Flashback to sixteen years old when I was desparately trying to get my Dad to understand why I was so angry with him. Today I can’t tell you what I was upset about. What sticks with me is the ‘Aha’ moment when my Dad told me to Stop Crying. Totally frustrated I said, “I cry, that’s what I do. Please just listen to what I’m saying.” And miracle of miracles, he did.

What I learned from this episode:

  1. I was done apologizing for my tears. Growing up I was constantly told crying was a weakness and to cut it out. Well, to hell with that.
  2. Crying has its cathartic quality but sometimes it can also be more of a reflex of the fight or flight variety, like shortness of breath or an increased heart rate.
  3. Some of us have a low tearfulness threshold and those who don’t have to put up with us and love us anyway.

Recently an article in the New York Times Science section, The Muddled Tracks of All Those Tears, brought this all back to me. Psychologist/scientists have collected data to support the idea that there is more to crying than meets the eye, so to speak. Like most natural phenomena, it’s more complicated than it looks.

One experiment studied a bunch of women watching “Steel Magnolias.” I may be wrong but it could be they were crying because they were so happy to have a rare afternoon off to watch a movie.

Hollywood would have us believe that crying in the therapy session is practically required. The Kleenex company had an entire ad campaign centered on cathartic crying with a guy and a red couch out on the street, with, of course, the ubiquitous box of tissues. (I always wondered about that guy’s credentials.) I’ve actually had patients apologize to me because they are not crying. And for crying, too. It’s not rare for someone to sob, “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

That’s OK. It’s all good. It’s like what Freud said about his cigar. Sometimes a tear is only a tear. And sometimes there may be a thought behind the tear worth looking at. Either way I’ve got the tissues ready.