Why do I cry when I'm angry?

Why do I want to cry a lot, especially when I’m angry?

This month’s Ask a DEI Professional question is about crying when angry. Our questioner writes:

This might seem like a strange question for a man to ask, but I want to cry a lot, especially when I’m angry. Something will get me steamed, but instead of speaking up or doing anything about it, I’ll get overtaken by a powerful need to cry.

I don’t cry, of course. Mostly I just clam up, and people in my life think I’m not very sensitive. I don’t know what my question is. I’m mostly confused by this.

Thanks for your question! We have replies from two of our Dynamic Emotional Integration® professionals.

Gregg Rozeboom answers:

Gregg Rozeboom, a smiling white man with dark brown hair and facial hair.
Gregg Rozeboom

Your question resonates with me and my own experiences of being confused by a strong need to cry at times when crying would have been socially awkward. I used to fear attending meetings because I was so anxious that I couldn’t hold myself together. Suppressing my emotions seemed the only technique available to me in overwhelming situations.

Thankfully, my confusion led me to search for a book about my complicated feelings. I came across Karla McLaren’s book, The Language of Emotions, in 2019 and began appreciating the incredible insights my emotions bring to all situations. Confusion put me on the right path to comprehending the wisdom in my emotions.

Understanding Emotions

The key to working with emotions is understanding their function and the information they are trying to bring us. When a situation occurs, our emotions arise, and we sometimes act instantly, such as when a car slams its brakes in front of us, and we feel a sudden mix of fear and anger, giving us the instant energy to tap our brakes and swerve if necessary.

At other times when fear and anger arise, we should take our time to consider the intelligence in our emotions, lest we respond too rapidly and unintentionally hurt ourselves or others. Often, we need to slow down and listen to our emotions rather than exploding with or suppressing them.

Working With Your Emotions

It is essential to check in with your emotions regularly. Sadness arises to help you ground and relax, so you can check in with your sadness and ask: “What must be released?” or “What must be rejuvenated?” When anger arises, you can ask: “What do I value?” or “What must be protected and restored?”

Your question led me to reflect and realize that it has been years since I’ve tried to suppress my tears in the middle of a tense business meeting. Learning about my emotions through Empathy Academy and using the suggested empathic practices helped me gain the appreciation that each of my emotions brings to me. Some exercises that helped me access the wisdom of my sadness were Getting Grounded and Focused, Rejuvenation, and the Defining Boundaries practice.

Thank you for your question!
~Gregg Rozeboom

Sherry Olander answers:

Headshot of Sherry Olander, a smiling white woman with brown eyes and brown hair.
Sherry Olander

I love this question, because I think it’s an experience a lot of people can relate to and it seems to make no sense! That is, until you begin to understand the dynamics between the different emotions.

Each person’s specific reasons for this may be different, but a common scenario for people going to tears and sadness when they’re angry has to do with their skills with setting boundaries and/or their ideas and agreements (we call these contracts) around anger itself.

Is it OK to feel Angry?

Many people have contracts that sort of forbid them from feeling or allowing anger. These contracts are usually created for really important reasons that worked very well at some point in their lives.

Some examples of reasons why people might create these anger-exiling contracts are:

  • Growing up in an environment where anger was expressed in harmful ways, a person might make a promise to themselves to never allow this emotion into their psyche so as not to hurt others.
  • Learning from parents, teachers, or culture that anger is wrong, or getting punished or ridiculed for expressing it, a person will likely learn to repress it as a way of being accepted.
  • If a person was not allowed to set their own boundaries or make their own choices, if they never learned how to respectfully set boundaries, or again – if they were ridiculed for any of this, they will likely opt to repress their needs instead (and therefore learn to silence their anger).

And here is where sadness comes into the picture. Because, if anger’s gifts are called for and we don’t have access to them, something else needs to give. And letting go (sadness’s specialty) of a need or value is a great second choice in these situations.

So if a boundary is crossed, or if your sense of self is threatened, anger might start to arise and then quickly get pushed out of the way by sadness, which arises to help you let go of the problem instead of address it.

I also want to note that crying isn’t always connected to feeling sad per se. Sometimes it’s more about the body needing to down-regulate from the intensity it’s experiencing for whatever reason. But of course, your situation gets more complicated because, as you alluded, it’s often not socially “safe” to express sadness and cry (especially for men). So your sadness can’t even really come in as a second choice to help you here.

Developing Emotional Skills

So where does this leave you? If a person feels a strong need to cry but cannot in the moment, it can be helpful to internally acknowledge the need and perhaps find other ways to at least help the body relax (breathing or movement works for some people, but each person is different).

My suggestion for understanding more about what’s going on for you in these times is to take time to learn how to identify what you’re feeling as specifically as possible (here is an emotional vocabulary list that may help!). Research has shown that simply developing a more specific emotional vocabulary and identifying what you’re feeling will automatically improve your emotional skills.

At first, you may not be able to do this in the moment, but that’s ok! You can look back at something that happened and feel into it after the fact.

The other thing I would suggest is exploring your ideas about anger to see if there are any contracts you have in regard to this emotion that might no longer serve you. If so, you can look toward the Burning Contracts practice to change any outdated ideas or beliefs.

Good luck!

~Sherry Olander

In this video, Karla talks about the importance of anger and good boundaries:

We hope this is helpful!

Thanks so much for your question and for working to welcome and understand your emotions.

Have you ever felt a similar struggle to what our person asked about above? How did you deal with it? Share your thoughts and comments with us below!

Each month, we’ll choose a question or two for our licensed Dynamic Emotional Integration® professionals to answer right here on our Empathy Academy blog.

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