No Tear Drops, No Problem

By Ross Marchand, Guest Contributor from the University of Maryland

 

Most mornings are swell.

I’ll wake up, slip into my fuzzy loafers, and try to muster the initiative to cook myself some eggs. On an exceptionally rare sunrise, things won’t be nearly as peachy. I’ll hear about the death of a loved one, or maybe a friend. Now, most would be concerned with keeping themselves together emotionally. They might think of spent time with the deceased, and deal with the urge to break down into tears. When everyone is in close quarters and hears the news together, we see group hugs that resemble pre-game huddles.

But when I get this news, I have another worry altogether: appearing emotionally affected. Crying is a natural part of life for so many, but for a small subset of the population, the tears aren’t naturally a-flowin’. Sure, if my bone gets broken then the tear-ducts will have a field day. But in an emotionally trying situation, my brain just releases chemicals telling me to remain calm. Do I sadly reflect? Of course I do. Am I unhealthily keeping it tucked away? Not to my knowledge. Yet, there seems to be somewhat of an intolerance toward having an unemotional outward appearance. Some of this has to do with the “band together” mentality in the midst of tragedy.  Michael Trimble, emeritus professor of behavioral neurology at University College London reports that in the infancy stage, “crying begins to serve interpersonal purposes: the search for comfort and pacification.”

Cross-country research, however, seems to show crying as an increasing function of individual autonomy. Looking at data from America, Germany, Italy, Bulgaria, China and Peru, Trimble concludes that tear-shedding goes hand-in-hand with a “less hierarchical…social-class structure,…which is perhaps a reflection of greater individual autonomy.” Here, what we’re seeing is a bit of a liberal paradox involving emotional display. The call for people to “open up” is a completely justifiable response to a very real problem. Yesterday’s culture just wasn’t as permissive about these sorts of things. I remember my great-grandfather for our fun nursing home interactions and for his fondness of Chicken McNuggets, but my mom tells me there was a whole other side to him. Back when she was a kid, her grandfather locked himself in the bathroom and turned on the faucet when he had to cry.

A better society is one where we take my great-grandfather by the hand and reassure him that it’s alright to express himself. If that’s the case, then we should also welcome those who aren’t eager to cry and vent. A problem arises due to a misunderstanding; we can never be too sure if someone is holding it in or if their brain chemistry is just different. The key lies inside of our grey bundles. Researchers at the University of Michigan Medical School show that the observed trait of “resilience” occurs when the brain activates “natural painkillers.” For some, the experiences of a) getting snubbed at the bar; b) losing a job; or c) experiencing a death is considerably smoothed over by the release of opioids “especially in the amygdala.”

So, there you have it. Just as some will express themselves profusely as we knock down the wall of social hierarchy, others will have a neutral disposition. As a proud member of the “less affected” tribe, I do not ask for psychoanalysis or shrink appointments to evaluate my perceived under-reactions. I simply ask to be understood for who I am: reflective, but in the chillaxed sense.

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