Crying in public – valuable insight from an unapologetic cryer

Have you ever felt embarrassed, remorseful or ridiculous for crying in public? If so, this post written by an unapologetic cryer is for you.

Guest post by Cathy Tubb


Not long ago I was watching the morning news. A woman was recounting the story of what had clearly been a traumatic event in her life. It was obvious that she was struggling as she tried to explain the situation, and when the emotion of the moment overcame her, her voice broke and tears fell. As she wiped the tears away, she choked out two words – “I’m sorry.”

I thought, “What on earth does she have to apologize for? If I was in her shoes I’d be crying in public too.”

I watched similar scenes play out several times over the next week:  someone feeling pain or sorrow, shedding a few tears, and promptly apologizing for crying. It made me realize something.

I have become very unapologetic for my tears.

Over the months of my Dad’s illness, the weeks of his palliative care at home, and finally his death, I cried more tears than I knew I had in me to cry. I cried when someone tried to be kind to me at work. I cried when I noticed the Red Polls were back at the bird feeder and I couldn’t call Dad and tell him. I cried after a birthday party for my father-in-law when I realized there would be no more birthday celebrations with my Dad. I cried silently, tears running down my face during the last meal I shared with my dad because I knew with terrible certainty that it would be our last. And I cried deep and consuming broken-hearted tears the night he passed.

Before all of this happened, I thought that crying in public was inappropriate.

If something made me sad enough to cry in public, I was just like the woman I saw on TV. I would apologize. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to cry.” Worse, I would call my tears, and myself, stupid. And I would wipe away my tears and try to hold myself together.

Why do we do that? Why do we apologize for a perfectly natural and human reaction to an emotional situation? Why do we think we need to bottle up our feelings and keep them hidden? The short answer is we shouldn’t and we don’t.

Stress, divorce, loss, death, depression – no matter what the source of your pain and suffering may be, tears are a fundamental part of our grieving and healing process. Do you know what tears are made of?

If you think tears are made of salt water, you’re not alone. That’s what I thought too, but they are so much more than that. I wondered what the purpose of crying was and so I did what we all do when we want to know something – I googled it. Why do we cry? I ended up reading some very enlightening articles that changed the way I look at tears.

Here’s what I learned about crying from Wikipedia.

“Tears produced during emotional crying have a chemical composition which differs from other types of tears. They contain significantly greater quantities of the hormones prolactin, adrenocorticotropic hormone, Leu-enkephalin, and the elements potassium and manganese.”

Let me simplify it for you. Our tears are filled with hormones, one of which plays a vital role in the effectiveness of the immune system, one that’s responsible for managing feelings of stress, and another that produces a natural form of morphine to relieve pain (because emotional pain can result in physical pain, like heartache, headaches, stomach aches, etc.

Crying in public - it's ok to share your pain

Crying is good for you.

Think of it this way: if you don’t cry when you feel pain or grief, you can get sick, your stress level can remain elevated, and the pain can continue. If, however, you allow yourself to cry, you can avoid illness, control stress, and reduce your pain.

If the above is too scientific for you, let’s go back to the notion that tears are simply salt water. There is considerable folk wisdom, supported by scientific evidence, to suggest that putting salt on a wound can help it heal. According to Wound Care Society:

One reason why salt water is widely used for wound healing is that it helps kill certain types of bacteria …. When these bacteria are killed, the wound site is cleaned… infection is inhibited, so that it will not spread into the other skin areas or get worse. Killing the infesting bacteria also helps the new skin cells to grow faster and more properly. Once this proper growth is promoted, the wounded site will eventually heal. Decreasing the inflammation means reducing the caused pain. While putting salt water on the wound site will badly sting at first, it helps future painful sensation around the wound site, which is very helpful for numerous people.

I think you can draw your own parallels between tears and salt water, a physical wound and an emotional wound, bacteria and bitterness.

So I ask you this: why should we hold back our tears?

And why should we apologize for doing something that will eventually make us feel better? While my grief has been unwelcome, unwanted, and immensely unpleasant, it is also teaching me valuable lessons about myself and about life – lessons that aren’t learned any other way. I won’t be sorry for shedding tears for a man I love deeply and miss daily. If my tears offend you, you are welcome to walk away. Apologies are an offering of reconciliation when I have done something hurtful or harmful. My tears are neither and I refuse to apologize for them anymore.

Maybe you shouldn’t either.


Cathy Tubb is a full time writer and blogger, and a part-time Funeral Celebrant. A lifelong storyteller, Cathy searches for the deeper meaning and lessons hidden in everyday moments with the hope of provoking a little thought and shedding a little light. You can read more from Cathy on her blog or follow her on Facebook here.

By | 2017-09-16T17:24:59+00:00 September 10th, 2017|14 Comments

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14 Comments

  1. Logan @ Money Done Right September 15, 2017 at 11:50 am - Reply

    Very good points. It’s so strange that society judges us for crying in public while it doesn’t look down upon, say, laughing in public. Is sadness not as legitimate an emotion as joy? I wonder if the shame in public crying is universal or just a Western thing.

    • THE WORDY MOM September 15, 2017 at 1:19 pm - Reply

      Such an interesting question you raise, Logan. Hmmmm … food for thought.

    • Cathy September 15, 2017 at 3:27 pm - Reply

      That is a great question Logan and it’s one I thought about when I wrote this post, I just didn’t have time to ask anyone. I’d love to hear what other people think though – is the stigma around crying in public a cultural thing?

  2. Crisly September 15, 2017 at 11:59 pm - Reply

    I think we are more embarrassed crying in public, than laughing in public because we think more about what other people say or think about us. When we laugh, people think it’s normal and they barely notice it. However, when we cry, we notice a lot of eyes on us – that’s when we feel uncomfortable. That’s when we start to get embarrassed and hide away the tears. Why do we care about what other people think about us? I think this is not a cultural thing, it happens everywhere.

    • THE WORDY MOM September 16, 2017 at 7:29 am - Reply

      I think you could be right, Crisly. Cathy – you may need to write a follow-up post 😉

  3. Tanya September 16, 2017 at 3:11 pm - Reply

    Love this post. Crying in public gets awkward, and we’re generally not comfortable with awkward. But when I think about crying in public, which I’ve definitely done, I comfort myself by being grateful that I feel. I am grateful. Embarrassed about it or no, I feel and I cry. So there. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • THE WORDY MOM September 16, 2017 at 3:47 pm - Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Tanya. I’m so delighted you enjoyed this post. Cathy Tubb is a fabulous writer. I hope you’ll check out more on her blog.

    • Cathy September 17, 2017 at 11:02 am - Reply

      Thanks for reading Tanya! The more comments I read about this post the more I have been thinking about just exactly WHY laughing until we cry is ok but crying from sadness is not – at least not publicly. Why is it that people are uncomfortable around vulnerability? Maybe it’s a primal, survival thing? The fact is we are humans with real emotions and sharing them makes our human experience richer. Glad you’re encouraged!

  4. Jackie September 16, 2017 at 5:00 pm - Reply

    Love this, really enjoyed reading. I cry twice a year… on my birthday for being annoyed at being born and at Christmas for knowing that inside I’m alone although everyone celebrates togetherness. I cant help it… but I do it alone. I hate crying in front of people. It’s also awkward because they cannot feel what you feel.. therefore your tears they cannot understand… making it seem stupid to them in turn just looks stupid. I think. Haha. I try and hide my tears to the best of my ability. Because then I’m protected from feeling in front of people. Silly I know… even more silly now reading your blog post x

    http://Www.ontheothersideofdepression.com

    • THE WORDY MOM September 16, 2017 at 8:17 pm - Reply

      Jackie, I’m so sorry that you suffer to such a great degree. I certainly don’t have the expertise to help ease your pain, but do consider this … you may THINK your tears seem stupid to others but that may not be the the case. In fact, your tears could be the very thing that allow someone close to you to open up and show their own vulnerability. Big love x

    • Cathy September 17, 2017 at 11:05 am - Reply

      I’m with Viv, Jackie. I’m sorry for your suffering. Keep writing honestly & from your heart. It has been my experience that others will come alongside to offer support and encouragement and that can be powerful, healing, and transformative. Much love to you!

  5. Shauna Coleman - Walker | shaunacoleman September 17, 2017 at 5:12 pm - Reply

    I cry a lot sometimes happy tears and sometimes sad. I think crying is normal and no one should apologize for tears.

    • THE WORDY MOM September 17, 2017 at 8:26 pm - Reply

      I’m with you, Shauna, and it sounds like we’re both with Cathy on this.

    • Cathy September 17, 2017 at 10:48 pm - Reply

      It IS normal 🙂 and it’s good to know I’m not the only one out there trying to spread that message.

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