I mentioned before on this blog that I was a teenage fan of The Cure… One of their earliest and best loved hits (at least among Cure fans) is a song called Boys Don’t Cry… The song was not spouting blokeish dogma… Rather, it was discussing how touch it is to express emotions if you are male and from a certain background.

I have friends and family and encounter LOTS of clients who have been forbidden to cry… Or who forbid themselves to cry… For all kinds of crazy reasons… Is it ok to cry? Does it actually help with anything?

Let me point out to you something that has hit the blogosphere and main news headlines in the US… Because who would have thought that a man crying… A man sobbing, tears running from his eyes, could captivate millions?

Yes indeed, this is what is going on… In the middle of one of the poorest economical climates ever, Cricket teams being gunned down on roundabouts, other international wars, and a seeming proliferation of global crisis everywhere you look (media portrayed of course), Jason Mesnick — has got many parts of the world buzzing with that perennial question: Is it alright (for men) to cry?

Let me go into this in a bit more depth…

For many, crying is part of life… From my own point of view, it was the first thing I did when I was born… “Waaaaaaah! Put me back… I wanna go back… Waaaah!”

I am quite sure that many of us had a good cry on that important birth day too, eh?

People cry out of elation, sadness, or physical pain. Most people in most cultures think crying is good for them. Some of the most brilliant minds in recorded history agree. Aristotle, Darwin, and Freud all believed that crying releases negative energy, thereby bringing the suffering person some relief.

As a youth, I was not really fed any notion about crying from my parents, the men in family just did not do it… However, The Cure and pother musical joys of my younger days, along with some years of being on a students therapeutic journey helped me to get comfortable with it…

I often joke at my own expense at how I can get a wobbly chin when I watch people excel in sports… In particular the Paralympics; seeing people defy odds, overcoming adversity and succeeding seems to send my emotions into overdrive and get the tearworks clicking into gear…

So, is this a good thing?

To be honest, the evidence is mixed on whether crying is good for you. Jonathan Rottenberg, Lauren Bylsma, and Ad Vinherhoets recently published an insightful review of the literature on crying.

These authors suggest that the question on the benefits of crying depends on a variety of things, including the social context of the crying, the characteristics of the event that caused the tears, and the personality traits of the individual doing the crying. Sooooo, scientific evidence now suggests that letting the tears flow is not necessarily a sure fire method for feeling better…

In therapy, if and when a client gets tearful… I have always encouraged them to go with the feelings, follow them and to let it out… If you were to hear me saying things like “Go on then, get crying” you might think me insensitive. Yet that client cannot cry forever, they rarely cry non-stop for longer then 5 minutes in a therapy session and that 5 minutes has seen some therapeutic occurrence… They processed something. Which I deem a good thing. 

If I now return to Jason Mesnick… You can google for pictures of him in tears, hanging his head off the side of a building… Now why did his deluge of tears spark interest from viewers, talk-show hosts, and bloggers?

Surely, our cultural norms supply part of the answer… “If there is such a thing as cultural norms, Adam”…. 

You know what I mean… There are cultural norms that admonish male crying to a greater extent than female crying, aren’t there? I know these cultural norms are  perhaps a little antiquated, but I reckon they are there…

The people who violate cultural norms capture the attention of others.

I can’t seem to get my head around why any norms against male crying exist in the first place? Who decided that? How did it happen?

If most people believe crying will make you feel better (despite what recent research is trying to tell us), then how can people support norms that exclude men from enjoying the same benefits of crying that women enjoy?

Why is it ok for a night in with the girls, sobbing over endless boxes of tissues whilst wearing dressing gowns and watching the film Beaches? Sorry for the stereotype… That is acceptable though, isn’t it? Us fellas have not gotten around to this sort of thing yet, have we? 😉

I tend to think that one reason is that violating cultural norms is deeply linked to the prospect of social rejection… Children who break rules of what is deemed appropriate behaviour may experience rejection from groups of pay pals. I mean as a child, I would not have cried in front of my friends or my Dad… Was this fear of social rejection? Fear of disapproval?

Additionally, adults who behave in ways that go against ‘societal rules’ experience exclusion from society through imprisonment… So we all mostly tend to act in accordance with social norms… Subsequent violations of those norms seem especially captivating, don’t they? Even minor norm violations, such as those shown by Jason Mesnick, are enough to get people’s attention.

I have joked in my title today… A Cry-Baby indeed… 🙂

On the plus side, as you are certain to know, is that not all norm violations result in rejection, do they? Despite being a cry-baby 😉  Jason Mesnick was actually accepted by the girl he really wanted… Good for you Jason.

As for me, I took all the frost covers off my favourite Summer shrubs and took them out of the shed to bask in the spring sunshine we had last weekend… Then it snowed again last night… I may be in tears some time soon..