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Several years ago, there was a commercial for some facial tissue company on television. It was an unlikely "man on the street" scenario of a set of big easy chairs on a busy city street, backed by a pretty park. The concept was for everyday people to sit down and discuss their reasons for using that particular facial tissue. Since these tissues are most often used to stem and blot tears, these commercials concentrated on that topic. One woman's comment stuck with me. Paraphrased here, it was something along these lines:
"Yes, I cry. I'm not afraid to admit it. I will cry again, many times in the future. But my tears do not diminish me, or weaken me. They make me stronger in the long run."What a powerful statement, yes?! I found it so refreshing, as the general consensus of crying openly is looked upon as showing signs of weakness. I have never agreed with that particular consensus and am more inclined to agree with the statement above. When, in the hazy mists of the past, did it become standard choice to equate tears with weakness?
From a good health standpoint, crying is a cathartic release and is much healthier for our bodies than stuffing down our feelings and ignoring sharp emotions. Doing so can lead to all manner of health concerns, ranging from migraine headaches, to high blood pressure, ulcers, skin disorders, digestive problems, autonomic nervous system disorders such as arthritis and more. Yet we persist in doing that very thing...suppressing genuine emotions like sadness, physical and emotional pain, fatigue.
Another piece of this current puzzle I've been piecing together fell into place last week while I was watching one of the cable news stations. A brief story ran mentioning that men who are exposed to women's tears for more than three minutes' time experience a dramatic, albeit temporary, drop in testosterone levels. I found this to be of profound logic. Think about it: testosterone is the hormone which governs that "manly man" alpha male persona. It also governs aggression, physical energy and sexual drive, and is an integral part of the biological makeup of man. Women also have this hormone, although in much smaller amounts.
What I found riveting about this study was the simple fact that merely witnessing a woman's tears causes this brief dip in testosterone levels. This would, in turn, soften that man's normally stoic demeanor, allowing him to offer comfort more easily. Certainly most men readily admit that seeing a woman cry makes them extremely uncomfortable. They don't know how to deal with tears, as the main requirement, as all women know, is not a physical act. It is being present emotionally. Men do much better with actions. They want to identify the enemy and go out and bash its brains in, then they feel they've conquered and addressed the issue at hand. While this is somewhat of a stereotyping scenario, I am talking in general terms here, so I think stereotyping is acceptable in this sense. Tears, literally, "unman" men. I don't necessarily find this a negative, to be honest. I find it quite interesting that this chemical reaction was built into our physiologies. God/Universe/Spirit, in that infinite wisdom, somehow knew there would be those moments when blazing testosterone wouldn't get the job accomplished, so a way was created to reduce that hormone, however momentarily, and allow for softer emotions and a more gentle approach to occur.
And obviously, this was a one-sided study, with only the chemical reaction of men being studied. I daresay that women have some sort of chemical reaction when being exposed to tears as well.
Tears are part of life. We are emotional creatures, after all. We feel...and in doing so, we experience and we grow. Tears can be induced by a wide range of emotions. Sadness, fear, pain, happiness, surprise, raw grief, nervousness, extreme hilarity....they can all prompt tears. I have read some fascinating studies that revealed that different chemicals exist in different tears. A study I watched on a television show over 20 years ago showed that subjects who watched sad movies had a high concentration of oxytocin in their tears. Oxytocin, as most of us know, is the neurotransmitter that is responsible for maternal and partner bonding. Not surprisingly, tears prompted by anger had higher content of testosterone. Tears prompted by laughter had higher levels of serotonin. In light of these findings, it is dramatically clear how truly healthy shedding tears really is.
I admit that I'm not a fan of crying in business settings. I don't want to be viewed as weak or helpless in that environment, so it is very rare that I succumb to tears in the workplace. Even though I know that some people can't help reacting to stressful situations with tears, it is a harsh truth that this reaction is viewed as exhibiting weakness. This is unfortunate, but it is a widespread unspoken attitude in the business world. No small surprise, then, that so many people in the corporate world suffer from heart disease, obesity, and a whole host of other maladies that are exacerbated by that stuffing down of genuine emotions.
Am I saying I never cry at inappropriate times? Of course not. I do it fairly often. I'm the biggest softhearted thing walking the planet, because some of the most random things will make me tear up. Hearing our National Anthem will do it instantly. Watching the Olympics and seeing our athletes win a medal is another one. Goofball moments of absurdity with friends will have those tears of hilarity streaming. Commercials on TV can sucker punch me without warning. Songs on the radio, or the fragrance of a perfume or cologne worn by someone I love who has passed, old photographs, walking in the mountains, seeing someone in my family smile...the list is endless. I have no problem at all with those types of tears. And I agree with the lady in that commercial I mentioned at the beginning of this article....my tears do not diminish me. They make me stronger in the long run.
Logic indicates that that commercial was slickly produced by a savvy marketing and advertising firm, with actors carefully chosen and scripts thoughtfully written to tug at our heartstrings and produce a memorable snippet. It worked, as I've remembered that commercial for a good ten years now. The fact that it was a manufactured moment doesn't take away from the strong truth of the statement above. Tears are not a sign of weakness, not 100% of the time. And even if they are, that's not necessarily a negative or reason to condemn. It is not possible for every person to be strong every single waking moment of their life. Balance. I come back to that word constantly. Balance and contrast. Without them, we would be one dimensional, flat personalities with no depth, no color, no flair or richness to differentiate us, one from another.
So, I will take tears as a part of the price paid to be that richly textured human being. I will smile at the fact that there is genuine beauty in a woman's tears casting a brief softening effect in the hearts of men. There are balancing moments where a man's traits complement us as women in equally profound ways. While obviously it is just as unhealthy to dwell eternally in a tearful state as it is to eternally suppress tears, I think there is a way to find balance here. Simply being aware of the results of this interesting case study shines light on the fact that tears are meant to be shed, and are meant to have an effect, both on the person shedding those tears, as well as on the people nearby.
It bears repeating:
Tears do not diminish me. They make me stronger in the long run.