If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. Crying when angry is a common response, and often, it feels impossible to control. It’s also frustrating as heck since angry tears can make it difficult to productively argue or make a point. What gives? Here, mental health professionals break down the reason behind angry crying, plus what you can do about it.
Why might you cry when you’re mad?
Crying when angry is largely due to the way emotions are related. “Anger and hurt are two sides of the same coin,” explains Chloe Carmichael, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety. Specifically, anger is connected to a sense of injustice, in which someone might have wronged us or violated our boundaries, explains Dr. Carmichael. On the other end, sadness involves mourning the loss of something, such as a space where we felt secure. Thus, when you feel anger in the face of a threat or attack, you may also grieve over losing a sense of safety and trust.
Anusha Atmakuri, LPC, counselor and founder of Antara Counseling and Wellness, echoes this notion, offering another way to look at the link between anger and sadness. “On an emotional level, the underlying [cause of] anger may be hurt, sadness, betrayal, guilt, etc. So, when we experience the root reason underlying the anger, we may feel helpless or unable to clearly understand or express ourselves,” says Atmakuri. For some, this can lead to an intense release of energy, causing the dam to break.
Is crying when angry a healthy response?
First, it’s important to understand the function of crying, and why we shed tears, to begin with. “Crying is an instinctive self-soothing mechanism by the body,” says Atmakuri. So much so that it’s common to feel calmer after a good cry, as crying is such a cathartic experience, she notes.
Even the term “a good cry” proves just how stress-relieving crying can be. In fact, tears contain the stress hormone cortisol, according to Dr. Carmichael. So, when you cry it out, you may also be reducing stress levels in the body.
All that said, crying when angry is not a mark of unhealthiness, says Dr. Carmichael. “It’s logical to feel a poignant sense of sadness and anger,” she says. Atmakuri also believes it’s a healthy response, noting that there are benefits to the reaction. For example, it can indicate that there’s something beneath the anger that needs attention (which is a good thing, BTW). Angry tears can also have a stress-relieving or self-soothing effect, as mentioned, and it might even foster closeness and empathy with others, says Atmakuri.
Is it even possible to stop crying when you’re mad?
“While crying when angry can be normal and healthy, you may not always want to,” acknowledges Atmakuri. For instance, in a work setting, shedding tears might be considered unprofessional. Likewise, if you need to address an important topic, crying can get in the way of making a point. Not to mention, it can be frustrating to feel like you’re losing control of your response, resulting in even more angry tears.
Fortunately, if you want to be more regulated in certain moments, it’s totally possible, says Atmakuri. In general, the most successful approach is to replace crying with another action, according to Dr. Carmichael. Remember, crying serves many purposes, including releasing energy and alerting others that this is a high-stakes situation for you, she notes. By pivoting to something that can help fill that role, you may be able to pump the brakes on the waterworks.
One option is to step back and take a break. This can be especially helpful in professional or public environments, where you can hang out in the bathroom or in your car for a few minutes. During this break, Atmakuri recommends taking deep, calming breaths to relax your body and mind. Dr. Carmichael also notes that sipping on ice-cold water can do wonders, as it will help you physically (and mentally) cool down. Basically, by pressing pause on the situation, you’ll give yourself the space you need to recenter before returning to the conversation.
In other cases, if you’re expecting to enter a tense convo and anticipate angry tears, jot down three or four points you want to make in advance, suggests Dr. Carmichael. After all, angry crying can make you feel socially anxious, potentially causing you to lose what you’re trying to say. But by establishing several talking points, you’ll have something to ground you if your composure slips, says Dr. Carmichael.
If you’re unable to find support in focusing on other actions, another strategy is to acknowledge your crying straight out. Take a tip from Atmakuri who will directly address her tears when she feels them coming on while she’s trying to communicate. She might say something like, “I’m just reacting to this difficult conversation. Please pay attention to what I’m saying, not my crying.”
Ultimately, by practicing self-awareness and narrating your experience, you’ll be able to take ownership of your response while openly communicating with the other person, notes Dr. Carmichael.
Exploring your relationship with anger can help you over time
Although the aforementioned techniques can ease angry crying in the moment, it’s still worth digging deep and understanding why you cry when you’re mad. This level of understanding will give you the necessary tools to manage the response, anticipated or not. It’s also key for self-awareness, self-love, and self-growth, says Atmakuri.
Begin by taking an inventory of your beliefs about anger—which, contrary to what many people think, is not a wasted emotion, says Dr. Carmichael. Ask yourself: What are my underlying beliefs about anger? Are these beliefs always true? What do I associate anger with? What is my anger trying to tell me? Write them down and read them over. By seeing your beliefs on paper, you’ll gain insight into how you respond to anger-inducing scenarios.
It may also help to unpack specific encounters that have prompted angry tears. Atmakuri explains further: “Start by identifying what [part of] the situation triggered anger. Then ask yourself what thoughts or beliefs you had about the situation. Next, identify the emotions you feel about that thought. Our emotions are a result of our perceptions. So, understanding our emotions and identifying the thoughts that led to those emotions helps us identify why we might have cried.”
So, if tears are part of your anger response, there’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. As Dr. Carmichael notes, crying is a healthy function of emotions, and it can be used constructively. To learn how to handle this response, give yourself space to reflect on your relationship with anger via journaling and therapy. With time and practice, may be able to control your tears, or at the very least, accept them.
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