Text: Anastasia Travkina
Recently, the social attitude towards "positive" approaching the absurd, which is why we often feel irrational shame for our own sadness. Such a simple and natural thing as tears becomes a crime against the unspoken credo of life. According to National Geographic, the human body produces at least 61 liters of tears in its life - it's hard to believe that nature could provide us with so much of something useless and "indecent". The common stereotype that tears is weakness stigmatizes women and hurts men's self-esteem. The director of the Sisters rehabilitation center, psychologist Olga Yurkova, and psychotherapist Dmitry Smirnov helped us figure out why we need to cry and what power lies behind the ability to accept our emotions.
Where do tears come from and what they are
A tear is a liquid produced by a corresponding gland to moisten and cleanse the surface of the eye. Most of it is water, sodium and potassium chlorides; the rest of the ingredients vary depending on the health condition
and mood. The enzyme lysozyme imparts bactericidal properties to tears, making it the same antiseptic as saliva or breast milk. Pain-induced tears in children may contain opiates that have analgesic effects.
There are three types of tears. Basal (that is, basic, basic) tears are constantly secreted to wet the eye. With a lack of lacrimal secretion, irritation occurs - dry eye syndrome. You can buy natural tear drops in the pharmacy to replenish moisture. Reflex tears flow in response to stimuli: speck, onion fumes, tear gas. This is a way to urgently cleanse the eye from foreign particles. Emotional tears arise due to subjective psychological reasons, only a person can cry with them. Such tears differ significantly in composition: they contain more protein, the hormones prolactin and corticotropin. In stressful situations, adrenaline or norepinephrine can also appear in them.
Elephants, seals, otters and, of course, crocodiles know how to shed tears. True, for them this is a way to get rid of excess salt in the body without any sentimentality. As far as human crying is concerned, there are many theories about its origin. According to one of the ancient (XVI-XVII centuries), it was believed that when emotions warm up the heart, the body produces steam to cool it down. It turned out that tears are a kind of condensation of emotional steam that accumulates between the eyes and the brain when our bowler hat begins to boil.
This was believed until the Danish anatomist Niels Stensen discovered the lacrimal gland in 1662 - however, the image was firmly entrenched in the collective consciousness and largely influenced Freud's ideas about catharsis. And in the 80s of the last century, researcher William Frey discovered a protein in emotional tears and suggested that tears remove toxic substances formed during stress. Since then, there has not been a single study to support this idea, and yet it still seems plausible to many today.
Scientists today do not see a direct relationship between the number of shed tears and the level of stress. A study of the dependence of mood on tears, carried out by Dutch scientists, has given mixed results. Subjects were shown sad films, and those who did not cry while watching reported a stable mood - both before watching and 20 and 90 minutes after. Those who cried felt much worse after watching, but reported an improvement in their mood over time.Such an assessment is subjective, therefore it cannot be said whether the emotional state has really improved or whether it is a trivial contrast.
How tears regulate our behavior
Crying has features of so-called displaced activity, such as “unmotivated” licking of cats' fur, or the desire to drum fingers on the table or bite people's nails. Displaced activity is a defense mechanism of the psyche during an insoluble stressful situation. We usually react to danger by wanting to attack to defend ourselves, or by trying to flee, but when this is not possible, all that remains is to hide: this is the biological mechanism of "waiting out" stress. Long-term retention threatens depression, which is dangerous to health, so that in tense situations, "protective" nervous activity is manifested. Perhaps crying was originally one of its types - it distracted us, occupying the body with important things: deep breathing, screaming or howling.
Temple University psychology professor Jay Efran put forward a biphasic theory of the origin of crying. According to her, crying is a response to relaxation after exertion. Getting into a stressful situation, the body is activated to take super-efforts. After some time, the inhibition of the nervous system occurs. If a solution is found and successfully implemented, the body is again out of danger and therefore can rest and recuperate. If it is impossible to find a way out, he decides to save energy, since everything is useless.
Tears come precisely at the stage of inhibition, and not in the most acute situation, when all forces are spent on "survival". That is, according to Efran, it is not the tears themselves that cause relaxation: we can cry only when we have managed to relax. During sobbing, we inhale shortly and exhale for a long time, which slows down breathing and heartbeat; relax the throat, muscles and even the intestines. However, you cannot induce relaxation simply by shedding tears from an onion. So, when they say that it is harmful not to cry and keep everything in oneself, they mean not so much the absence of tears themselves, as the willingness to give oneself a break.
In a man's body, under the influence of the smell of female tears, testosterone levels can decrease, and with it, the level of aggression and sexual desire
Researchers increasingly consider tears not as a reflex, but as a means of highly organized human communication. Babies know how to cry already in the second or third month, and for a long time this remains their only way of communication. Perhaps the chemical composition of emotional tears can really affect the people around you, even in adulthood. An experiment by Dr. Ed Wingrehots, a tear expert at the University of Tiburg, demonstrated that in a man's body, under the influence of the smell of female tears, testosterone levels can decrease, and with it the level of aggression and sexual desire.
The task of tears is to be a social trigger of empathy: this is evidenced by the research of Israeli biologist Dr. Oren Hasson. The catch is that the environment of the crying person must be tuned in to her. Collective ethics often do not involve empathy, such as at a meeting of directors of a large firm. In such a situation, crying may not bring relief, but humiliation and a sense of shame. In Japan, they even came up with a service for women experiencing stress at work: for $ 60, an ikemeso, a “cute comforter,” can come to the office to hug you and wipe away your tears.
How we grieve
As we found out, crying is a complex mechanism of human behavior. The most obvious situation is when it comes to tears caused by bereavement. This condition can cause not only the loss of loved ones, but also the deprivation of personal boundaries due to
physical or psychological violence, the loss of the opportunity to work or the meaning of life, the termination of a relationship - any deprivation of something or someone significant, including one's own identity or hopes for the future.
In popular psychology, there is a special term for this stage in a person's life - grief, and it has its own stages. The first is shock and numbness; the second is negation; third, confessions of loss and pain; and the last is acceptance of loss and rebirth. A person is often unable to cry at the first stage, when the psyche protects him from realizing what has happened. The stages of mourning should replace each other over time, but sometimes a person cannot believe what happened to him and gets stuck on the first one. To bring such a patient to tears is a real progress in therapy, and this is necessary, because a state of stupor can lead to serious illnesses.
People of all cultures and eras have always understood that we need help in understanding grief. The mourners who came to the burial probably not only performed a ritual function, but also stimulated the loved ones of the deceased who were in shock to experience grief, preventing them from getting stuck at the stage of anesthesia. Therefore, the worst thing that can be said to a grief-stricken person is "don't cry." Tears not only help to resolve emotional tension, but also place the person in a cultural situation of mourning, which is the first step in accepting grief.
Emotional tears do not exist on their own as a physiological reaction, there are experiences behind them. Everyone has the right to fully experience their feelings. In addition, we want and should be able to receive the sympathy of our loved ones. And in order to manifest it, it is enough just to be there and not try to save a person from the grief that he will have to endure himself. For example, in Japan there are collective crying groups, and many of the participants, of course, feel relieved after the session. The support of others is the most important part of the process of accepting a person's loss, because it is those around him that will become a temporary substitute for what he has lost.
Why tears are often considered manipulation
Social attitudes towards tears are not just linked to shame. Any strong emotions in a person who is not ready for empathy cause rejection and denial. The lack of readiness for empathy, in turn, is often dictated by the same underlying shame or fear. A vicious circle is formed: it is shameful to cry, compassion for the crying is also, it is easier to deny his grief and not trust him. In this regard, a bias is formed towards tears as a method of manipulation. This is especially true of women's crying: a cultural stereotype has developed that women are manipulators by nature and will achieve their goal by all means. The result of these biases is an attitude of blaming the victim instead of emotional support.
Tears can indeed be manipulative - in men and women, in adults and children. But how can you tell real tears from false ones? Psychologists say that sociopathic personalities often cry “to order”: they almost do not experience empathy and hardly feel the need for it, and they can cry, including from selfish motives. Actors can also cry of their own accord, but they often have to remember the life experience that led them to cry.
According to Karl Leonhard's classification of personality accentuations, demonstrative (or hysterical) personality types are most prone to tears as a method of manipulation. Such people are socially active, but they tend to acutely experience personal dramas and are characterized by increased anxiety, especially in matters relating to relationships. Despite the fact that such people seem to be experienced manipulators, the organization of their psyche is childish, vulnerable, so they often cry more for self-defense than out of the need to get something from you.
But do not rush to convict everyone in a row: in the end, the only obvious sign of manipulation is not tears, but the fact that you are required to do something that you were not going to do.If someone is crying next to you, especially if they are someone you know, ask if they need your help, if they need you to stay with them, and if they want to tell you what they are crying about. And be prepared to sit in silence for a while.
Why do men cry less often?
Men really cry much less often than women. In different cultures, this ratio varies, but, according to international studies, an adult woman cries an average of 5.3 times a month, and a man only 1.3 times.
Until adolescence, children differ more in temperament than in gender, but then everything starts to change: on average, girls cry 50-60% more often than boys. The first reason for this difference is hormonal.
The female body produces a lot of prolactin, which is responsible not only for milk production in pregnant and lactating mothers, but also increases the tendency to tearfulness. In addition, even in the absence of a pronounced PMS, a woman's body undergoes stress hormonal changes every month, and fluctuations in the levels of progesterone and estrogen, which form the menstrual cycle, make a woman more emotionally labile in the last third of the cycle. In addition to PMS, tearfulness also increases during pregnancy and lactation due to an additional increase in prolactin, as well as during postpartum and post-abortion depression against the background of a sharp drop in progesterone levels.
The second reason women cry more often is social permission to express their feelings. This is not available to men in many cultures. “Men, undoubtedly, do not cry, as they guard the most fragile thing in this world - their masculinity,” psychotherapist Dmitry Smirnov laughs sadly at gender stereotypes. - Men feel pain, but it is forbidden to express it. In general, many things are forbidden for men: not only to cry, but also to laugh, dance and in general to express emotions. " If you move away from standards and become more emotional, it turns out that expressing and experiencing feelings is not only good for your health, but also pleasant.
The reason women cry more often is the social permission to express their feelings. This is not available to men in many cultures
Men grow up in an environment of emotional repression. From the point of view of psychology, raising children in the spirit of “don't cry, you’re a man” is not only cruel, but also extremely harmful for the child's psyche. Studies show that the psyche of a boy is already developing more slowly, and emotionality matures longer than in girls. The child, whose fears, despair and cries for help are drowned out by the total demand to be always ready to “defend the homeland” with a dry nose, withdraws into himself. Closure makes it difficult to reach emotional maturity, which requires accepting your own feelings. Often, psychotherapy helps men to reach emotional maturity, which teaches them to accept and express their feelings in a comfortable psychological environment.
Dutch photographer Maud Fernhout dedicated one of her photo projects to the topic of men's tears: in her photographs, young men do not hesitate to sincerely cry and comment on the absurdity of the stereotype that this is unacceptable. Of course, men also cry in therapy sessions, but they often need more time to do this than women. Jungian therapist Robert Hopke writes that, according to his experience, it takes a man a year to see a psychotherapist in order to achieve the state and ability to express experiences in which a woman usually begins therapy.
Why tears can be a symptom of a disorder
Sometimes increased tearfulness is not associated with the experience of loss and a person cannot even say what exactly he is crying about. Oversensitivity in itself is not dangerous, but crying for any reason can be a sign of painful exhaustion of the nervous system. This symptom must be taken seriously and the work of the psyche must be checked.If you cry unusually often, if with a sober analysis it seems to you that the reasons were really insignificant, if crying drains you - it's time to figure out what the matter is. It can be hormonal imbalance, PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) - their symptoms can be corrected after consulting a gynecologist-endocrinologist.
The combination of increased tearfulness with irritability and fatigue can be a sign of a malfunctioning thyroid gland: do an ultrasound and get tested for thyroid hormones after consulting an endocrinologist. If everything is in order with hormones, and high sensitivity and daily sobbing do not disappear anywhere, this may be a sign of a nervous breakdown: you can visit a neurologist and get instructions from him. If apathy, lack of thoughts and low motivation are behind your tears, you can go to a therapist.
What are tears of joy
The aforementioned tear specialist, Dr. Wingerhots, claims that over thirty years of research, his team has managed to reduce the causes of emotional tears to one: a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. Accordingly, the most difficult thing for them was to answer the question why people cry in happy situations for themselves. Wingerhots says that in every single happy occasion when a person cries, he is influenced by a memory, thought, or real circumstance that makes him feel helpless. Marrying off a daughter, parents lose control over the situation in her life, reuniting with her lover, a person recalls his despair and fear of loss before this meeting, and an athlete may cry at the presentation of a gold medal, because her parents could not catch her success. But no research has confirmed that people cry because they feel happy.
Oriana Aragon from Yale University came closest to unraveling the origin of tears of happiness. Research led her to the conclusion that our emotional system often reacts in two ways to strong stimuli. Aragon observed people in situations that evoke strong feelings of joy or tenderness, and found that the stronger the reaction of joy, the stronger the latent aggression. The researcher suggested that in this way we balance the positive emotional stress of the psyche.
A large number of scientific studies give conflicting results, which means that science has not yet figured out all the laws governing the work of the human psyche. You may cry once a month or every day, from stress, helplessness or joy, prefer to cry alone or need a friendly hug - we are all different. Human emotions are one of the most amazing phenomena in the world, and our strength and maturity is to accept these emotions, be able to fully experience them and allow others to do so.
Photos: GoneWithTheWind - stock.adobe.com, Johannes Menk - stock.adobe.com, omainQuéré - stock.adobe.com