I am an empath through and through. This is something I actually pride myself on. And especially within the last year and half, when emotions have been higher than ever, I have spent a significant amount of money on Kleenex (and toilet paper). Turns out, that’s not the only reason I turn into a blubbering, crying mess while I am scrolling through Instagram reels. Proud as I may be of my emotions, there’s an actual science behind the reason that some people cry more than others.
According to an article on Medium, “Crying is the basis of what makes us human. It allows us to be vulnerable while alerting the world to our existence. We cry to be heard, but also to let others know that we hear them.” Basically, crying is an empathetic response. As we grow from babies, crying shifts from a way of communication to our way to connect with other humans.
Growing into adulthood, I have definitely noticed a shift in the things that trigger a crying response. As a result of trauma, for a long time I felt like I couldn’t cry. It felt like a form of weakness, and I for sure was not about to let anyone around me, let alone my abuser, for one second think they were going to have the upper hand on my emotions. As I have healed, I cry for all kinds of reasons, but I have come to understand that crying itself is not negative. Of course I cry when I’m sad, but also when I’m happy, angry, worried, overwhelmed, and extremely grateful. Crying is a peak response to my extreme emotion, and that emotion is not always sadness.
And if you ever notice that your children (or you) are crying way more at home, there’s a reason for that. Lauren Bylsma, PhD, assistant professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh, states, “People are more likely to cry in a situation in which it is socially acceptable and in which they are more likely to receive positive reactions from others (that is, at home with one or two other close friends versus in a professional setting around many strangers or acquaintances).” This, in my opinion, makes it even more important for us as parents to provide our children with a safe space to express their emotions. Annoying as it may be for my four year old to break down over a missing Hot Wheels car, home is the exact place he should be having meltdowns. It’s all starting to make sense!
Things such as culture, the responses we’ve gotten when crying, and gender norms all have an effect on when and how much people cry, according to a study published in Frontier. The study showed that men and boys tend to feel more shame when expressing sadness. They were also more frequently encouraged to express more hostile emotions such as anger. We’ve all heard the “Boys don’t cry” crap, right?!
Thankfully, as we progress (slowly but surely) we are changing the ways that we respond to our children and their experiences. One can only hope we raise a generation in which crying is acknowledged for what it is: a biological human emotional response. I, for one, am better because of the tears.
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