Today on A Cup of Jo, I read an article that gave me pause. It was a tip for how to stop yourself from crying.

Commenter after commenter thanked the author for the advice, but on me the article had the opposite effect – it made me want to cry.

I can understand not wanting to cry at work out of concern for appearing unprofessional. But it makes me sad that we feel this way.

Psychologists have increasingly documented that sadness serves important inter- and well as intra-personal functions. As Bonanno, Goorin, and Coifman (2008) explain in their review of the literature on sadness and grief,

From a social functional perspective, expressions of emotion in mammals are evolutionary adaptations to social environments related to the creation and maintenance of social relationships and the organization of inter-individual interactions (Darwin, 1872/1998; Keltner & Kring, 1998). Facial displays of emotion evoke and shape the responses of others by inducing specific emotional responses and reinforcing or discouraging social behaviors (Keltner & Kring, 1998). The facial expression of sadness is thought to support group social behavior by evoking sympathy and helping responses in others (Keltner & Kring, 1998; Izard, 1977, 1993; Lazarus, 1991; Stearns, 1993).

In other words, sadness signals disapproval of particular social behaviors, and elicits help–0r, as Goetz, Keltner, and Simon-Thomas (2010) have argued, compassion.

Sadness also serves an intra-personal purpose. From Bonanno et al. (2008), again:

An extensive body of experimental data has associated sadness with more detail-oriented information processing, more accurate performance appraisals, and less overall reliance on heuristics and stereotyping for decision-making (see Bodenhausen et al., 2000; Schwarz, 1998). Overskeid (2000) has argued that the decreased arousal associated with sadness facilitates problem solving by allowing for the deployment of more time-consuming analytic strategies. Alternatively, Schwarz (1990) suggested that sadness tends to be accompanied by a decrease in people’s confidence in their first impressions. In an attempt to compensate for their insecurity, an individual experiencing sadness may engage in a more extensive deliberation during decision-making. Based on their research showing that induction of a sad emotional state decreases the likelihood of false memory bias, Storbeck and Clore (2005) similarly concluded that ‘with sadness comes accuracy’ (p. 785).

By quashing sadness, then, one denies oneself the opportunity to effectively problem solve in order to improve one’s circumstances, the opportunity to communicate to someone the social inappropriateness of their behavior (communication which has the potential to curb more of this behavior in the future), and the opportunity to receive comfort, support, and help (which in turn may foster social bonding).  It is sad to me that we often short circuit what has the potential to form deep human connection.

Many women reported not crying for fear of appearing weak. But I think that connecting with, and communicating an authentic emotion demonstrates strength. I wish we made more space for men to cry.

Plus, as Louis CK explains (in this story about cell phones), crying often clears the air, making way for an even deeper happiness–a claim recently empirically supported.

In the words of The (very aptly named, for this article) Weepies: “Sometimes rain that’s needed falls.”

What do you think? Have you ever felt the need to cry at work? Do you try not to?

7 replies »

  1. These are great thoughts! It is sad our society sees crying as weak. I try to be alone if it happens, mostly because I don’t want others to feel awkward haha 🙂

  2. What a great post. I did cry at work once, and I think it actually formed a warm bond in a relationship that could have taken a cold turn. Of course, I don’t make crying at work a habit! But I do think that being honest with yourself, and having a good private cry when you really need it will help you process negative/sad experiences and the lessons they have to teach us. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank YOU for sharing, Carina. I’m so glad that your experience crying at work contributed to fostering a positive relationship. I have cried at work before too – twice – but my colleagues were not especially supportive (which I think is also very useful information)! I wish people felt they had permission to be human with one another even in work settings.
    Relatedly, KMKathryn – I wish people felt okay responding to crying with care and support. Like you, I often fear that I will put someone in an awkward position by crying. But I find that they do in fact reach out more often than not.

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