The Power of Crying: Why You Should Let It All Out!

Narjust Duma, MD · Duma Lab


November 09, 2021

Growing up, we were taught that crying was a sign of weakness or lack of control. I remember my surgeon mother telling me not to cry in front of people as they would see me as a weak person, and I would quickly dry my tears and put on the same brave face that I saw many times on my mother. She had navigated a male-dominated environment since she was a medical student in the early 1980s, and through her entire career, being weak was not an option for her.

As the years passed, I continued to suppress tears or at least hide them very well. I would run to the hospital bathroom or wait until I was in my car to let my emotions flourish and cry. I thought my patients did not want to see me crying because it would make them feel like I did not have control of the situation.

During oncology training, you quickly learn that a tissue box is required in each patient room. Tissues can be used for happy or sad tears. You are trained to offer a tissue to your patients immediately after they start crying. As the years passed, I struggled with this scenario. I did not want my patients to feel like crying was not okay when it is a healthy coping mechanism.

I often see a sense of relief after my patients have cried for several minutes; they have taken minutes to deal with the emotions. I tried several approaches over the years and found that waiting for 1-3 minutes and then offering them a tissue was appropriate in most cases — but, most importantly, I did not say anything during that time. The best part of this new approach was letting my patients cry in silence without providing more information about their care or future treatments. Why? Because of the healing power of crying.

Crying has healing characteristics; it provides comfort, relief, and stress management. It also provides a few minutes of quietness to organize thoughts and feelings. Crying is not a sign of weakness but bravery to show your emotions in front of other people. In a world full of claimed superhumans, being vulnerable is an act of bravery itself.

As I continued to learn about the power of crying, I started thinking about the power of crying on myself and my colleagues. Can doctors cry in the room with their patients? Will the patient-physician relationship be negatively affected if they see me crying? I did not know the answer, so I asked. I asked my patients how they would feel if I cried with them; many stated that was a sign that your doctor cares about you, and others reported that crying with company is always better. I was surprised by their responses; it was okay to cry in the room with my patients.

But what about when the crying is not about a patient? When we are sad due to losing a colleague, dealing with failure, or feeling overwhelmed during a world pandemic, is it okay to cry? The answer is YES! As healthcare providers, we need to give ourselves the same grace that we often give our patients.

We are humans; like many sci-fi movies have taught us, the difference between humans and robots is our emotions. Crying has the power of healing and allows us to move forward. I no longer see crying as a sign of weakness but a sign of strength. It takes more to be vulnerable than to pretend to be okay.

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About Dr Narjust Duma
Narjust Duma, MD, is originally from Venezuela, born of a Colombian mother and Dominican father. She completed her internal medicine residency in Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and fellowship at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Her clinical interests include the care of women with lung cancer, including their unique aspects of cancer survivorship. She is the principal investigator of the Sexual Health Assessment in Women with Lung Cancer (SHAWL) Study, the largest study to date evaluating sexual dysfunction in women with lung cancer. She also has opened the first clinic in the Midwest dedicated to women with lung cancer only.

Dr Duma is a leading researcher in gender and racial discrimination in medical education and medicine. She is the recipient of the 2018 Resident of the Year Award by the National Hispanic Medical Association, the Mayo Brothers Distinguished Fellowship award, and the 2020 Rising Star award by the LEAD national conference for women in hematology and oncology. Connect with her:
Twitter: @NarjustDumaMD
Instagram: narjustdumamd

The Duma Lab, formerly known as the Social Justice League, was founded in August 2019 and focuses on social justice issues in medicine, including discrimination and gender bias in academic and clinical medicine, cancer health disparities, and medical education.


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