WHY DO WE CRY?

Crying is an innate characteristic in human beings. It is an involuntary mechanism but we are conditioned to suppress it as we grow up. Actors do seem to voluntarily generate tears but in life, under conditions of intense distress, one cannot regulate its flow but with societal dissuasion against crying, we have learnt to suppress this innate attitude. Children cry a lot and at that age it is an acceptable social behaviour.  As we grow, we strengthen our ego by building defense mechanisms such as denial, acting out, projection, displacement, intellectualization, projective identification, repression, withdrawal, acceptance, tolerance, humour, forgiveness, sublimation and so on to cope with environmental sensory stimuli.

Crying is yet another coping mechanism. We are systematically weaned away from crying as our community concludes it to mean weakness. Collective subscription to such a thought seems to reinforce its applicability in organizations but crying is not a sign of weakness, on the contrary it is an expression of authenticity. It can be argued that at the work place such a behaviour reigns complexity and to over indulge in unabashed crying would indeed be a sight to reckon with. To encourage frequent crying as a relieving mechanism is not the idea rather the objective of this blog is to find that natural crevice to let out a few tears whenever situation is insufferable and that in doing so, one doesn’t become enfeebled.

THE NEW BORN CRY

Crying begins at birth. A newborn infant upon his emergence from his mother’s body is spanked, rather used to be spanked by the doctor. Why? The fetus is inside the mother’s womb, which is immersed in amniotic fluid. The airways and passage into the fetus’s lung is also filled with this fluid. The fetus doesn’t breathe as the womb is bereft of air. From where does the fetus receive oxygen then? It receives it through oxygenated blood from placenta. Upon womb time maturation of the fetus, i.e. upon birth, the baby is separated from both the mother and the placenta and now it is incumbent upon the baby to oxygenate itself through lungs hence it needs to breathe. The initial breaths push out the amniotic fluid from the lung. This is why the doctor used to position the baby upside down and spank them to induce this first cry that triggers breathing, which eventuates in freeing up the lungs and air passage constrictions. These days there are devices to induce suction of fluid from the windpipe and lungs hence spanking is a redundant process. The point however is that crying draws the inceptive breath and we indulge in such a systematic and deliberate campaign to suppress and contain it thereafter.

TYPES OF TEARS

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The lacrimal apparatus (the eye’s tear production and drainage system) produces three types of tears: basal, reflexive and psych or emotional tears. The emphasis of basal tears is to keep the eye lubricated at all times and smooth out irregularities in the cornea. Reflexive tears are figured in a scheme of another sort; they are produced in response to irritants to the eye such as dust, chopping onions, accidental poking of the eye etc. Psych tears are generated during emotional states and this is our main arena of investigation.

Emotional tears encompass both grief, anxiety, frustration, uncontrollable anger, stress etc. as well as happiness, insuppressible laughter, joy etc. Emotional tears are common when a child sees Mufasa (Simba’s father) die in The Lion King. In the movie Schindler’s List when Oskar Schindler says in the end upon perceiving that he only saved 1200 people, ‘Why did I keep the car- ten people right there, this gold pin- two more people’, an adult emotional outburst is natural. In the animation series Tom & Jerry, when Jerry resurrects to life in spite of an anvil falling on him due to the induced chase by Tom and whenever Tom gets caught in some contraption, the emotional laugh tears are conspicuous.

Emotional tears come from the same glands that produce basal and reflexive tears however the composition of chemicals in emotional tears varies from the other two. Again the laugh tears composition also varies from sorrow tears. A teardrop comprises organic substances including oils, antibodies and enzymes. Tear molecules vary; emotional tears have protein-based hormones including the neurotransmitter leucine encephalin (a painkiller), manganese (regulates mood) and prolactin hormone produced during stress-induced danger. Basal and Reflexive tears do not have these elements.

WHAT DOES CRYING ACHIEVE?

88.8 % of the people say they feel better after a cry. Explanations such as ‘it renders a momentary psychological relief as in some kind of tension reduction’ or ‘experiencing a catharsis’ or ‘that it stabilizes moods and is the body’s modality of restoring equilibrium’ and so forth are common expressions.

Here are a few positive effects of crying:

  • Extraction of excess stress hormones such as cortisol from the body. Elevated cortisol levels are mood assassins. Emotional tears have higher levels of adrenocorticotrophic (ACTH) and this chemical triggers cortisol hence it is good to release it from the body.
  • Deep crying provides a conduit for emotions to come out that can provide a respite for clearer thinking. Crying as an incessant tactic will not alleviate one’s trauma or anxiety, as fundamentally these have to be addressed at the causal level through therapy and other techniques.
  • Crying is used as a social technique to tame other’s aggressive behaviour.
  • Crying is a formatively reinforced coping mechanism. Many adults cry as it elicits affection, attention and care from others, which helps one’s lonely state.
  • Though it has scant scientific evidence, it is conjectured that withholding emotional tears may lead to incapacitation in basal tear production. Sjogren’s syndrome is a condition where one doesn’t produce enough basal tears (dry eyes). In this condition, the body’s immune system attacks glands that secrete fluid, such as the tear and saliva glands.

DO WOMEN CRY MORE THAN MEN

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In a research conducted by German Society of Ophthalmology, on an average women cry 30 to 64 times year while men shed a tear between 6 to 17 times a year. Women also cry for longer duration; 6 minutes as against 2 to 4 minutes experienced by men. From a biological standpoint, men have higher levels of testosterone (inhibits crying) and lower levels of prolactin. Prolactin is involved in tears. Women have higher serum prolactin levels (60 % above average male) than men and during pregnancy increased levels are noted hence the frequent crying. Apart from this, men have larger tear ducts hence increased holding capacity over women, which reduce the probability of tear spillage over the eyelid. These statistical and biological data skew our argument towards women crying more often than men however the societal conditioning as stated above seems a more applicable reasoning as to why women cry more often than men. One need not dredge for any coherency of plot here; boys are just not encouraged to cry and they grow into men who clam up feelings. Grown with this conditioning, men neither confess their difficulties nor protest this conditioning hence when a man cries, people construe it as something really consequential because he doesn’t do it often. In organizations, the ‘culture of winning’ super cedes ‘expressing feelings’ hence crying in any of its constituent form is disparaged.

CONCLUSION

Crying, be it biological or social conditioning has a weighty linkage with one’s interpretation of stimuli that one accosts. Each incident or interaction with another person that we experience is interpreted by us with certain intensity. The uniformity of the stimuli may remain the same for all but its interpretation varies which in turn trigger a cry in certain people and other responses such as bitter lament, wailing, anger, frustration, vindication, distraught, anxious, depressed, forgiveness, acceptance, sublimation with humour and many others. Any of these responses will eventually dictate our state at that moment. Though as indicated, there are mature forms of coping such as forgiveness, acceptance, humour etc. one cannot altogether escape crying as existential realities such as death of a loved one, incapacitation due to aging, bereavement, relationship loss etc. is inevitable. There are people who have insulated themselves against such vagaries and have never shed a tear. Nothing bad about this mode of coping.

Crying during any such insufferable moment is not the panacea but can be a great homeostasis restoration mechanism for an immediate relief. Eventually one deals with bereavement only with acceptance but after one has gone through the proper grieving process and this awareness dawns upon one through experience. Crying doesn’t make one less of a man. Famous people have cried in the past. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces visited the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division. He knew 70 % casualty rate was impending. As he saluted each plane as it took off, tears filled his eyes when he told them ‘I’ve done all I can. Now it is up to you.’ George Washington, Andre Agassi, Abraham Lincoln, Tiger Woods, Obama all have shed tears in public. A line that can be eliminated from one’s word stockpile can be ‘Be brave, don’t cry.’

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