Positively Beautiful: Finding meaning in what makes us cry
Another holiday season has come to a close, and for some people, tears were shed. A whooshing flood of warm, mascara-defeating salt water fills the eyes and escapes down flushed cheeks. Lips quiver, noses run and sometimes tears travel all the wa...
Another holiday season has come to a close, and for some people, tears were shed. A whooshing flood of warm, mascara-defeating salt water fills the eyes and escapes down flushed cheeks. Lips quiver, noses run and sometimes tears travel all the way to the voice, heart and lungs with deep sobs. Can you relate?
Some people are easy criers, moved to tears by Facebook posts, a spectacular sunset, viral videos, school concerts, a Marlo Thomas public service announcement or Christmas hymns.
Others avoid tears at all costs, preferring our regional brand of stoicism. It doesn't mean the feelings aren't there, but they just don't create waterworks. But sometimes tears surprise even tough guys.
Former Speaker of the House John Boehner was noted for his tears nearly as much as political strategy. When Hillary Clinton cried on the campaign trail in 2012, she was cheered by some for showing her vulnerable side and jeered by others for her weakness.
So what's behind our crying?
For most of us, a good cry marked our arrival into the brave new world. It was how we signaled our basic human needs for comfort and food.
Crying is a natural emotional response to feelings, usually sadness or hurt or overwhelm, but also of joy and transcendence.
Crying provides an emotional release, and may help to release stress hormones or toxins from the body.
Not surprisingly, women cry more. But it's becoming more socially acceptable for men to cry, too.
Trying not to cry can be the right choice in a business setting, in a crowd or when you are helping someone else face a difficult challenge. But you can't always suppress the feelings. British psychiatrist Henry Maudsley said, "The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep."
Social worker Mary Lauren Weimer asked people why they cried. Certainly there were stories of pain, loss, heartache and fear, but there were also those moved to tears by music, nature, a special aroma that triggered memories, pomp and circumstance, as well as moments of emotional and spiritual transcendence. She writes in Spirituality and Health, "When we pay attention to the things that make us cry, they give us a rare glimpse of who we are at our core."
I cry in church when the sermon reflects my challenges and inspires my hope to live a better life. I cry when I talk about my son and his deep questions and amazing intellectual connections. Such a future he will have! And I am often moved to tears by the everyday heroes in our region, their stories often shared by WDAY's Kevin Wallevand. Somehow he always chooses the right music for the moment.
I am a witness to tears in my office, often moved by the grace of my patients as they navigate health challenges.
Crying can be awkward for the person crying and people around them. What can you do? Understanding the reason behind the tears is the first step. Is this a cry for help?
Psychologists Stephen Sideroff and Lauren Bylsma suggest these tips:
• Try to do something supportive.
• If you do nothing, the crier feels worse.
• Ask what you can do for them. An empathetic ear goes a long way.
• Ask if it's OK to offer a hug.
What makes you cry? You may just find what makes you truly alive.
Dr. Susan Mathison founded Catalyst Medical Center in Fargo and created PositivelyBeautiful.com. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org .