Why do we love the stories that make us cry?

Updated: Sep 20


Before we delve into the 'why' question, let's all acknowledge that this is a universal truth:


Sometimes we crave a story

that will make us cry.


Not just a little sniffle either, but a big ugly cry. We all know this is true. It's the reason that so many people love The Notebook or Casablanca or P.S. I Love You.


It's why I bawl when I watch what happens to Lane Frost at the end of 8 Seconds (a true story), even though I know it's coming. Or why I love the episode from Grey's Anatomy when Denny dies while Izzie puts on her prom dress and rides the elevator up to see him, so happy to be in love. Those scenes get me every time.



Maybe the movies that got to you were The Way We Were or Love Story, Titanic or Marley and Me, or even the opening scene in Up! or when Jessie gets forgotten by her owner in Toy Story 2.


And OMG, that song...

Or maybe you still get choked up remembering the TV scenes when Radar told Hawkeye and the others that Henry had died in a helicopter crash, when Mark Green passed on ER, the post-fire scene with Jack on This is Us, or what happened with Lexi and Mark after the plane crash (yes, another scene from Grey's, because it has been on forever and Shonda's the unchallenged queen of emotional scenes),


And that's even before we get to the books that slay us. There are so many, and we each have our favorites. For me, a few that come to mind are The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, Shining Through by Susan Isaacs, and Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon. And also, even though I wrote it, A Whisper of Smoke (if you've read it, you'll know why). For you it may be The Fault in Our Stars, The Kite Runner, All the Light We Cannot See, or one of so many other great books. {Btw, here's a pretty good list of some of the most well-known emotional novels, but it's definitely just the tip of the iceberg: https://www.purewow.com/books/sad-books}



For many of us, the first time we felt this feeling, this need to watch or read something (or even listen to something) that makes us cry, can be traced back to our adolescence and first heartbreak. In my case, it was when Bruce and I broke up. He was the first guy I fell in love with, like the kind of love that when you realize that's what it is, you have to say it out loud. We started out as friends, then became more, and then lies and shenanigans went down and I called it quits in a storm of righteous indignation (rightfully so!). But I was heartbroken. So what did I do? Did I just suck it up and act like nothing happened? No!!


Because, as it turns out, my 15-year-old self was smarter than adult me in lots of ways.


This is what I did: I felt that shit. Back at that time there was only one TV in the house (and we didn't have cable), and the video rental selection was hit or miss. So I turned on my boombox, plopped in those cassettes, and I listened to every sad song I could think of. The most effective were One More Try, by George Michael, Hold On to the Night, by Richard Marx, Could've Been, by Tiffany (Oh, my heart -- what a great breakup song!) and this was the real whammy (and, btw, this song still gets me in the feels), Anything for You, by Gloria Estefan (not that those songs age me at all!!). And I cried.


I cried to my friends, I cried in my pillow, I cried for myself.

And you know what happened?

Afterwards, I FELT BETTER.


My point in telling you this is that sometimes our younger self really does know better. He or she knows instinctively that there are some emotions that need to be felt in order to be released. How many of us, now that we are adults, are carrying enormous pain bodies around with us that eventually make us feel numb? Or overwhelmed? Or stuck emotionally?


Don't you want to be able to feel again?

To heal from the past hurts?

To not feel like you are carrying around lead weights of pain?

To feel like you are moving forward, lighter?


Before we get too far into that part though, let's talk about why our subconscious is drawn to certain stories. I have some theories. But first, I want to clarify the question. I believe it's more than why are we drawn to stories that make us cry. The bigger and deeper question is:


Why are we instinctively drawn to certain

stories that will elicit a specific,

desired emotional response?


I will start off by saying that I am not a licensed therapist nor a spiritual advisor, and these are my opinions based on many years of my own personal experience with intensive therapy and spiritual growth work, so take it as you will and YMMV.


But in my opinion, the quick answer to this questions is because our intuition, when we haven't completely squashed it (don't get me started on that -- that's a post for another day), wants us to resolve something that we need to resolve in order to be healthy, to be happy, or to grow.


Now if you take the above hypothesis as true, that we are drawn to experience that which we need to resolve, then the obvious follow-up question is what are the types of things that we may be dealing with in our subconscious, and how does that inform the type of story we might be drawn to?


I believe there are four primary subconscious

struggles/needs that may be driving our compulsion

to consume certain types of emotional stories:


Struggle/Need #1: The most obvious reason that we may be compelled to consume a certain type of emotional story is that we have been suppressing our day-to-day hurts and painful emotions because we decide or believe or tell ourselves one of these (or other) limiting statements: there's no time to feel it (whatever "it" is); there's no "point" in feeling it; we're afraid feeling it will unleash the floodgates; we don't want anyone to worry about us, we don't want to be "weak"; or we've suppressed emotions for so long, we are numb to them -- we've forgotten how to feel.

In this scenario, I think we are like a tank of emotional gas with the pressure building, and we simply need a release. Our subconscious (or maybe even our superconscious/higher self) knows that this is not good for us, that we are building a massive pain body which is extremely limiting to our wellbeing, health and happiness.


You can read more about what a pain body is and also how your limiting beliefs based on the past are directly attributable to you living in the past rather than the now, when the past does not actually exist (and neither does the future, for that matter) and I highly recommend it: The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle.



So what does our subconscious or superconscious do when the pressure in our emotional gas tank gets too high?

Our subconscious/superconscious pushes

us towards stories that can serve as a

relief valve to relieve some of that

pent-up emotional pressure.


Because we all know what happens when the pressure in a tank builds too much -- it explodes!


And how amazing is that? Our subconscious, or maybe even our higher self (since sometimes the limiting belief is at the subconscious level), knows what we need more than our conscious self does. It knows that periodically, no matter what, we need a default emotional release.


Struggle/Need #2: The second possible reason for feeling compelled to consume a certain type of emotional story is that we have suppressed something traumatic, and our subconscious is seeking out stories with similar events/pain so that we face the traumatic event and feel the associated pain.

This is like an extension of (1) above, except that there's trauma involved. and it seems like a horrible thought, at first blush! But I think that our subconscious is kinder than that statement may initially imply. I don't think it wants to necessarily force you to remember something awful (although that may be a side effect). I think that it wants us to release the pain that we are repressing or holding onto, because the repression/retention is continuing to hurt us. That's not to say that the story we are drawn to may be exactly the same as our own. Rather, it's that...


We are drawn to a particular story because

the feeling that consuming it will elicit

is something that we need to feel.


If this is the case, in order to resolve the subconscious struggle, we will ultimately need to acknowledge that traumatic incident and related pain which we are repressing or holding onto. Often, that repression (which is subconscious) or holding on (which is often conscious) is a secondary indicator of resistance that we are exhibiting as a result of our ego trying to protect us from something that we experienced or are experiencing. The primary indicator, incidentally, is the pain itself that we are either actively feeding or actively repressing.


I believe people often follow this pattern when something traumatic happens in their life:

Traumatic incident ==> Initial pain is experienced and fight/flight/freeze is engaged (natural response) ==> Pain and memories of the incident are repressed as a coping mechanism (defense response) ==> Emotional blockage (and often a loss of insight as to the origin) (unintended consequence)


The problem is, what we should have done was this:

Traumatic incident ==> Initial pain is experienced and fight/flight/freeze is engaged (natural response) ==> Pain is fully experienced without attachment (healthy response) ==> Trauma and pain are processed (healthy response) ==> Traumatic impact is released/power is neutralized (intended consequence)


So maybe what is happening when we get drawn to a particular story which we instinctively know will elicit a certain, desired emotional response because of unresolved trauma pain, is this:


Our psyche is trying to reset us in that trauma cycle,

back to the experiential pain phase,

the part that we previously derailed.


As a result, when you read that book or watch that movie and you do allow yourself to feel in the context of that story, often you (a) feel the relief of releasing the pain you've been repressing/holding inside; and (b) are simultaneously triggered to remember the original trauma, which may cause you a recurrence of that original pain. And here's where you will find yourself at a pivotal decision point. When the trauma and related pain is triggered, do you go back into defense mode and lock yourself back into the first cycle by suppressing the traumatic incident and associated pain once again? Or do you divert and try to let it play out in a healthier way this time?


From my own experience (and in my experience processing trauma with EMDR and other therapies), and because of where I am in the healing process and what support I have, I believe it is better for me to go ahead and let it trigger the traumatic memory and the associated pain. I consciously make this decision because I am in a healthy place and I have good support, and because I know that the traumatic thing already happened, that it's not happening now, and that I no longer want to carry it and any of the associated effects around like an albatross on my back. So I will feel it fully and let it move through me and not latch onto it nor feed it with fear or shame or incremental negativity, and by doing so I am able to process it. Whether you do or not (and/or feel ready to or not) is totally up to you, and I recommend that you talk with your therapist or doctor and support system about it to make safe decisions for you.


And let me also say this. If you are not prepared to process it yet, and if you go back into defense mode and repress it again, that's okay (though I hope that you only do so temporarily, and that you seek help for it, because I want better for you). Because there's still something positive to be gained. Even if you are not quite ready to deal with it yet, just by virtue of going through this experience -- that is, both having the instinctive need to watch or read something that makes you feel a certain way, and then recognizing whatever was triggered by it -- you have identified some valuable information that you can use to continue your healing in therapy or on your own terms. And that, I believe, is also really important.


Sometimes our pain reaction and

our resistance to remembering

are just as informative as our

explicit, conscious beliefs

in coming to understand ourselves.


Struggle/Need #3: The third subconscious struggle/need that may drive us to seek out stories that will elicit a particular emotional response is when we are lacking in the human connections that our soul craves.

This phenomenon of personal disconnection was prevalent during the height of the COVID pandemic, when people were stuck at home, often working from home, isolated from contact with other people for longer periods of time than were previously experienced. But this disconnection can happen at other times too. When we are so stressed or overwhelmed that we do not have enough time or energy to connect with the people in our lives, or even with ourselves, we can reach this level of disconnect. Or when you are in a dysfunctional relationship but do not see an easy way out, you may put up walls that cause you to become disconnected.


For me, I experienced this disconnection when I was in my first marriage, which had become very dysfunctional and toxic. I was not yet emotionally ready to leave the marriage for lots of reasons, and so I put up walls to protect myself. As a result, after a while, not only was I depressed but I was numb. And being numb ripped all the joy out of my life. It was truly awful.


During those times of disconnectedness,

we may crave stories about intense love,

friendships, relationships/marriages,

because we want to remember what that feels like to

be more broadly connected and to experience

deep penetrating love across those connections.


Once again, our psyche is smart! It is not only trying to make us feel better in that moment, it is giving us important signals about what is wrong in our life and what we need to work on and fix! Believe me, now that I have spent the last year on an intensive spiritual journey of meditation, study, self-examination and relearning how to be quiet and listen for and to my intuition, I pay attention to signals like this! These signals are literally the road markers to help us navigate our way to a brighter, healthier future state of being.


Another example of compulsive attraction to certain stories indicative of our inner need for greater human connection is how sometimes we will instinctively seek out stories that force us to examine the plight of others and thus increase our empathy. There are many possible reasons for this:

  1. you have guilt associated with the oppression or mistreatment of others (which may actually be an indicator of Struggle/Need #2 above -- i.e., a repressed traumatic experience and related pain, because trauma doesn't always happen to you);

  2. you are identifying with something from a past life (you might not believe in this, but there's fascinating information out there on reincarnation, and I always encourage an open mind because it might add to your spiritual growth -- Many Lives, Many Masters by Dr. Brian Weiss, is a great starter book on the subject); or


  1. our higher self desires more emotional connection to the world at large, possibly because of your specific soul journey (i.e., you are suffering from "greater human disconnection"). It's this last one that I'll speak to below.

You can think of the phenomenon of personal disconnection I discuss above to be an example of micro-connection deprivation, whereas this second, "greater human disconnection" example is macro-connection deprivation. In either case, once again, our psyche or higher self (or even higher power which I believe is directly connected to our higher self) is guiding us to these stories in order for us to learn something important and, ultimately, to take action. In the case of the latter, the end goal may be simply to expand your connectedness through expanded empathy. So by virtue of consuming the story, you may have completed your higher directive. But it may also be the case that the expanded connectedness through empathy is a first step towards something larger, some greater path in your journey. The key is to be open and willing to follow the path as each step is laid out before you, if it resonates with your soul.


So if you find yourself drawn to those stories, ask yourself if it is because you have lost some of your connections. And then make a plan to rebuild them!


Struggle/Need #4: The fourth primary subconscious struggle/need that drives us to seek out stories that will elicit a particular emotional response is when we subconsciously have a need to shine a light on some aspect of our inner self, or some decision that we need to make.

We'll start with examining examples of aspects of our inner self that we may need to address. Let's say that you are drawn to movies about alcoholics, or depression, though you don't currently consciously call yourself an alcoholic or depressed. Being drawn to these types of stories, especially repeatedly, is yet another signal from your subconscious/superconscious. Listen to it! Maybe you are indeed an alcoholic or depressed, and you need to face up to it so you can take action around it. But maybe not. Maybe you aren't an alcoholic but you have certain harmful addictions that you need to face. Or maybe you aren't the one who's depressed, but your loved one is, and you need to face that reality. Use your intuition and discernment to understand the specific message for you.


Being drawn to a particular story

can be a strong indicator from your psyche

that this is an area that requires attention and work.


Another way to think about this is that the message is coming from your intuition, which I believe is directly connected to the Divine and therefore is for our higher good (now, your intuition can be wrong if it is too enmeshed with your ego, so it's good to work on developing it first through spiritual development and meditation). In either case, listen to the message from your intuition, and furthermore, use your intuition and discernment to understand the specific message for you. And then, for goodness sake, act on it! Even if it's hard. Especially if it's hard.


Even if the immediate effect of recognizing

something uncomfortable in yourself is that

it forces you to deal with something difficult,

the relief of getting to the other side

of that situation is a worthy pursuit.

Perhaps it's the worthiest pursuit.


The other area where our subconscious/superconscious may be leading us by drawing us to certain stories is where we need to make a decision but have not yet faced that need or else have recognized the need but are having a difficult time making the actual decision. For example, have you ever felt particularly drawn to movies about divorce, or making a major life change and quitting your job? I believe that such attraction can be an indicator, especially if you are repeatedly drawn to certain themes, that you need to address a major life decision. Does that automatically mean you need to get a divorce if you are drawn to divorce stories? Or quit your job if you are obsessed with Eat, Pray, Love? No. In fact, your decision may be very different. This is where soul-searching and discernment come in. And should the story tell you what to do? No!


The story and what it elicits in you merely serve as an

indicator from your subconscious or superconscious

that you need to seek out your own guidance

and deal with something important in your life,

including when you need to make a major life decision.


How you seek out guidance is up to you. I meditate and ask my guides (consisting of my spirit guides, guardian angels and ancestors, all of whom I believe God has assigned to me to help me follow my soul journey and achieve my higher purpose). I just recommend that whatever your method, approach it with good intentions for the highest good, listen for the response, and use your intuition and discernment (which hopefully you've been working on) to assess the truth of it, and then take action.


Once you understand the message,

taking action is the whole point!


Conclusion:

To summarize what this all means and the importance of it now that we are at the end, let's go back to the beginning.


As I previously said, my point in writing this post (and also, admittedly, in exploring these concepts for myself, in writing it) is to recognize that sometimes our subconscious self (or if our subconscious is hijacked by our pain bodies, then certainly our superconscious self) really does know better.


Our subconscious or higher self knows instinctively

that there are some emotions that need to be felt

in order to be released,

certain things that need to be faced

in order to find peace,

certain decisions to make or actions to take

in order to grow.


So I'll ask this question again:


How many of us , now that we are adults,

are carrying enormous pain bodies around with us

that eventually make us feel numb?

Or overwhelmed?

Or stuck emotionally?


And I'll also ask this one again:


Don't you want to be able to feel again?

To heal from the past hurts?

To not feel like you are carrying around lead weights of pain?

To feel like you are moving forward, lighter?

To know peace and happiness?


Our higher self wants us to resolve what we need to resolve in order to be healthy, to be happy, or to grow. And this is yet another reason, or perhaps the most important reason, that stories are so important. Because they help us feel what we need to feel, connect in ways we need to connect and face things we need to face.


How powerfully beautiful is that?


Stories are vitally important because

they help us feel what we need to feel,

connect in ways we need to connect,

and face things we need to face.



I would love to hear your feedback and reactions to these thoughts and concepts in the comments below! And if you enjoyed this post, please like and share!


If you are interested in or are on a spiritual journey and are interested in the books and other resources (so far) that have most helped me, click on the link below:


A Spiritual Journey With My Higher Self: A Resource Guide



Note: Some of the links above are Amazon affiliate links. If you use them to purchase products from Amazon, I will receive a small commission from Amazon with no incremental cost to you.



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