Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A View of the Tracks of Non-Tears

This is my favorite song about crying. Ironic that the way Amy's squandered her talent is enough to bring a person to tears, isn't it?

I hate crying and I rarely do it. To me, crying is what happens when you can't think of anything else to do. I don't deal with not being able to think of anything else to do, running out of options, not having any other steps to take.

When I've told people this, they've inevitably said some variation of one basic idea - you feel better after a good cry. Maybe for them, but not so much for me unless it's a case where I've laughed so hard it produced tears. But that's not really crying, is it? When I cry, I'm usually angry. Or scared. Or frustrated. Or have suffered a loss. Or a combination of some uncomfortable and negative emotions. After I'm done, I'm headachy, tired, and drained - plus the initial emotions that produced the tears are still there in some form. On top of feeling drained, I still have the task of thinking of some sort of solution to the initial problem ahead of me.

It's almost enough to make you cry again when you think about it. The only people who benefit from a good cry, at least from my viewpoint, are the folks at Kimberly-Clark and Proctor & Gamble. People have told me that I'm just trying to be tough and strong, and that I might be afraid to cry. The belief people project on the healing powers of tears is very strong, and I've never had a reliable comeback to argue against it.

Until now. I read a report on the New York Times website about research into the cathartic power of crying published in the journal "Current Directions in Psychological Science." Turns out that, for some people, having a "good cry" allows for a recovery of mental balance. In others, it just leads to emotional confusion. They found that crying is infectious, much like laughing or yawning. When we cry and how we cry is a combination of biochemical and cultural factors - women (surprise, surprise) tend to cry more easily and more often them men. As for that feeling that you feel better after a cry? Well, that may be a matter of selective memory - the catharsis comes after the episode has passed. The study also found that crying varies from person to person, and that the more people who are around when a person cries, the more cathartic the cry is to the person doing it. In other words, people cry socially for attention.

The article also mentioned a book called "Seeing Through Tears: Crying and Attachment," by Judith Kay Nelson. She argues that crying has its roots in childhood. Children, especially the very young with limited use of language, use crying to get attention from their parents and regulate mood. If you had a soothing, attentive parent as a kid, chances are you love a good cry. If your parent believed in staying strong or became upset when you cried, you are probably don't find crying all that comforting.

My sister and I had a very loving mom, a dad whose personality was like a cross between Samuel Jackson and Dave Chappelle. My sister will cry over anything - I still tease her about how she cries every year when she watches "Frosty the Snowman," especially when he melts at the end. I rarely cry and if I feel the urge, I'll fight it tougher than Ali beating down Frazier. I don't know why we have this difference, but it felt so good when I read this article that I almost cried.

Then, thinking of something else to do, I decided to post this entry instead. More later, after I get this dust out of my eye.

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