Is hiding your tears defeating the purpose

Are Tears a Cry for Help?

Is hiding your tears defeating the purposeThis week Grief Compass is looking at why we cry and today we’re focused on an article from Time Magazine which presents one of my favorite theories, that emotional (or psychic) tears have a different chemical structure than the basal tears that just keep your eyes moist and the reflex tears that are produced in response to an irritant, as a device to get your tears noticed.

This hypothesis supposes that tears are a literal, biological cry for help.

[The] hypothesis is that this higher protein content makes emotional tears more viscous, so they stick to the skin more strongly and run down the face more slowly, making them more likely to be seen by others.

So even though we have a trained impulse to stifle or hide a cry, it’s possible that the very purpose of tears is to have our overwhelming emotion noticed and attended to by another human. Interesting, right?!

But the problem is that somewhere along the evolutionary line, we developed the concept of “polite society” and the assertion that overt expressions of emotional vulnerability (like crying) were shameful signs of weakness. So now we feel compelled to hide our tears, and if this theory is correct, completely undermine their biological purpose.

Have you ever been in a situation where you were having a discussion or argument with someone and one of you begins to cry? How did the non-cryer react?

Personal experience leads me to believe that the idea tears are generated to be noticed is not far off the mark, because the few times I’ve been in an argument-into-tears situation the appearance of human tears has diffused nearly all of the heightened emotional conflict. It didn’t solve the problem, but it completely changed the tone of the discussion.

I think the bottom line here is that we’re humans, and humans need other humans. Thus, it’s reasonable that our biology has created a system to let other people know when we’re emotionally vulnerable and could use a little help.

So the next time you feel the tears of grief, or joy, or frustration coming, let ‘er rip because those tears may be a physical reminder to others that you need some support.

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2 thoughts on “Are Tears a Cry for Help?

  1. Tears are also contagious especially at funeral services. So when our daughter died we tried hard to have the stiff upper lip and greet everyone and thank them for coming and have a very good visit with all who came. But at seeing one guest arrive my tears flowed out of happiness to see her I thought. She was my daughters long lost cousin that had left the family. We included her in published obits without a last name…. And she showed. Happiness and sadness all mixed together. I try to remember that as a high point in our funeral remembrance.

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