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There’s no crying shame

“It was so embarrassing!” a friend confided. She had a hard time fighting back her tears at the launch event for a project she’d been working on for several years. Other people shuffled and looked away awkwardly. Afterwards they said they understood she must have been sad to say goodbye to it. But she told me she wasn’t sad nostalgic perhaps, but more relieved. She’s since returned to her work with renewed vigour, mortified that people saw her weeping.I have tissue boxes strategically placed around my office for such an event. Coaching is not therapy, there’s not usually much crying involved but sometimes, as people make shifts or reach greater awareness, there can be the occasional tear. I see tears as just another sign that things are happening inside. Unfortunately, most adults feel the need to apologise for them, and I sense their embarrassment even though the tears only last a moment.I, myself, am rather partial to a good cry on occasion. I do it at happy moments, when feeling sorry for myself or someone else, at moments of pride, at acts of valour or loyalty, at a beautiful piece of music, out of frustration and, without fail, at the end of any Disney movie.Why do we do it? And is crying really anything to be ashamed of?There are surprisingly few conclusive theories about the purpose of all our sobbing and blubbering, and mixed views as to its benefits. It is understandably a difficult thing to research in laboratory conditions as emotions are not exactly clinical in nature, but I came across some interesting findings.Psychologists Jay Efran and Mitchell Greene believe there has been a shift in approach from the old Freudian notion that our emotions are like a steam-kettle, where we can only contain so much before we boil over and the emotions spill out in the form of tears etc.In their article: Why We Cry: The Fascinating Psychology of Emotional Release, Drs Efran and Greene look at crying from a purely physiological perspective. They say that “emotional tears are elicited when a person’s system shifts rapidly from sympathetic to parasympathetic activity from a state of high tension to a period of recalibration and recovery”.This certainly makes sense of my friend’s example above. We tend to cry after the crisis, once the difficult thing is done.They go on to say that the tears are often triggered by a “psychologically meaningful event” and typically are accompanied by a sense of letting go. This explains why we can end up crying at a multitude of sources and perhaps can’t always put our finger on the exact emotion we are experiencing.This shift can even occur around problems that haven’t yet been resolved. When we stop resisting, temporarily give up or set aside an issue, we can still experience that recovery from stress resulting in tears. Crying can be like the emotional equivalent of going for a walk in the middle of a difficult assignment.The physiological return to normal (and tendency to cry) usually only occurs when we feel safe, relieved or ‘off-duty’.Other researchers in the field have described crying as an evolved social signal to convey distress, and even submission. President Nixon admitted having drama coaching to be able to turn on the waterworks and told David Frost in interview in 1977: “I never cry except in public.”Tears themselves have their own significance. A Jewish proverb calls tears, “the soap of the soul”. Biologically speaking, this isn’t far off. Differing from those needed to keep our eyes moist or those provoked by onions or a poke to the eyeball, emotional tears help the body rid itself of stress hormones. The hormone adrenocorticotrophin is produced under stress and analysis shows it is significantly present in emotional tears along with the hormone prolactin, and manganese and potassium. Crying is a way to restore our chemical balance after stress. And a good sob also slows and restores regular breathing patterns, creating a calming effect in the body.I haven’t even touched on the continued social conditioning that “big boys don’t cry”. Men cry on average about one-fifth of the amount that women do, even though a UK study shows that over the past 20 years, on average about 80 percent of those asked consider it socially acceptable for men to cry and that indeed it is "unhealthy" not to.So… the next time you or someone around you starts crying:l remind yourself there is nothing to be alarmed or embarrassed by;l we can’t make assumptions about what the tears mean;l rather than encouraging them to stop crying, perhaps just offer a tissue and a relaxed, safe space to process the emotions, without bombarding them with questions or condolences;l do maybe ask if they would prefer privacy although it may be comfort, empathy or help they seek.l assure them there is no need to apologise for the tears;l be grateful that someone feels secure enough to cry in our presence and for ourselves, rejoice that our emotional systems are functioning properly.Julia Pitt is a trained success coach and certified NLP practitioner.For further information telephone 705-7488 or visit www.juliapittcoaching.com