award-winning educator, mental health advocate, social entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, author/writer, program executive, and radio host
Crying is something that everyone does; it’s a normal part of life. However, if you’re male, then there are often different standards applied. The issue is that too many times and unnecessarily some people associate men crying with being weak, effeminate, or gay. The projection conveyed is that a man is somehow less than whole if any or too much emotion is displayed.
In January 2016, there was plenty of commentary about President Obama’s public display of emotion (shedding a tear) while discussing gun violence in the United States (U.S.). The questions that immediately emerged were related to whether it’s appropriate for a country’s leader to display emotion. These comments were made as if being emotional or crying would somehow diminish the power of or respect for the man and the office. An alternative view is that it represents caring and compassion, along with a display of a lack of ego, strength, confidence, and self-awareness.
Anyone who is comfortable with themselves doesn’t worry about others’ perceptions about their self-expression. The challenge is that others – through judgments – will transfer their fears, worries, and doubts about the way a man who cries is perceived.
A couple of men known for openly and unabatedly crying are John Boehner (former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives) and Steve Harvey. Speaker Boehner would – at times – become very emotional while discussing issues that were meaningful to him and Steve Harvey has lost his composure a few times on his talk show --- especially while discussing his wife, family, or past. Both of these men aren’t weakened by their public display of emotions; instead, these are the moments that each connected further with their vulnerability, feelings, and humanity.
Personally --- I don’t like to cry, but I’m not afraid or embarrassed to do it either. The first lesson I learned about the proper display of a man’s emotions was at my grandmother’s funeral. At the service, a man in my family “corrected” me for crying; his words and actions basically told me to “man-up”. During this service, my emotions overflowed for the loss of my grandmother who I: loved very much, lived with for a while, and directly experienced the death of a family member for the first time. My response to this “correction” was direct, assertive, and purposeful. This moment wasn’t about maintaining superficial experiences or expressions. This moment was about my grandmother, my moment to grieve, and a part of my healing process. If I didn’t allow myself to grieve as it happened, then I might not have adequately coped with her death or prolonged the healing process.
An example of my reluctance to cry was in my college classroom while students provided some positive feedback. In that moment, I started to become emotional but I didn’t allow myself to cry; instead, I joked about the temperature rising in the classroom and quickly fanned my eyes to prevent from releasing a tear. By blocking my emotions and feelings, I missed an opportunity to fully experience the happiness and joy that could have resulted from an unabashed connection with these moments.
Crying is important because it:
* releases pain;
* helps individuals to heal;
* isn’t a sign of a weakness;
* allows feelings of happiness to be fully realized;
* is a normal part of life.
In discussing men crying with friends on Facebook, a few commented as follows:
* “So much relief and release can be achieved!” (Kwang Kim);
* “It’s not healthy if you don’t cry; screw what other people think! And so what if I might break out in tears for reasons others might not be aware. Who cares; who are they to judge?! And I dare anyone to question my manhood! We need to stop using double standards and try to understand each other.” (Robert Meredith);
* “It’s such an easy way to release stress; let go of anger and pent up emotions and just simply feel. And once you do it – for even a few minutes – the relief you feel is amazing. You don’t have to prove yourself by doing it in front of others. Cry by yourself; it’s still therapeutic. I’m really proud of my husband. He’s a big strong guy who allows himself to cry whenever he feels strongly. It might be a touching story on ESPN or the news. I respect him so much for that and interestingly trust him even more for it.” (Dawn Leach Gaskill).
If crying wasn’t a normal, biological process, then it wouldn’t happen as an uncontrolled response. The process that isn’t normal is to block crying because doing so prevents someone from experiencing a natural response and having an emotional release. The alternative is to suppress feelings by not addressing or blocking them, but inevitably unresolved emotional or psychological issues will be released in other forms (e.g., use of alcohol/drugs, a mental breakdown, abusive behavior, or even worse death/suicide).