Show Your Joy, and Let Out Your Pain
I have cried a lot over the past three days. The tears have been tears of sadness, but also of joy.
Last night, I was sitting on a basement couch in with my 12-year old daughter Maayan. Maayan is incredibly emotional intelligent for an early adolescent, which I attribute to both nature and nurture. (On the nurture side, Maayan was born 12 days before her oldest sister passed away, so she as a newborn instantly became our only source of comfort after that life shattering loss). Maayan and I love to snuggle up and talk, and yesterday the topic was my job search.
I told Maayan that I was frustrated by my job search. While there are many opportunities out there, and a shortage of talent, it is also very easy to apply for jobs these days, and therefore many talent teams are actually overwhelmed by supply. This forces them to leave many candidates in the dark about where they are in the hiring process.
Maayan encouraged me to think about my goals. What do I want to achieve with this new job? Where would I like for it to take me? She also suggested that I close my eyes and imagine my future. What would that look like? How would my work fit into that vision?
Later, while sitting alone in my office and reflecting on our discussion, I felt a warmth in my heart and tears swelling up in my eyes. The onslaught was fast and furious, and for 30 seconds or so, I let myself drown in an emotional deluge. Instantly, I felt at peace with myself — and with the entire world.
According to a recent Harvard Health Blog (1), there are three types of tears: “reflex tears, continuous tears, and emotional tears.” As the blog states, studies have shown that emotional tears release oxycontin, a natural pain reliever whose strength has been compared to a 30 mg dose of oxycodone or morphine. In other words, we all have this built in mechanism to help relieve our (emotional and physicial) pain, yet so many of us — especially men — do not use it.
3 reasons come to mind:
Reason 1 — Sexism
I hope that my female reading friends will allow me to use this word here for a reason: There is a stereotype out there that men who cry are effeminate and therefore less desirable as romantic partners. It starts at an early age, when many boys who cry are called sissies, typically by their male counterparts. Since no one likes to be called names and everyone wants to fit in, our boys suppress their emotions and those tears that came out moments earlier are to be seen no more.
Reason 2 — Fear of Letting Go
As a Gen-X’er, a member of the small (yet proud and mighty) sandwich generation between Boomers and Millennials, I have long felt that it is my job to keep the world together. Nevermind, that we are the ones with both little kids and aging parents, and that we need to serve as primary caregivers during our peak earning years. In other words, we need to keep it together — and when we surrender to crying, as good as it feels after, it is a very vulnerable thing to do in the moment
Reason 3 — Biology
We can thank mother nature for this one. Men simply do not have as much of the tear producing hormone prolactin as women. According to healthline, the normal range of prolactin for women is nearly a 70% higher than for men:
Yet men can and do cry. When they do, it can be so powerful and memorable. Witness President Obama, who cried a number of times during his presidency, especially memorably during a speech when he was talking about his love for his wife Michelle. Also, President George Bush cried a number of times, as did I, during his moving eulogy for his father George HW Bush, which, among other things, references the untimely death of his the 41st President’s daughter Robin, sadly a pain he and I both share. (3)
Let’s for a moment imagine a world in which we as men are encouraged to cry when we are sad. How much will it help us cope more effectively with our feelings inside? How much less likely would we be to take out our rage and sadness against others? Could crying even reduce gun violence specifically, and violence in general?
The Cure was wrong when it sang that “Boys Don’t Cry”. We did, and we do. And in our broken world, we must.
(1) See “Is Crying Good For You?”
(2) See “Why We Cry”
(3) See Eulogy Video