January 26, 2012
(For this week’s audio podcast, click here.)
Something extraordinary happened at Candlestick Park in San Francisco two Saturdays ago, January 14th. Sure it was an amazing ending to an NFL playoff game between the San Francisco 49ers and the New Orleans Saints (which the Niners won in dramatic fashion, making all of us fans here in the Bay Area very happy); but the monumental win wasn’t was made it so remarkable to me.
As Vernon Davis, the tight end for the Niners who caught the game-winning touchdown, came running off the field, tears were streaming down his face. He came to the sidelines and was embraced by his head coach, Jim Harbaugh, in a huge bear hug. Coach Harbaugh hugged him for quite a while and spoke into his ear in what I can only imagine was an expression of authentic appreciation and celebration. It was a beautiful and moving moment that transcended football and even sports – it was about courageous triumph, raw human emotion, and vulnerable self expression. (Click here to see the video).
Of course, I loved it – not just because I’m a huge sports fan and like to see my hometown teams win (especially after many years of not winning, in the Niners’ case), but because it highlighted something very important…the power of tears! I also loved it because you don’t usually see a big, strong football player like Vernon Davis break down and cry in the arms of his coach in front of 70,000 fans in the stadium and millions of people watching on TV. But he did, and it was a powerful scene and an important reminder of what it means to be human.
One of the many things tears can do is remind us of our humanness, our vulnerability, our connection to one another, and to things much bigger than the specific circumstances we are facing. We cry for different reasons and based on different emotions. Sometimes we shed tears of pain, sorrow, loss, sadness, anger, frustration, or grief. Other times, tears show up because of love, joy, inspiration, hope, or kindness. Regardless of the underlying emotions and even when the reason for our tears is painful, crying often makes us feel better and is one of the most authentic expressions of emotion we experience as human beings. Current research shows that 88.8% of people feel better after crying, with only 8.4% feeling worse.
However, many of us have a great deal of fear, resistance, and judgment about tears – both ours and those of other people. While this tends to vary based on our age, culture, gender, and the environment in which we find ourselves, I’m amazed at how often crying is seen in such a negative way in our culture, even today.
I’m someone who loves to cry myself, although as a man I was trained early in my life, like most of the men I know, that “boys don’t cry.” Based on this and a variety of other factors, I sometimes find it challenging to access and express my own tears. Although when they do show up and I let them flow, they often flow passionately (I scared the guy sitting next to me on an airplane a few months ago when I was sobbing intensely while watching the wonderful movie The Help).
As I look back at some of the most important, pivotal, and transformational moments of my life, both ones I considered to be “good” and ones I considered to be “bad” at the time, tears were a part of just about all of those experiences.
How do you feel about shedding tears yourself? Is it easy for you to cry? Is it hard? Are you comfortable crying in front of others? Do you judge yourself or others for doing so? I think it’s interesting and important for us to ask ourselves these questions and notice our relationship to tears.
While I’m not advocating that we go around crying all the time just for the sake of it. Excessive crying can sometimes point to a more serious underlying emotional issue and/or can be done as a way to manipulate others. I’m not talking about that either. I’m talking about our ability to express our emotions in a real and vulnerable way, some of the time resulting in the shedding of our tears. What if we embraced crying a bit more and let go of our negative connotations about doing so? As Charles Dickens beautifully said, “We need never be ashamed of our tears.”
Even though we may resist, fear, and avoid crying – at work, with friends or family, with members of the opposite sex, with our children, or with anyone else, we worry it wouldn’t be “appropriate” to cry in front of, there are some real positive benefits to shedding tears. Such as:
- Crying is good for our physical and emotional health – Medical research now suggests that tears could actually be a way of flushing negative chemicals out of the body and doing us a world of good physically. In addition to removing toxic substances from our body, crying can also have the psychological benefit of lifting our mood and helping us to deal with painful situations.
- Shedding tears reduces stress – Crying is thought to help reduce stress, which can have a damaging effect on our health and has been linked to a number of health problems including heart disease, high blood pressure, type-2 diabetes and obesity. According to a study by Dr. William H. Frey II, a biochemist at the St Paul-Ramsey Medical Center in Minnesota, crying can help to wash chemicals linked to stress out of our body, one of the reasons we feel much better after a good cry.
- When we cry we open up, let down our guard, and connect with others in a more real and vulnerable way – Many times in my own personal life and with many of the clients I’ve worked with over the years (both individuals and groups), I’ve seen tears dramatically shift a person’s perspective, change the dynamic of an argument, and bring people together in a genuine way. Tears have a way of breaking down emotional walls and mental barriers we put up within ourselves and towards others. Crying tends to be some kind of human equalizer, because no matter the circumstance, situation, or stress we may face, our tears have a way of shifting and altering things in a beautiful, vulnerable, and humbling way.
There’s nothing wrong with our tears, even if we get a little embarrassed, uncomfortable, or even pained when they show up. As we allow them to flow through us, we not only release toxins from our body, stress from our system, and thoughts from our mind – we tap into one of the most basic and unifying experiences of being human. Crying is powerful and important – let’s have the courage to do it with pride and support each other in the healthy expression of our tears.
How often or easily are you moved to tears? How do you feel about crying? What can you do to empower your relationship with the tears of others and yourself? Share your thoughts, ideas, insights, actions, and more on my blog below.
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