Crying: it’s probably not sadness, and it’s probably not deliberate

There’s a great article in The Atlantic today on crying at work.  To nobody’s surprise, it turns out that crying is one of those things that, like standing up for oneself and having kids, hurts women in their careers but helps men.  What particularly caught my attention in the article is the discussion of why people cry, because it gets it right in a way that’s not often discussed.

The article quotes psychologist Ad Vingerhoets on the most common causes of crying:

It’s not usually sadness, per se, that makes people cry. Instead, it’s “helplessness, hopelessness, and the lack of adequate behavioral responses to a problem situation.”

[…] women might be more likely to react to emotionally frustrating situations with a kind of helpless anger […]

I’m a crier, and this description jives with my experience completely.  For me to cry out of true sadness is quite rare, although it has happened.  Rather, I cry in response to deep frustrated anger, or embarrassment, or as a sort of cathartic response to talking about something makes me nervous or ashamed.  If you had to sum up my tears in a single emotion, odds are good that I’m mad, not sad.  There’s no good way to take out rage or shame as a subordinate at work, or as a woman anywhere, and so it overflows as tears.

Another really important point to take away from The Atlantic article is this:

Most people told [professor Kimberly] Elsbach they didn’t want to cry, and they would do anything to make themselves stop.


People who don’t cry much have somehow got this idea that us criers do it on purpose as some kind manipulation technique or something.  While I don’t doubt that someone in the history of time has chosen to cry on purpose, the vast majority of us find public crying quite embarrassing and would really prefer that our bodies didn’t do it.  Trust me, if I had physical control over when my eyes filled with tears, you would see me crying a lot less.

Do you cry, readers?  What do you think about the linked article?