The Benefits of Crying – Free Ebook

One of the wisest things about young children
is that they have no shame or compunction

whatsoever about bursting into tears, perhaps
because they have a more accurate and less

pride-filled sense of their place in the world:
they know they are extremely small beings

in a hostile and unpredictable realm, that
they can’t control much of what is happening

around them, that their powers of understanding
are limited and that there is a great deal

to feel distressed, melancholy and confused
about. Why not then, on a fairly regular basis,

sometimes for only a few moments at a time,
collapse into some highly salutary sobs at

the sheer scale of the sorrow of being alive?
Unfortunately, such wisdom tends to get lost

as we age. We get taught to avoid being, at
all costs, that most apparently repugnant

(and yet in fact deeply philosophical) of
creatures: the cry-baby. We start to associate

maturity with a suggestion of invulnerability
and competence. We imagine it may be sensible

to imply that we are unfailingly strong and
in command of what is going on.

But this is, of course, the height of danger
and bravado. Realising one can no longer cope

is an integral part of true endurance. We
are in our essence and should always strive

to remain cry-babies, that is, people who
intimately remember their susceptibility to

hurt and grief. Moments of losing courage
belong to a brave life. If we do not allow

ourselves frequent occasions to bend, we will
be at great risk of one day fatefully snapping.

We labour under the misapprehension that the
only thing that could justify tears would

be one clear and unambiguous catastrophe.
But that is to forget how many miniscule elements

go wrong every hour, how much supposedly ‘small
things’ can impact us and how extremely

heavy they may end up feeling in a bewilderingly
short time.

When the impulse to cry strikes us, we should
be grown-up enough to consider ceding to it

as we knew how to in the sagacity of our fourth
or fifth years. We might repair to a quiet

room, put the duvet over our heads and give
way to unrestrained torrents at the horribleness

of it all. We easily forget how much energy
we normally have to expend fending off despair;

now at last we can properly allow despondency
to have its way. No thought should be too

dark any more: we are obviously no good. Everyone
is evidently extremely mean. It’s naturally

far too much. Our life is – undoubtedly
– meaningless and ruined. If the session

is to work, we need to touch the very bottom
and make ourselves at home there; we need

to give our sense of catastrophe its fullest

Then, if we have properly done our work, at
a point in the misery, some idea – however

– minor will at last enter our minds and
make a tentative case for the other side:

we’ll remember that it would be quite pleasant
and possible to have a very hot bath, that

someone once stroked our hair kindly, that
we have one and half good friends on the planet

and an interesting book still to read – and
we’ll know that the worst of the storm is


Despite our adult powers of reasoning,

the needs of childhood constantly thrum within
us. We are never far from craving to be held

and reassured, as we might have been decades
ago by a sympathetic adult, most likely a

parent, who made us feel physically protected,
kissed our forehead, looked at us with benevolence

and tenderness and perhaps said not very much
other than, very quietly, ‘of course’.

To be in need (as it were) of mummy is to
risk ridicule, especially when we are a couple

of meters tall and in a position of responsibility.
Yet to understand and accept one’s younger

longings in fact belongs to the essence of
genuine adulthood. There is in truth no maturity

without an adequate negotiation with the infantile
and no such thing as a proper grown-up who

does not frequently yearn to be comforted
like a toddler.

In sensible households, we should all have
signs, a bit like the sort they have in hotels,

that we can hang on our doors and announce
to passers by that we are spending a few minutes

inside doing something essential to our humanity
and inherently connected to our capacity to

live like a grown-up: sobbing like a lost

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