So, I was reading a post which a fellow blogger wrote about situations that made her feel awkward. She wrote about crying, and being at a loss of what to do. Well, that sparked questions from me, as usual. I can never just leave anything without analyzing it- I call it the “curse of being an English Major.” She listed several options which would be her thought process on what to do if she encountered someone crying.
Why does the act of crying make others uncomfortable? Is it something culturally, where Western Society doesn’t like to see it, and maybe it is accepted elsewhere? Or historically. Of course there’s also that gender stereotype which says that women are emotional while the men aren’t.
There are some people who can’t cry. This can be seen as a burden, and a nuisance to many who rely on tears for catharsis.”Catharsis is generally defined as the purging of emotions or relieving of emotional tensions.” (Bylsma et al., 1165) Emotions should be able to be allowed to be expressed; if they are suppressed it often brings on detachment from emotions. Bud experiences this in Bud Not Buddy, when he explains that if he is sad “My throat gets all choky and my eyes get all sting-y. But the tears coming out doesn’t happen to me anymore. I don’t know when it first happened, but it seems like my eyes don’t cry no more.” (Curtis, 3) He is unable to express how he feels even though he wants to. Once he is able to, he is annoyed because he “couldn’t get that doggone valve closed.” (Curtis, 173)
Emotions have been around forever. So, the need to express these emotions and how to do so have also been discussed over time. “The idea of emotional catharsis dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans over 2000 years ago, as exemplified by a quote from the famous Roman poet Ovid: “It is a relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears” (c.f., Frey, 1985). The Greek philosopher Aristotle…wrote that crying “cleanses the mind” of suppressed emotions through a process of catharsis in which distress is reduced through the release of emotions…The idea of emotional catharsis was made popular in more recent times by Freud who considered tears as “involuntary reflexes” that discharge affect so that a “large part of the affect disappears.”…The idea that crying is a specific form of cathartic behavior is widely asserted in contemporary culture.” (Bylsma, et al. 1165-1166) In Anne of Green Gables, Anne is frequently emotional, in her first encounter with Marilla she does not try to hide her feelings but becomes hysterical.”‘You don’t want me!’ she cried. ‘You don’t want me because I’m not a boy! I might have expected it…Oh what shall I do? I’m going to burst into tears!’ Burst into tears she did. Sitting down on a chair by the table, flinging her arms out upon it, and burying her face in them, she proceeded to cry stormily.” (Montgomery, 23-24) The display of emotion is awkward in Western culture when interacting with strangers, and it is uncomfortable to all of those involved. In another instance, even Anne is embarrassed:”‘I’m crying…I can’t think why. I’m as glad as glad can be…I’m so happy…I’ll do my very best. But can you tell me why I’m crying?’ ‘I suppose it’s because you’re all excited and worked up,’ said Marilla disapprovingly. ‘…Try to calm yourself. I’m afraid you both cry and laugh far too easily.'” (Montgomery, 54) Excessive emotional displays are frowned upon by Marilla, even as a way to bring relief.
“In some cultures the expression of intense emotions, such as crying, is disapproved of, or only allowed in very specific and well-defined situations. For example, the Balinese are not allowed to cry during the whole period of mourning after the death of a loved one (Rosenblatt, Walsh, & Jackson, 1976).” (Becht and Vingerhoets, 89) In contrast, Bud is comforted when he cries. “Something whispered to me in a language that I didn’t have any trouble understanding, it said ‘Go ahead and cry, Bud, you’re home.'” (Curtis, 174) He does not wish to cry, however he needs to, in order to release emotions. “I was smiling and laughing and busting my gut so much that I got carried away and some rusty old valve squeaked open in me then…woop, zoop, sloop…tears started jumping out of my eyes so hard that I had to cover my face with the big red and white napkin that was on the table.” (Curtis, 172-173) Once he feels safe with the people he is with, the ability to cry is found. “The cathartic effect is dependent on the extent to which the individual feels secure and safe while re-experiencing the emotional event….Cathartic crying is seen as occurring when an unresolved emotional distress is reawakened in a properly distanced context, in which there is an appropriate balance of distress and security.” (Bylsma et al. 1166-1167)
“In collectivistic societies like Indonesia and Japan (Hofstede, 1980), in which common interests prevail over individual goals, the display of intense emotions is regarded as less appropriate than it is in individualistic cultures (Matsumoto, 1990)…Wealthier countries appear to be more individualistic (Georgas et al., 2000), so national income should also contribute to positive mood change, paralleling the effect of individualism.” (Becht and Vingerhoets, 90). In Anne’s case, she doesn’t have much and is part of the lower class. “I have two [nightgowns]. The matron of the asylum made them for me. They’re fearfully skimpy. There is never enough to go around in an asylum, so things are always skimpy-at least in a poor asylum like ours.” (Montgomery, 27) She has never had a privileged life, and has spent most of her life babysitting younger children- she’s a servant. The one place where she is treated as she should be, the asylum, can only afford to give her the bare minimum. She is not seen as an individual in this setting, but as only one person in a group of several others. Bud Not Buddy is set in the United States during the Great Depression. He is also a foster child. In the room “All the boys’ beds were jim-jammed together.” (Curtis, 3) so he doesn’t have the space required to be set apart from others. “There’s more and more kids coming into the Home every day.” (Curtis, 6)
Although the books are set in Canada and the United States, while they may have been in an individualistic culture which allowed crying, because of their situations in crowded orphanages, they were seen as part of a collective society. In A Little Princess, Sara, as part of a different class, is able to have the freedom that she needs. “She is the strangest child I ever saw. She has actually made no fuss at all… When I told her what had happened, she just stood quite still and looked at me without making a sound… When I had finished, she still stood staring for a few seconds, and then her chin began to shake, and she turned round and ran out of the room and upstairs. Several of the other children began to cry, but she did not seem to hear them or be alive to anything but just what I was saying.” (Burnett, 89). She removes herself from a group, and seeks privacy to be able to react to her emotions in a way which she wishes to without being observed. “Nobody but Sara herself ever knew what had happened in her room after she had run upstairs and locked her door…She walked up and down, saying over and over to herself in a voice which did not seem her own, ‘My papa is dead.’…Once she stopped before Emily, who sat watching her from her chair, and cried out wildly, ‘Emily! Do you hear? Do you hear-papa is dead?'” (Burnett, 89) She cries, but only in private. She has to be seen as “Princess Sara” (Burnett, 75) to the others for as long as she can. This part being played has to be done by acting with little or no emotion. “Her mouth was set as if she did not wish to reveal what she had suffered and was suffering.” (Burnett, 90) She may have lost everything, but she keeps her attitude as a princess. To restrain her emotions gives her power. This is why, when Sara acts as she does, others get annoyed. “If she had cried and sobbed and seemed frightened, Miss. Minchin might almost have had more patience with her.” (Burnett, 91-92) To show her emotions would have been a sign of acceptance at her change in socio-economic status. By keeping control of her feelings publicly, she still has control, even with her newly discovered poverty.
According to what I’ve found out, it actually seems that in Western culture, crying is accepted (and even expected) in certain contexts. Sometimes it is laughed at- and people are thankful when they don’t have to be the listener. (Thus the reason “Reasons my Son is Crying” exists on Tumblr, which I think grossly invalidates him.) Death, a loss, and extreme emotion isn’t supposed to be hidden, but acknowledged. It doesn’t need to be repressed, but there are times when people need to be composed as well. So, why does it create embarrassment for those involved, either watching or crying? I don’t think there should be. There are always two ways to look at everything- and no matter what, everybody is entitled to their own reactions. The emotional reactions people have to events or news is completely justified; and everybody is entitled to express how they feel, whether publicly or privately.
IMAGES (In order of appearance, everything else in alphabetical order)
- Burnett, Frances Hodgson. A Little Princess. Mahwah, NJ: Watermill, 1981. Print.
- Curtis, Christopher Paul. Bud Not Buddy. New York: Yearling, 1999
- Montgomery, L. M. Anne of Green Gables. [Toronto]: Seal, 1996.
- infinitesugar. “Situations That Make Me Awkward” Web log Post. The Life and Times of a Slightly More Talkative Wallflower WordPress, Mar 25 2013. Web. Apr. 8 2013
- Marie, Sarah “Tears… A Gift.” Web log Post. Strange Little Dreams. WordPress. Mar 29 2013. Web. Apr. 12 2013
- Saavedra, Andrea Acevedo. “The Great Depression.” Web log Post. Pretty Little Researchers. WordPress. June 12 2012. Web. Apr. 12 2013
- “Reasons my Son is Crying.” Tumblr. Web. April 12 2013.
- Becht, Marleen C., and Ad J.J.M. Vingerhoets. “Crying And Mood Change: A Cross-Cultural Study.” Cognition & Emotion 16.1 (2002): 87-101. Business Source Complete. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.
- Bylsma, Lauren M., Ad J. J. M. Vingerhoets,, and Jonathan Rottenberg. “When Is Crying Cathartic? An International Study.” Journal Of Social & Clinical Psychology 27.10 (2008): 1165-1187. Academic Search Elite. Web. 11 Apr. 2013.