Is it ok to cry at work?
I was surprised, when researching the science of crying, on how many controversial studies are published without any scientific backing. I finally run into a Time Magazine article that seemed to distill the facts a bit better. In sum, crying has no direct health benefit. Unlike the old notion that a good cry can detox and automatically make us feel better, studies have actually shown no such benefits. However, crying, is tightly associated with an increase in empathy, compassion and bonding. Since human being are the only species to cry for emotional reasons, rather than just physical pain, it is not surprising that crying would trigger such highly human responses.
The danger, however, is that not all human-beings cry or feel connected when others do, in the way that we may expect. And, this is the crucial point when it comes to answering the question if crying at work is ok. I have seen, mostly women, shed tears, and then feel worse about themselves after the episode, and I have also seen the opposite. The difference is always who the audience was, and how he/she or they responded. If being vulnerable opens up a window of compassion, and creates an opportunity for a more honest and loving communication, then the tears have done what they were supposed to do. If, however, those watching you cry, close off (and, believe me, this does happen!) because they cannot relate to a state of vulnerability, or are unable to express compassion, the person who did cry will leave the scene feeling worst, and typically more upset than before.
There is more. Last week, I was tricked to believe that a person was crying from a deeply emotional state, when in fact his cries were fabricated to achieve a highly manipulative outcome. My response was one of compassion, empathy and bonding which ended up being abused against me. This is an extreme situation and most of us in adulthood would not do such a thing. But the point is, that crying can be fabricated. For this reason, some people will choose to remain skeptic, even in the face of a truthfully painful emotional cry. And if we are the ones shedding the tears, being in the receiving end of this skepticism can be truly hurtful.
How does that leave us, when we simply cannot hold back the tears at work? My No 1 suggestion is that you give yourself a good time to process your own pain after the crying took place. Do not go back to your desk and start working again, pretending nothing happened. Instead, go outside, take a short walk and let yourself be with the pain that is in your body and within you. That moment, to just be with the pain, is a recognition that something is indeed hurting you, and that you are willing to love that part of yourself, regardless of whether others can too. Once you’ve spent this time alone, and sending deep love and care to yourself, you will feel more grounded and the end result will be positive.
My No2 suggestion is that you, at some point, share this moment with someone you trust deeply – someone who can hold a space of love and compassion not present during the episode. That person may be your therapist, a dear friend, a coach, or another colleague at work. Do not stay in the conversation for too long, or with too many people. Doing so may create resentment and more hurt, as well as bring you into a state of victimhood. Just a single, open, loving conversation can bring the warmth you were looking for when you cried.
Crying is a beautiful and uniquely human response to emotional pain and, I believe, it should not be suppressed. If you find yourself crying a lot at work, then it is important to reflect on why there is so much pain in this(these) relationship(s). Are others bringing something in you that needs love and care, or are others truly directly hurting you, abusing and mistreating you. Whatever the answer, it is a great opportunity to look deeper and get to the bottom of it, for your own sake.