The Beauty of Crying
I was sitting at my kitchen table this morning and sipping a freshly made coffee. It was a good attempt, as the milk was frothed to silky. (Silky coffee is a “thing” in the Hancock household.) The heater had been preset so the room was warm the minute I walked in, and so having coffee in a cozy and comfortable environment was a lovely way to start the day. If an outsider were watching the scene, they would probably say that God was in her heaven.
It was at that point I burst into tears.
I cried until the pressure in my chest and head eased. Then I pretty much just went on doing the things that needed to be done.
So what the hell happened?
I am fully aware that I am not unusual or weird in terms of having teary patches. I know this because my clients, friends, and family, young and old, male and female, confide in me that they will be often be pushed to tears for seemingly little reason. Strangely, they always state this with embarrassment and regret. When did tears become a thing to cause us embarrassment? How did we form the association between tears and weakness? Should crying not be publicly acknowledged?
Crying has a purpose. Like many of the functions built into our physiology, very little of what we do is a wasteful process. While there is quite a lot of research in this area, it doesn’t really come together to give us any distinct answers, but I’ll lay out what we know.
Some research has focused on the idea that crying, from an evolutionary perspective, allows an infant’s needs to be met. In essence, if an infant’s needs for warmth/food/comfort are satisfied, then their crying should cease – and in essence, this “demand and supply” cycle is thought to lead to good coping mechanisms as an adult (Soltis, 2004).
Other research has focused on crying as being an interpersonal strategy that we can use to attract attention and support – a “cry of pain” or a “cry for support”. In essence, if I am lonely, I cry, a friend gives me a hug, and my needs have then been met (Gracanin et al, 2018).
Then there is the intrapersonal theory which suggests that crying is cathartic and promotes the release of oxytocin while activating the parasympathetic response (Gracanin et al 2015). More precisely, crying is a way of activating our calming response from a physiological perspective.
Never sure if one of these floats my boat more than others, I think realistically that the most sensible idea is to mix them all together and be a bit eclectic about it. Crying serves a purpose on both a social and an individual level. We cry to release. We cry to get support. We cry because we learned to adapt to our family. Whichever it is, crying serves a purpose, so there is actually no reason that it should be something we squelch and squash. If we do squelch and squash our tears, it perhaps is just another way that we are turning ourselves into the Facebook generation of social marketers, where negative or distressing emotions are things that damage our brand.
Frankly, my mission is to remove this need to brand so that we humans have the confidence to be ourselves. Allowing the tears (as with all of our emotions) to come and go is incredibly empowering and there should be more of it.
P.S. After my morning cry, I went back to that silky coffee and enjoyed every last drop of it!