MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — When new Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner went on “60 Minutes,” he broke into tears, several times. It’s happened often throughout his career. Some are calling him a “cry-baby.” So when is it OK for men to cry?
“We’re fine with athletes crying after winning a big game or winning an Olympic gold medal,” said Dr. Bill Frey, a neurologist at Regions Hospital in St. Paul who’s done extensive research on tears and crying.
“It’s fine at funerals and childbirths,” said a man in downtown Minneapolis.
But it becomes different when a politician cries. It doomed the presidential aspirations of Edward Muskie. It raised questions when Hillary Clinton wiped away one tear in a campaign stop.
“Some individuals have a low threshold for crying, and others don’t,” said Frey.
But if people think that someone who cries is someone who can’t control emotion, Frey said the science doesn’t back that up.
“Falling apart and crying are not the same thing,” he explained.
In fact, researchers have found that crying is a positive force when it comes to health.
“Crying is a way of alleviating emotional stress. It evolved uniquely in humans. It probably has a function of alleviating stress by removing in the tears chemicals that build up during stress,” said Frey.
Despite that benefit, there are stronger factors that cause most adult men to suppress the physical reaction that causes crying, according to Dr. Frey.
“Boys and girls cry the same amount up until age 12, when men have a huge decrease in crying,” he said.
When puberty starts, different hormones lead to differently shaped tear ducts in men and women, at the same time, society tells boys to man up. That doesn’t mean that men are unable to cry, rather, they tend to suppress the emotional factors that fire the trigger.
“Most men have conditioned themselves so they don’t get really emotional,” said Frey, “so they’ve sort of extinguished the crying response to a large degree.”
On my blog, I admitted crying at the end of Toy Story 3, and Magnus wrote, “Men who cry are weak little babies in my book.”
Susan added, “DeRusha – you’re a wimp. Who cries at a cartoon?”
“I don’t think it’s OK for either men OR women to cry in the workplace except in the most extraordinary circumstances,” wrote Bridget Cusick. It “suggests emotional immaturity/inability to deal productively with emotions, not being ‘in touch’ with one’s emotions or merely being ‘comfortable’ showing them,” she suggested.
But according to Frey, crying is not a voluntary act, and it’s very difficult for people to shut it down, when the urge to cry starts.
“It’s very difficult to control crying. Once you get upset, you’re going to cry,” he said, suggesting that when people emotionally move beyond a centered zone, the crying trigger can fire.
“Just because someone tears up about something emotional, doesn’t mean if the country’s attacked they’re not going to be able to respond and do the right thing,” said Frey.
WCCO-TV’s Jason DeRusha Reports