Tears As An Emotional Outlet

Have you ever had a bad day that any minor inconvenience instantly triggers your tears? A few days ago, my roommate was having one of those days; I got a text from an unknown number, it was her partner; he told me that she was crying. I went to her room and she told me that she’s fine, and just letting her emotions out. Her partner protested that no, she was not fine because she was crying. I was confused by his reaction. Just let her cry it’s normal; she’s getting negative emotions out of her system. Did you ever go through a similar situation and felt a relief after a “good cry”? Or got confused by your own reactions, such as crying when you feel happy? To clear the picture for you, I will introduce you to the three different types of tears: Basal, Reflex, and Emotional tears. Basal tears prevent our eyes from drying, while Reflex tears gets rid of the irritation of dust particles and smoke. Crying with emotional tears is a unique human reaction and a natural occurrence that is usually associated to the feeling of distress, helplessness, pain and sadness; but those are not the only reasons that triggers this reaction. Crying can occur in positive emotions, such as when a person is experiencing joy, relief, happiness and hope. Drs. Adrianus Vingerhoets and Randolph R. Cornelius, Professors of Psychology, describe crying as “Crying is prominent in that ambiguous class of emotions called 'being moved.' Being moved includes joy with a melancholy overtone, and sadness with a not unpleasant tone, as well as responses to what is appraised as beautiful, endearing, or cute”. Tears of joy are confusing for some people, they find themselves asking ‘I am happy, why am I crying?’ well tears of joy are likely to be accompanied with some prior worry, and a feeling of relief. It is likely to happen when an uncertain change or a serious problem that is considered hard, is met with success and a happy ending, which results in a feeling of relief and bursting into tears. After my roommate calmed down, I asked her if she felt better; she said what many of us would say “I feel better after a good cry.” Most of us would feel mentally balanced after purging our negative emotions. But that doesn’t mean that every time we cry, we will experience relief, it depends on the environment and how the crying is received, if it’s received positively it will benefit the crier. As Dr. Lauren M. Bylsma, a psychologist, explains “Crying benefits the crier via the empathy, sympathy, pity and/or comfort that this behavior elicits from others”.

Feeling relief after crying occurs when the person crying receives a positive reaction and comfort from another person. Some argue that the brain releases endorphins that acts like a pain reliever to help improve the mood. It’s believed that crying helps the body get rid of the toxins and chemicals that the emotions caused via the tears. According to Dr. William H. Fery a Biochemist, and the Director of the Psychiatry Research Laboratories at St. Paul-Ramsey Medical Center Minnesota, ''Crying is an exocrine process” (qtd. in Brody). An exocrine process is when a substance comes out of the body, such as exhaling and sweating to release toxins from the body. Fery argues that crying is the same as those mentioned before and that they release chemicals that the body produced in response to stress. Unfortunately, the research on this is limited and not yet conclusive. Crying is caused by distress and helplessness, which sends a signal to the people around us that we need comfort and care. Ivan Nyklícek who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology and Health, Tilburg University, Tilburg, The Netherlands; says that crying can also be regulated by avoiding the situation that triggers this emotion, or by swallowing down the tears. These two methods are heavily used by men.

While women regulate their crying by actively seeking tear-jerking movies or novels. And it’s no surprise that women cry more than men. Even men’s definition of crying is different; a man describing a recent crying episode would be ‘tearing up without the tears flowing down’ while women report the opposite. An exception that is worth mentioning is, men generally cry for the same reasons as women; for example, the death of a loved one or a break up. But the difference is in the frequencies of crying. So how did this difference happen? According to the article “A Crying Shame” written by Dr. Romeo Vitelli. When boys reach adolescence, they’re usually discouraged from showing their emotions, due to the idea that showing any kind of strong emotion is considered a sign of weakness and less masculine. It’s also instilled in their brains that crying is a ‘feminine’ behavior (Vitelli). Additionally, in many cultures there is a difference over when and under which circumstances males and females are allowed to cry; while females are free to express their emotions and cry, males are encouraged to be more stoic. In recent years, men are being encouraged to be more ‘sensitive’ there is still some strong bias against them crying openly in public. In an effort to comfort my roommate I baked her a chocolate cake; it worked like a charm. So next time when you are trying to comfort a crying person, do not tell them to stop crying; because they will stop crying when they’re comforted. Scientists and Researchers still don’t know much about crying and the mechanism behind it, and I think it’s an emotion that we should express freely instead of repressing it.

Works Cited

  1. Brody, Jane E. “Biological Role of Emotional Tears Emerges through Recent Study.” The New York Times, 31 Aug. 1982. Bylsma, Lauren M., Ad JJM Vingerhoets, and Jonathan Rottenberg “When Is Crying Cathartic?: An International Study.”
  2. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, vol.27, no.10, 27 Oct. 2008, pp.1165-1187. Nyklícek, Ivan, Lydia Temoshok, and Ad Vingerhoets, eds. Emotional Expression and Health: Advances in Theory, Assessment and Clinical Applications.
  3. Hove, Routledge, 2004. Vitelli, Romeo. “A Crying Shame.” Psychology Today, 4 Nov. 2013. Vingerhoets, Adrianus, and Randolph R. Cornelius. Adult Crying: A Biopsychosocial Approach. Hove, Psychology Press, 2012.
01 February 2021
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