When I was a child, anything could trigger tears. Throughout elementary, middle and high school, I experienced bullying and I was certainly no stranger to crying (I’ll save a discussion on bullying for another time). In college, I recall a fellow student who I was only acquainted with coming up to me as I cried alone in a study room. He simply asked if he could help me in any way. Despite my embarrassment, I was comforted by his kindness and presence during a time of distress.
As an adult, I find myself crying regularly. It’s natural for me. And the older I’ve become, the more comfortable I’ve grown in terms of crying in front of others. Sure, I’ve excused myself in professional settings to cry in private, but there have been times in my life where I just couldn’t hold back tears. At work this past year, I found myself crying in front of my organization’s leadership team after sharing terrible news: my sibling’s schoolmate had died by suicide. Since I work at a mental health organization, I reasoned that it would have been inauthentic of me to not share the news, especially since I’m rather passionate about suicide prevention. I am glad that I felt it was okay to share and cry in front of others. No one in the room told me I was weak. A sense of relief came over me as my colleagues offered much needed support. One of them told me it was very brave of me to share. I took this as a compliment.
Why Do We Cry?
Humans cry for different reasons. Experts have explored reasons for crying, beyond the typical assumption that we’re either sad or happy. According to Stephen Sideroff, PhD, assistant professor at the Department of Psychiatry & Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA, crying serves as a release from “a buildup of energy with feelings.” According to Jodi DeLuca, PhD, neuropsychologist at Tampa General Hospital, “when you cry, it’s a signal you need to address something.”
When we cry, it is usually unexpected. And there’s something about seeing other peoples’ tears that makes us feel awkward. Some people cry more often than most, while others are less likely to do so. According to the American Psychological Association, studies show that women cry more often than men. Unfortunately, society deems it is less acceptable for men to cry. Some consider crying as showing weakness, a stigma that truly needs to change.
It’s Okay to Cry
When we cry, it is important that we do so without fear of displaying vulnerability and weakness. As humans, crying is a normal function of our bodies. If you ever have to cry in front of others, don’t be afraid. You never know who will reach out to you.
If you ever see someone crying, do something about it. Even if you don’t consider yourself the type of person to comfort someone in distress, you may be providing a world of difference. According to Sideroff and Lauren Bylsma, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, here are some tips for helping someone who is crying:
- Know that if you do nothing, you may make the crier feel worse. There is nothing more alienating than crying in front of others and feeling like no one cares. Acknowledging the individual can provide a sense of relief and remind the individual that they’re not alone.
- Attempt to do something supportive. Depending on how well you know the person, act. If you’re not particularly close to the person crying, offering to listen can make a huge impact. If you are close, offering to give them a hug can also help.
- Ask how you can offer support. If you’re unsure how to help, and don’t want to cross any personal boundaries, ask the individual how you can help. They may display discomfort, so respect their response.
- Remember, the size of the group matters. Typically, people tend to cry in front of people that they are closer to. Crying in front of large groups may be more uncomfortable than in situations where a small number of people are present.