This week professional baseball player Dee Gordan put to rest the age old myth that “there’s no crying in baseball.” In tribute to his teammate and best friend Florida Marlin’s pitcher, Jose Fernandez, who died suddenly and tragically last week in a boating accident, Dee hit the homerun of his life. While rounding the bases, streams of tears that reflected the depth of his grief and love flowed down his face. And in this beautiful moment of heartfelt bereavement all of our outmoded culturally conditioned messages about grown men crying got challenged–and hopefully–put to rest.
Crying is tricky for most adults in our culture. “Don’t cry or I’ll give you a reason to cry” were the messages socially communicated to emoting children by well intended parents trying to raise strong sons (and sometimes daughters too, as in my family). Before scientists in the fields of psychology and medicine began to challenge this unnatural and unhealthy practice, crying was always considered a sign of weakness in our culture. “Cry baby,” “sissy,” “faggot” and “queer” were often the socially humiliating assaults hurled by kids at kids who expressed their pain, hurt, or sad feelings with tears.
Like so many raised before 1990, I would have accepted this misguided culturally conditioned response for my whole life until the field of psychoneuroimmunology birthed in the 80’s began to change all of that. Now we know there are so many good reasons to cry when we’re sad, hurt, or bereaved:
*When we cry tears of sadness we release a stress chemical known as an encephalin which when externalized results in that sweet sigh of relief after a good cry.
*Acknowledging our sadness helps the emotional brain release the tension of this important feeling and then with the help of the hippocampus, files the lessons learned from our pain in the wisdom bank of our gray matter.
*Suppressed emotions are the gateway to depression which is why getting in touch with the sadness associated with buried emotional wounds (i.e. trauma, abuse, loss, negative life events, etc.) in therapy is so cathartic and healing.
*There are molecules of emotions called neuropeptides that communicate with the organs of our bodies that actually help heal the mind/body connection when we cry, grieve and express our authentic emotions.
*When we bottle our emotions, we remain in the high stress mode of the fight-or-flight response. In addition to many negative cardiovascular changes, this also halts the immune system. Its this lack of replicating white blood cells that puts us at greater risk of illness when stressed, sad, or bereaved.
So if crying makes us weak, science now confirms that it is in our weakness that we find strength. Hopefully, like me, you’ll find this is a reason to cry for your whole life.