somehow be my fault because I didn’t think positive enough!

 Don’t get me wrong, I am by nature an optimistic person, but I am also positively positive that being positive all the time is not necessary for those living in cancer’s shadow and in fact I wouldn’t even recommend it for most of us!

In fact, trying to live life by being “up” all the time can create a new problem: “the tyranny of positive thinking.”

That’s the phrase used by Dr. Jimmie Holland, chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. In her excellent book, The Human Side of Cancer: Living with Hope, Coping with Uncertainty, she explains the phrase:

All this hype claiming that if you don’t have a positive attitude
and that if you get depressed you are making your tumor grow faster
invalidates people’s natural and understandable reactions to a threat to their lives.
That’s what I mean by the tyranny of positive thinking.”

The truth is, Dr. Holland says,

“stress, depression, and grief do not increase the likelihood that cancer will develop or
that it will come back if you’ve been treated before.” [2]

I can tell you for sure that if not staying positive made cancer recur, I would have been dead many times over.

Now if by some slim chance you are really the kind of person who likes to think positive all the time, copes with life by always thinking positive and finds it impossible to think any other way, I certainly am not going to tell you to stop thinking positive. But, please don’t expect that everyone else needs to be just like you.

I believe we were created to feel many emotions and that life is best lived when we acknowledge those emotions and express them in a healthy manner. Moreover, I believe tears are really a gift and that everybody—even positively positive people—benefits from a “good cry” now and then.

If you ever tasted a tear trickling down your face, then you know they are salty. But tears are much more than salty water. They’re actually a complex combination of proteins, enzymes, lipids, metabolites and electrolytes.

We all have three different kinds of tears: “normal” tears which continuously keep our eyes lubricated; irritant tears which wash away foreign substances; and emotional tears which we cry for reasons like sadness and pain. Scientists who study tears can look at these tiny drops of water and tell the difference between the first two types and the third kind because emotional tears have much more protein and less oil.

Some tear researchers theorize that emotional tears carry hormones from the brain, which release calming endorphins and flush toxins out of the bloodstream. This helps our body return to a reduced-stress state.

I’m glad my dear friend Norma was willing to cry with me throughout my chemo ordeal. Norma, survived three different cancers before she passed away in her 90s. Her second diagnosis was just a few months before mine, and she called me every month to chat.

“Wanna have a pity party?” she’d ask.

I’d say sure, and for the next half-hour we’d trade poor-me complaints about the side effects of our treatments. Pretty soon we’d had enough moaning and started laughing at ourselves for all the complaining we were doing. (The moral of the story: pity parties are great occasionally; just keep them short and only invite friends who still like to laugh!)

People like Norma and me who don’t repress our tears may have better health, according to many “crying” researchers who think emotional tears may remove toxins from our bodies. Some even theorize that women on average live longer than men because they on average cry twice as much as men!

Many of us need to tell ourselves the truth: that weeping is not a sign of weakness or shame; that tears are indeed a gift to express our deepest feelings. The shortest verse in the Bible is John 11:35: Jesus wept. So if the Son of God can cry, I think we can, too.

Lord, I’m thankful that one day in Heaven You will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and until then, I’m positively happy that we don’t have to stay positive all the time! I pray in the Name of Jesus, who wasn’t afraid to weep. Amen.

[1] Jimmie Holland and Sheldon Lewis, The Human Side of Cancer: Living with Hope, Coping with Uncertainty (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), pg. 14.

[2] Ibid, pg. 30-31

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