(Don’t) Stop Crying Your Heart Out
The Involuntary Act of Crying
…is the first thing you did when you entered this world.
And you did it without even knowing why — without even knowing anything, to be fair. A newborn baby has yet to learn about the complexity of human feelings. No joy, no sorrow, nothing to express; but you still cried anyway.
As you grew up, you discovered that shedding tears is a response. A reaction to surging emotions. You cried when someone hurt you. Or when your dog died. Or when you got lost in a foreign neighborhood.
But it’s not all dust and ashes. You also cried when you saw a heartwarming movie scene. And also when you received a thoughtful birthday present.
After experiencing it for a few times, you slowly came to realize that crying is a natural behavior. Although, more often than not, people will tell you that it’s a sign of weakness. Especially if you’re a boy. You may or may not listen to them, it depends on what you want to believe.
Putting all that aside, have you ever gave it a serious thought?
Like, why do our feelings have to manifest as tears? Why does it bring us relief? Why does it come after sadness, but also after happiness?
There is something about the act of crying that makes it feel bizarre — sacred, even.
Cry, child. Cry your heart out.
The Weeping Infant
Crying is the earliest form of communication known to human newborns.
An infant’s cry is able to signal various kinds of conditions: hunger, disturbance, even pain. It contains some sort of a protolanguage, allowing the infant to convey its needs without a comprehensible form of speech.
Carlo Bellieni, an Italian neonatologist, analyzed a subset of the crying behavior known as “weeping,” or the psycho-emotional shedding of tears. He concludes that even though most animals can cry, only humans are capable of weeping.
The distinction of weeping lies in its ability to induce empathy, through the mediation of the mirror neurons network. It also influences mood through sobbing rhythm and flow of tears, eliciting a release of hormones which ultimately evokes the feeling of relief.
Weeping is not merely a mild response to stress, but a strong behavior with positive effects on health and social capacity.
Tears of Joy
On a similar note, Yale psychologist Oriana Aragón explored what it means for humans to cry following the occurrence of differing emotions, sparked by the common but unusual expression “tears of joy.”
If crying is traditionally associated with negative emotions, why do we cry when we’re overjoyed?
Aragón deduced that the answer is emotional equilibrium.
Despite being an emotional species, apparently we can’t handle our emotions all that well. Every time we are overwhelmed by certain emotions, our natural response would be to act in an opposing behavior.
We respond to positive experiences with negative behaviors, and vice versa, to bring our emotional value back to a neutral level.
There are many examples to demonstrate this. For instance, when watching a soccer match, we can often see the striker getting (playfully) whacked by his teammates after scoring a winning goal.
Inflicting pain to express celebration. Weird, right? Well, it is what it is.
Such is why we laugh frantically when we are anxious or scared, scream our lungs out when we’re ecstatic, or cry when we’re overjoyed — hence, the “tears of joy.”
Crying and Compassion
“Crying is accordingly compassion for oneself, or compassion that has been thrown back on its own point of departure.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation
Apart from its biological and psychological functions, crying is tinted by various social connotations. Some views are favorable, some aren’t.
As we have mentioned before, more often than not, society labels crying as a sign of weakness.
I beg to differ. Crying — or the expression of any feelings, for that matter — is not a sign of weakness. Weakness is the sign of weakness.
To present another perspective, German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer argues that one that is capable of crying must also be capable of love. The ability and willingness to cry shows a certain degree of goodness of character. It signifies compassion, for it is an act that disarms anger.
This notion is also expressed in a piece from Petrarch, the Italian poet:
“I vo pensando: e nel pensar m’assale
Una pietà si forte di me stesso,
Che mi conduce spesso,
Ad alto lagrimar, ch’i non soleva.”
(I walk along thinking: and in thinking, I am struck by so strong a compassion for myself that it often leads me to cry out loud, even though this is not my wont.)
— Francesco Petrarca, Il Canzoniere
Thus, in this context, crying can be specified as compassion for oneself. It shows that you love yourself enough to give you permission. Permission to release, to feel relief — and there’s the only reason you need.
After all, prior to extending beyond, compassion begins within.
Cry, child. Cry your heart out.