Let’s face it, no one is neutral about crying. Angie cried at work – a lot. She cried when she got her bonus. She cried when she was having boyfriend problems at home. She cried when she was frustrated over a client interaction. She cried when there was a conflict with a co-worker. It caused her boss to pull her aside during her review and insist that she had to stop tearing up at “every little thing,” as a condition of her continued employment. He encouraged her to “toughen up.” So Angie did as she was asked, and the tears stopped.
Was her boss right?
Most of us apologize for our tears, try to hide them, and to comfort others when they weep openly. However, there is an unspoken disrespect we culturally harbor for the person who is prone, like Angie, to tear up often, assuming that person is incapable of “controlling” their feelings and thus, is somehow inferior. Most importantly, crying makes us very uncomfortable, whether we are the one crying or the one witnessing the tears – especially in a work environment. So, what’s the big deal about a little crying? Is it actually healthier to not cry so often and openly?
Why We Cry
We cry for 4 reasons:
Emotional release of anger, joy, sadness, frustration, physical discomfort and even deep connection with others. This release is biochemical, and can often catch the person crying unaware. Scientists hypothesize that the energy build up creates chemical stressors in the body that need release – which explains why we feel release after a good cry.
Social function also comes into play, since we gain sympathy, if not empathy, from those who see us cry. This can be (and thus is often perceived as) manipulative – designed specifically to gain the sympathy tears generate.
Survival mechanisms are at play when it comes to tears. Many times our unconscious signals us of unaddressed emotions that many agree can lead to stress-related illness. Tears are a signal that something is wrong. But early in life tears are simply a basic communication tool when we are non-verbal.
Tears are also a response to a vulnerability and openness to deep truth and exceptional beauty. This is a spiritual form of tears many do not acknowledge – a “melting” of the heart that Stephen Sideroff, PhD, a staff psychologist at Santa Monica–University of California Los Angeles & Orthopaedic Hospital and clinical director of the Moonview Treatment Center in Santa Monica, California says is, “letting go of their guard, their defenses, tapping into a place deep inside themselves.”
Why Tears Make Us So Uncomfortable
Essentially, we are terrified of strong emotions – mostly our own. Mr. Rogers said it best:
“People have said, “Don’t cry” to other people for years and years, and all it has ever meant is, “I’m too uncomfortable when you show your feelings. Don’t cry.” I’d rather have them say, “Go ahead and cry. I’m here to be with you.”
But for someone to withstand the tears of another person, they must be serenely comfortable with themselves first. Not many of us are that solid in our own sense of self.
Of course, there is the person who is a social manipulator, and we have developed a mistrust of tears for that reason as well. If Angie had cried when she did not get a raise, she might have been guilty of that – but that was not Angie’s trigger.
Also, tears are an intimate, unscheduled act. Work is a place where we prefer to act more like machines, and not acknowledge the human mind is not remotely as linear and rational as we would like to claim. So naturally, we do not have the slightest clue how to maintain decorum, process and scheduled organization our work culture demands, while someone breaks ranks and cries. It is unmanageable. It defies our view of how work must be done – without emotion.
The Tears of Men and Women
Women do cry more than men, regardless of culture or age. Researchers suggest testosterone may be a tear inhibitor to some degree. But interestingly the frequency of crying as a form of healthy emotional release varied greatly between countries with high freedom of expression and social resources (United States, Sweden and Chile were cited) when compared to those with far less (Ghana, Nigeria, Nepal). The high freedom and resource cultures cried more often, while the less free were far more stoic – regardless of gender.
What researchers found was that attachment styles were the real discerning factor between “appropriate” and “inappropriate” crying. In other words, if the individual had a dismissive attachment style – avoided intimate connections with others – they were far less likely to cry, while at the other end of the spectrum, those with preoccupied attachment styles – clingy and dependent on others – were likely to break into tears with very little provocation. These attachment styles belong to both men and women, but were the deciding factor of likelihood of crying before gender.
Our Unrealistic Work View
Out of 120 Million people in the workplace in the United States alone, most of us have been shocked to witness unexpected and unethical behaviors, from illicit affairs, to drugs and alcohol, theft, misuse of company privilege, access or authority, lying, insider information trading , under the table dealings, and outright unlawful activities. Some studies say 60 million of us have personally witnessed such actions in our own workplace. Needless to say, our workplaces are not bastions of high ethical, moral or super-human restraint. Perhaps, if we were to de-mechanize our expectations of ourselves and others, humanizing our work experience, we might become more flexible instead of rigid, more collaborative instead of authoritarian, more dynamic instead of aggressive, more enthusiastic instead of manic. Perhaps we might allow a few more tears with grace and dignity. Or, perhaps, there might be fewer tears to shed.