Why is Anger Okay, But Tears Rejected as “Emotion”?
“So we were out fishing,” my friend told me, “and Sally’s lure got stuck on something. She jerked her fishing pole, it flew back, the frog on the end of her line hit her in the face and she burst into tears,” My friend’s voice dripped with disgust. “What a wuss, crying like a little girl,” she concluded scornfully.
After I got over laughing over the “frog” thing, something came to mind. Why does my friend consider tears to be shameful? What makes her think anger is hunky-dunky while tears are treated with contempt? Because she is a very angry woman, but I’ve rarely seen her cry. She nags, swears, insults and demeans (mostly her patient-as-Job husband)…but shed a tear and you’re on her shit list.
Her story conjured memories of my rage-filled father saying demurely, “You’re so emotional, Lenora,” just because I cried. Eventually, I taught myself never to cry out of empathy or sympathy for myself. To this day, I’m dry-eyed for myself.
But wait! So black-out rages are not “emotion” but tears are!?!
The (Un)Greatest Generation
No one has greater respect and admiration for the valiant men and women of the “Greatest Generation” who defeated fascism and Nationalist Socialism. My grandfather volunteered to serve in the Marines in World War II and I’m damn proud of him. He was always Semper Fi. If you served, thank you for your service!
But sometimes I wonder if the outbreak of narcissism, the floods of rage and the epidemic of drugs and alcoholism can be traced right back to The Greatest Generation. Men who came home from the war, denying their trauma and hiding their nightly nightmares, only to carry their militaristic mindset from the battlefield to the Baby Boomer’s nurseries. Toughen up! Real men don’t cry! Suck it up, Buttercup! They took their parenting cues from the Marine Drill Sergeants who broke their young psyches only to re-build them into a rage-filled fighting machines.
Is that why narcissism is rampant today? Because the Greatest Generation were incapable of praising their children? Because hugging and kissing their children might betray human weakness? Because they scorned tears as “emotion” while embracing anger, rage and fury as “strength”?
It’s a theory, anyways, and I’m stickin’ to it!
You’re So Emotional
Even as a kid, I couldn’t understand why the most emotional person in my life considered me to be the emotional one instead. As I wrote in You’re So Emotional:
I didn’t come home from work each night gibbering with rage. But he did.
I didn’t rage daily over my co-workers’ incompetence for half an hour. But he did.
I didn’t grab neighborhood children by the hair and scream at them. But he did.
I didn’t spend hours studying radar speed guns to “beat the rap” of a simple speeding ticket. But he did.
I didn’t pummel the air with my fists in rage at an uncontrollable cough. But he did.
I didn’t pass out on the floor from raging while coughing. But he did.
I didn’t kick out a door and throw furniture. But he did.
I wasn’t perpetually depressed. But he was.
And he called me emotional!?! Talk about the pot calling the kettle…
But that was okay because he was only angry. And anger “isn’t an emotion.”
Who’s It Hurting!?!
When you think about it, tears are not actually an emotion. They’re expression of emotion and can express may different emotions. I cry when I’m touched by a small act of kindness. (They’re so rare!) I weep at sad movies and tear-jerking songs. Sometimes I laugh ’til I cry. And sometimes I cry just to blow off steam or just because ye olde hormones are kickin’.
Who does it hurt!?! As long as I’m not “turning on the tears” to manipulate someone, it hurts no one. Oh wait. Right. Narcissists hate tears because it’s a visual result that their abuse is hurting us. It pricks their conscience. It makes them uncomfortable. It puts a stick in the spoke of their abuse regimen. Shucks.
They’ve already forbidden our anger. Denied “talking back” to them. All we have left are our tears…and they’re trying to take that away too! It’s our last, our only “out.” If we relinquish our tears too, what will happen then? Will we explode? Implode? Turn to drink? Get OCD?
Tears are Vital
And I don’t just mean for lubricating our eyes. “Some researchers think the act of crying is actually the body’s way of evicting stress — literally.” No kidding. What was your first clue!?! When I’m upset, I can feel the pressure building around my eyes. After I cry, the pressure is gone and I feel calmer. It doesn’t take a laboratory to figure it out!
Cracked.com goes on to say, “As with most things, it all starts with brain chemicals. There is one called adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), and it plays a crucial part in triggering cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress. When you get emotionally agitated, ACTH builds up, which in turn leads to more and more stress. Which makes you easier to agitate. It’s a vicious cycle to which there is no escape. So why don’t we all just choke to death on stress buildup every time we see a sad story in the newspaper? Because sometimes, your brain just flat out declares that it has had enough of this bullshit and blasts a bunch of ACTH the hell out of your body. Through your tear ducts….So crying is just the body’s way of stabilizing its chemical levels by literally squirting excess stress chemicals out through the tear ducts like optic blasts made of tiny frowns. That’s the reason most people feel better after crying — all that shit that used to make you sad has literally been removed.”
Exactly! In fact, the chemical composition of happy tears differs from chopping-onions tears which also differ from the the chemical composition of sad tears. (Put the onions in the ‘fridge or freezer for ten minutes. You won’t cry when chopping them then!)
So what happens when that so-called “unemotional” person refuses to shed a tear, lest they be seen as weak?
It’s All About the Rage, ‘Bout the Rage…No Tears!
A few months ago, the Daily Mail ran a story about a man who is prison-bound for killing his girlfriend’s baby in a rage. They even had a video of one of his famous rages! He flew into a temper, began screaming and gesturing and then, suddenly, sank gracefully to the floor. Unconscious! A few seconds later he came to, crawled to his feet and began screaming and tearing at his clothing again.
The rageaholics victims aren’t the only ones who suffer from their rage. Rageaholics do a helluva a number on themselves too. Edith Mayer Selznick referred to this on page 23 of her book A Private View where she alludes to the trauma the raging person experiences from their own rage.
“I see now that these people were ventilating and were enjoying a luxury I knew nothing about.
On the other hand, they seemed in such terrible shape after losing their tempers
that my sympathy was misplaced and I pitied them instead of their victims.”
How well I remember it. After Dad’s screaming, swearing, fists-flailing-the-air and crashing-down-on-the-furniture rages, he would disappear into the darkened bedroom for hours. Emerging silently and bashfully, avoiding the rest of the family, he looked like he’d swum the English channel, fought six rounds with Mohammed Ali and then sat down for a quiet chat with the Grim Reaper. Sometimes he was silent. Sometimes he was tearful and penitent. Sometimes he raged at us again.
After almost fifty years of toddler-like tantrums, he got cancer.
Anger is an emotion, but it’s a secondary emotion. It’s a gift that tells us when we’ve been hurt, insulted, cheated, used and abused. It has its place in the world of emotion, in the right context, expressed correctly…but not expressed so your audience is traumatized into PTSD. But anger is often really pain wearing a disguise. They say that “depression is anger [at others] turned on ourselves” and, in my experience, that is 100% true!
Tears are merely the physical expression of emotion…many emotions are expressed through tears. And with all due respect to the Greatest Generation and my tears-are-stupid friend, there’s nothing shameful about tears. If you ask me, this world would be a much better place if people started squirting tears everywhere instead of screaming, raging, shouting, swearing, punching, hitting and traumatizing themselves and each other.
So, if it’s all the same to you, I’ll keep my tears. They’re my friend. I’m not ashamed of them. And you shouldn’t be ashamed of your tears either.
Here’s a hanky. God knows we all need a good cry!
Thompson, L. (2017). Why is Anger Okay, But Tears Rejected as “Emotion”?. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 22, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/narcissism/2017/09/why-is-anger-okay-but-tears-rejected-as-emotion/