At a professional development seminar, a young career woman asked me something like, “How can I stop myself from crying in front of my boss?” I thought, “How sad.” I recall crying in front of a number of safe managers and supporting others as a manager myself. If I want to cry, I want to!
My daughter, who lives with disabilities, works in a wonderfully understanding environment. When her coworkers or managers see tears in her eyes they step in and give her a break. They realize that her feelings are bubbling up and affecting her ability to think clearly and act effectively. That little break lets her release, regain and bounce back. By the way, she is one of the store’s top sellers with repeat customers.
A Good Cry
The biochemist William Frey, author of Crying: The Mystery of Tears, concluded that nearly one-half of tears shed are letting go of sadness. Sometimes tears express fear, anxiety or anger and often happiness. Many of us cry until we laugh or laugh until we cry. Frey also concluded that tears, along with perspiration, urine, and exhalation rid our bodies of toxins and other waste. It is healthy to cry!
Even more, I don’t know about you, but I love to watch a classic sad movie such as Beaches with Bette Midler. I enjoy becoming teary eyed.
The Problem with Workplace Tears
Our North America society has strong taboos about crying at work. “Don’t be a wimp!” “She couldn’t hold it together,” “You’re a cry baby,” and the famous Donald Trump line “You’re fired! Especially if you cry!”
Who cries at work? The job research company, Monster polled 3,000 workers and found that 8 out of 10 employees had cried at work. Forty-five percent of those who cried reported it was due to the poor behaviour of a manager, boss or co-worker. Nineteen percent reported it was due to personal reasons, outside of their work environment.
Psychologists Ivan Nyklicek and colleagues at Tilburg University in the Netherlands found that women typically cry two to five times a month and three to five times more often than men.
Theories of Why Women Cry More than Men
- Women have prolactin, a hormone related to the production of milk in women after giving birth.
- Testosterone levels can block men from crying. I have witnessed this myself. When my hubby was on a prostate cancer drug that minimized his testosterone, he was more apt to cry.
- Boys are coached to suck up their tears. The cultural taboo about crying is even stronger when it comes to males. “Boys don’t cry” let alone “Big boys don’t cry.” And if he does we are told, “He broke down.” Interestingly enough, someone wrote in response to Harvard researcher, William Pollack’s book, Real Boys: Rescuing Our Sons from the Myths of Boyhood. “You will need courage, dedication, and willingness to be seen as the local lunatic who allows his son to cry.”
Women crying is a complicated dilemma. Kimberly Elsbach, of the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, teamed up with Beth Bechky, of the Stern School of Business at New York University. They researched how women are often criticized for crying in the workplace. They found that if women cried at work they were often judged as weak, unprofessional or manipulative. However, women’s teary-eyed moments were given more leeway if their crying was due to extreme stress such as the death of a loved one or unreasonable challenges.
So what’s a working gal supposed to do if she has a boss who overtly or covertly enforces a crying ban?
Contain Your Tears . . . if needed!
So, what did I tell that career woman when she had the urge to cry at work? I offered her the optional ideas below.
Tips to Manage Crying in Un-supportive Environments:
- Breathe: If it is risky to cry in front of your manager or co-worker, breathe deeply. Feel your feet on the floor and look up towards the ceiling. Looking down tends to take us deeper into feelings.
- Bubble Yourself: Imagine a bubble around yourself. As you breathe in and out, focus on strengthening your solar plexus.
These first two strategies will help you contain tears until you can take them somewhere emotionally safe.
- If you can NOT manage to contain your tears follow these steps:
- Say, “Excuse me, I will be back in five minutes.” Go have your cry, blow your nose and drink some water.
- Next, find a nourishing and safe person and/or place to have a good cry. Let it out.
- Later, at home, if the tears are stuck in your stomach, chest or throat, have a bubble bath, watch a tender movie, read old love letters or curl up on your sweetie’s lap. Relax until you can weep.
Whatever you do, do not swallow your tears. As my mentor, Gwendolyn Jansma said, “Better to cry on the outside than drown on the inside.”
Ideally, we advocate, create and support workplaces where crying is merely one way to communicate what is going on for us–men and women! What are your crying stories and experiences?
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.