How do you react when you see someone cry?
Many of us would be solicitous and keen to find out if we could help. I doubt we’d expect someone who’s upset to apologise for crying and if they did, we’d put it down to their emotional state and probably say, ‘don’t be silly, there’s no need’. We could well offer a hug or an affectionate smile rather than disapproval or criticism.
Of course, there are some people who cry without much provocation. They’re watching a film, or hear an emotional story, see a friend upset or even happily getting married and burst into uncontrollable floods of tears. When these tears are part of a shared experience others can empathise, and may even be aware of feeling emotional too. Sharing what’s important matters and if that includes tears, so be it.
But what about those times when our tears are because we’re genuinely upset, feeling hurt and badly affected by something that’s happened? Tears may be a reasonable response, providing both relief and a release of tension and emotion. Interestingly men, once so sure that ‘real men’ never cried, are becoming better able to allow themselves to show how affected they are when they’re upset. Should anyone need to apologise for that?
However, when it’s only us who are crying, we can feel alone and desolate, perhaps wanting to curl into a ball and hide rather than draw unwanted attention to ourselves. Sometimes things build up, we have a good cry and feel better about it the next day. We may feel we need to cry before we can move forward.
Our tears may be triggered by something specific, like an anniversary, or because we’re feeling vulnerable due to circumstances beyond our control. Sometimes it’s all too much and we’re overwhelmed, stressed and simply need a good cry to clear our heads. A reboot is needed in order to feel better about ourselves.
If we apologise, is it because we’re disappointed at exposing our vulnerability, concerned at exposing a weaker side of ourselves?
Is there concern at being labelled hormonal or emotional? Even without an excessive display of tears, many of us feel compelled to apologise when we cry, as we rummage in our bag trying to find a half-decent tissue whilst wondering if our mascara’s waterproof! Embarrassed at the outpouring of emotion or that we’ve let our anger, frustration, upset get the better of us.
When our crying catches us off-guard it can be disconcerting for both us and for others. We’re left wondering what to say, how to compose ourselves, the best way to recover. Our companions may feel equally awkward too. Sometimes gentle humour or a, ‘you know what I’m like’ may help ease any embarrassment. But is it right to shrug it off or let it pass?
Do we want to conceal how overwhelmed we are by what’s happening in our lives? When we’re with others we’d hope that we’d notice if their behaviour changed and they became withdrawn, moody, or acted out of character. We’d want to be supportive, talk, understand, recognise that something was wrong and try to provide appropriate help. If someone cries too often, without much provocation or reason then that’s a different matter.
But just as we try to make sense of another’s behaviour when they’re stressed or not coping too well, we’d hope they’d be understanding of us too. If something’s really affecting us, talking may not alleviate the need for a good cry but being listened to can be a help. Crying can be an important part of the process.
So, what should we do if someone’s crying? Ask if you can help and let them know you’re happy to listen or simply sit in companionable silence with them. They may not know what’s wrong or what they want. Tears may be part of the frustration they’re feeling and you sitting quietly with them can provide great comfort.
Should crying be something to apologise for? It’s sensitive to be contrite if we upset, alarm or cause others to worry about us, especially if they’re left wondering if they’re responsible for our distress or if it seems to be happening too often. It may be appropriate to explain that tears are your way of releasing tension and overwhelm. Then we can hopefully allay their concerns.
In a work situation, a good manager should be keen to find out why a staff member is crying. Presumably there’s a valid reason for it. Whether it’s a work or personal-related issue, taking care of staff welfare is an important workplace responsibility.
So, should we apologise for crying? It may be appropriate if others are upset or uncomfortable. But then wash your face, reapply your lipstick and resume your life! A good cry can release stress and tension and clear away emotional fog. Should we apologise for that?