A woman whose spouse recently died stated her goal for coming to therapy:

“I do not want to cry every time someone asks me how I am doing. I am a very private person, and it embarrasses me when tears flow and I am in a public place with others.”

Many who grieve are open about their loss and the tears that come. They may even welcome the opportunity to share their grief story. Others who grieve find these public moments of sorrow produce anxiety because they feel self-conscious. They prefer to mourn privately.

What is happening when we have a spontaneous surge of sorrow? What is the purpose of tears? Some scientists believe it is an evolutionary signal of distress, sent to the tribe to take care of the person in emotional pain. Others believe it may be a neurobiological regulatory response to the buildup of tension. Tears allow a release that ultimately calms the body, lowers the blood pressure and relaxes other physical forms of tension.

These surges of sadness and tears can come quickly. The bereaved woman mentioned above learned to discreetly take a deep breath before responding. This step created enough space between the question and her response to decrease the anxiety she felt when the question was asked. We also made sure she intentionally created private time each day to journal her thoughts and feelings about her loss and let her tears come as needed.

CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of my book “Getting Grief Right.”

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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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