Laughing Turns Into Crying: Tears of Joy or Sadness?

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Reader’s Question

I have a question that I hope you can help me out with. I would like to know, from a psychologist’s point of view, if this is really normal: every time I laugh, it turns into crying, and then I get really sad and have to tell myself to stop crying. All the while, I am still laughing and having a smile on my face. This happens during jokes, funny scenes in movies and even tickling. Can you recommend some sort of protocol for me to try? Or can you possibly think of how I can stop this or why this happens? It’s awfully embarrassing in front of people.

Psychologist’s Reply

I can see how this would be confusing to you. However, it is not uncommon for feelings (or tears) to come to the surface at unexpected times. When this happens, chances are there is something deep down that is really bothering you.

Many people deny or avoid feelings that are uncomfortable — on a conscious or unconscious level. People use all different types of strategies to avoid feeling painful emotions — from distracting with work, to using substances to flat out denial. The important thing to remember is that when you stuff down emotions they don’t usually just go away. They can remain bottled up for a very long time and then eventually find their way to the surface.

Bottled up emotions can manifest in the form of a panic attack, or they can come about unexpectedly — even at a time when you are feeling happy. My guess is that when you allow a feeling to come to the surface — even though it is a positive emotion of happiness and laughing — you open the floodgates and your pent up emotions coming pouring out, too.

The best way to deal with this situation is to take an honest look at what you might be stuffing down. Are there any painful experiences from your past that you have not dealt with? It may take a while to get at the source of your emotional pain — especially if you have been bottling up your feelings for a long time. It may help to start by taking a daily inventory of your emotional experiences. Practice checking in with yourself several times a day to see how you are feeling. Be honest. Try to put a label to the various emotions you are having. Remember: we are usually having more than just one emotion at a time. This is one way to start tuning in to your emotional self and increasing your self-awareness.

Once you begin to acknowledge the emotions you are having, the next step is to figure out what you need to do to take care of yourself. Emotions are information. When you listen to them, you give yourself the opportunity to take better care of yourself and to find a way feel better.

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