MH@H Mental Health

Getting My Cry On in Public

People cry, not because they're weak. It's because they've been strong for too long.

It’s interesting (and not in a good way) how strong social pressures are not to cry in public.  Someone who does so might be called a “crybaby”, or if they’re male their masculinity may be questioned.  In general, public crying is seen as a sign of weakness.

I say that’s a total load of BS.  Not that society is going to listen to me, but I just wanted to put that out there.

I’m not the only one to feel that way.  The site Young Minds has posted some suggestions for handling public crying.  An article on Psych Central argues that embarrassment helps to build trust and crying promotes community.  There’s some attention being paid to this, but I think we probably need to talk about it more.

I’ve cried in a variety of locales.  I prefer to avoid ugly crying if I can, but that’s not really something I can control.  By ugly crying I basically mean that there’s as much snot involved as tears.

At a wedding

I cried all the way through my brother’s wedding because I was so stressed out.  It was outside, so sunglasses helped hide some of it.  I also had a couple guinea pigs tucked into my purse for emotional support, and they probably helped to prevent the progression to ugly cry.

On vacation

I’ve cried multiple times while on vacation.  One time was at my hostel in Moscow.  I was on the phone right next to the front desk wailing away, so I was very much on display. 

When I was in Italy last fall I ended up leaving my hostel in Florence because of a pervy staff member, and I cried the whole walk to the alternate hotel I’d found.  The guy at the supermarket deli took pity on me and gave me some free bread, which I thought was rather nice.  Most people ignored me.

I also end up crying a lot of the time when I vomit, and a whole lot of this has happened when I’ve travelled because of motion sickness.

At work

I’ve cried in multiple work-related settings.  I walked out of a job interview once because I started crying and there was no hope of getting the tears under control in a timely manner.  I cried at a  team-building retreat. I’ve cried during meetings with managers.  And on a couple different occasions at a couple of different jobs I have full-on ugly cried.  In one case I was able to retreat to the washroom, but the other time was on full display (I was just lucky all the patients had already gone to bed).

There have been more, but that’s all the specific examples I can think of off the top of my head.

Tears are OK

Tears are actually kind of like laughter.  They’re an external way of expressing emotions, and they can happen involuntarily.  Yet laughter is socially acceptable, but crying is not.  Perhaps in a way that’s representative of a more general tendency to select for the positive and shove everything else under the rug.

Sadness is just as valid an emotion as anything else.  And whether we’re trying to suppress crying or the emotional experience of sadness, I don’t think anyone’s doing themselves any favours.  Why shouldn’t we be able to experience all of our emotions as they naturally ebb and flow, and express them as we need to in a way that’s not harmful to others?

So I will continue to cry in public.  And if people don’t like it, well, just wait until the snot starts flying!

Have you had experiences crying in public, negative or otherwise?

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Embrace Acceptance: A Guided Journal draws on concepts from acceptance and commitment therapy to help you move towards a place of greater acceptance. It’s available from the MH@H Download Centre.

57 thoughts on “Getting My Cry On in Public”

  1. Yes! I’ve cried a bit in public (public transport, work), but mostly trying to get myself together if I think someone else is looking or if my boss or colleagues come in because I worry what they would say.

    When I was in primary school I would sometimes spontaneously start crying and would worry someone would see me and ask why. I used to tell myself it was just my eyes watering, which in retrospect seems like an excuse, but it was too long ago for me to think seriously about what might have triggered it. It does make me wonder if my depression goes back a lot further than its “official” start in my teens.

    1. I wish kids could be sent the message that crying is an acceptable way to express themselves. It would probably make things a lot easier for people as adults.

  2. Oh well, I have many sob-stories-in-the-public eye. I think I am the person that feels ashamed about it. 1. I went to Yoga class, just freshly into my burnout. While I couldn’t concentrate on what is left and right, I felt the biggest sadness. My mind and body weren’t acting like I was used to. I felt the big tears coming up along with the heavy breathing. Nobody made a noise. I sat that class out and ran away to cry at home. That was september 2018. I really want to start yoga again but I’m afraid that I’m ‘too weak’. 2. cried on the bus 3. cried at work, multiple occasions 4. cried on the streets 5. cried with friends 6. cried on a daily basis about everything …. it’s a long list. But you can get the gist that I get what you’re saying here 😀

    1. I have one really great yoga teacher who will sometimes say at the beginning of class that it might bring up emotions, and crying is totally okay. I thought it was really cool that she did that,.

      1. That’s good that your Yoga teacher does that.
        When I used to do Pilates, the teacher used to mention it in her class too.
        I have been tearful in a couple if Pilates class. Felt a plonker for doing so. But the tutor reassured me it was fine and that it was normal and no one else blinked an eyelid, so it was just me that felt embarressed. No one else did anything to make me feel ashamed, so a good class.

  3. I cried in public, in a college building, when i did badly on a test and someone stopped and was really nice to me.

    I’ve cried at work a lot, at my desk. Normally no one notices, but if they do, I pretend it’s allergies. Once I couldn’t hide it though, when I was talking about my ex husband, and everything was okay. My bosses are really nice guys.

      1. More than I ever expected and and to say after last year, I was looking forward to 2019 in a better light.
        Thankfully, at least now I have my second cleaning job, that has took the pressure off when it came to money worries.
        With all the good positive emotions while feeling my lows, it’s been hard to process and still is at times.

  4. I am what you would call a crier. I can easily tear up and not always because I am sad. There are happy tears too. While crying in public, people either ignore my crying or react kindly. Fortunately I have not had any bad reactions to my being emotional.

  5. I have cried at work, in my car at busy locations and in stores. Because I was emotional I couldn’t stop myself. I have learned that people don’t care even if they look at you and notice. They act as if you are fine.

  6. I’ve never had a job in my life that I didn’t break down in tears at a few times at least. I hate that about myself, but it is just how I am. My crying isn’t even caused by sadness, but by being overwhelmed and frustrated.

      1. My last public cry was at my pain doc’s office a couple months ago. There was some kind of insurance billing mixup and they wanted me to pay $2700.00 to refill my intrathecal pain pump, which was almost empty. I lost it! Ugly crying big time. The office gals worked something out and they didnt charge me and did the refill.

        I’m not sure if it was the crying or the obvious mixup or the fact that without the refill I’d be in emergency from opiate withdrawal when the pump went dry, but bless them for working it out.

        I believe it takes strength to own your emotions and express them. Its NOT weakness. Angry crying still frustrates me though😒

  7. I am a highly sensitive person, it’s hard for me to even make through the news without breaking down into tears, and I used to get teased for it all of the time.

    This still stays with me, I hate crying in public. I was in the parking lot at Walmart not too long ago and I saw a woman who reminded me so much of my late mother, I couldn’t control the sobs that came over me and I fell to my knees sobbing. Right there, in front of my car in the parking lot. People were staring at me and I felt so foolish, but I couldn’t help it.

    It sucks, because I also cry when I’m angry, and people think I’m upset, but internally I’m seething. It takes a lot to get my to that point, but I hate when it happens.

    I feel you. It is perfectly okay to not be okay, it is perfectly okay to cry in public, but unfortunately, society makes us feel bad for it.

    1. It would be so much easier if parents taught their kids that it’s okay to cry, because without the pressure and embarrassment it wouldn’t become such a huge production.

  8. One of my best friends from college married last month. I was definitely in tears (but happy tears) for most of the service, quite frankly! And you know what? I think that’s okay.

  9. I love that you brought the guinea pigs to a wedding!! When I first was diagnosed with panic disorder, I cried a lot. My so-called friend (a female) told me that it wasn’t manly and questioned if I’d ever be able to hold down a family. She got crossed off the friend list, and look at me now bitch! Wife and a kid on the way! I cried in therapy last week during EMDR. Very therapeutic in my opinion. Great post!

  10. I love this blog post. Love. It.

    Cry on, I say! The only problem for me is that when I see strangers crying, I feel heartbroken and bereft. And I’m not sure what to do if no one’s with them, consoling them. One example was when I was flying back from Prague last year. The woman next to me on the plane was a sad, sad passenger; and like me, I think she was traveling alone. Feeling rather awkward, I offered her some reading materials (the books I’d packed), some headache pills, and some tissues. She said no thanks, but she seemed to appreciate my efforts.

    But… HA HA! When I was going to Prague, the original flight to Prague from the US was canceled. And when we got off the plane, we were told to use our cellphones to rebook a new flight. Perfect, guess who doesn’t use a cellphone? (I’m going to take a prepaid one this year, but it will still just do talk and text, so it wouldn’t help with this sort of going-to-a-website expectation.)

    Everyone from the canceled flight was hogging the customer-service desk, so I started walking through the dark, empty airport until I found a help desk. I don’t remember why, exactly, but I wound up sitting on the floor about five feet away from the desk, hiding under my jacket, and … what did you call it?… ugly crying. Very ugly. It seems hysterical now, but I just completely lost it. Then, this very nice young man at the desk helped me rebook through his computer since I’m not a cellphone person.

    Then I took care of everything, but it was 4:00 in the morning, and they were out of free hotel rooms. (Also, they said I’d just be brought back to the airport at, like, 6:00 AM.) I found the Minute Suites, but they charged, like, $100 an hour. Still somewhat hysterical, I explained that my flight had been canceled, and they gave me ten hours for the price of two, saying they’d bill the airport for the rest. God bless! No more tears. I slept like a baby.

    1. Crying can work wonders for travel problems. At a train station I started wailing because I thought I’d missed my train. Some staff took pity on me and radioed the engineer, who stopped the train as it was partially pulled out of the station.

  11. I’ve cried in class before. Iy was my turn to present and Id had a pretty stressful morning and it just happened. I was shocked by it. My classmates weren’t negative (Im studying counseling so that may play a role in it) but I didnt like having eyes on me.

    I dont like the idea that crying is weak or negative. Its a natural thing and sometimes we just need to release those emotions. It is tough though to release that idea that “I shouldnt cry in public”.

  12. I am not the kind of person who would try to keep positive by all means or expect only positivity from others, but I have a great difficulty in expressing negative emotions. I am not a cryer, usually if I cry I do it because of anger, I don’t typically get moved by things in a way that would make me cry, sometimes I actually regret it because people around me, especially my Mum but also other family members can cry a lot and easily because of feeling moved and for me it’s something I’ve experienced maybe twice, but it doesn’t mean I’m not moved by things at all, I just don’t feel the need to express it outwardly. I don’t cry very much because of sadness either unless it’s really overpowering. I cry when I feel overwhelmed by all sorts of emotions, especially if I’ve bottled them up for a long time and I can’t take any more in, and then it can be quite spectacular and hard to control, or if I don’t cry then I usually cut or something like that. Sometimes when I’m overwhelmed by sensory stuff for a longer period of time I cry as well.
    Because expressing how I feel is so difficult for me, I’ll do anything to avoid crying in public, and so it hasn’t happened often to me, but I cried on the street, in a restaurant, in the hospital, in church and last year in a supermarket.
    I seem to think that for me crying is a sign of weakness but for other people it’s okay, however illogical that might sound. 😀 And I have no problem with people crying in public but if someone I know and am with is crying I have usually no idea how to react, unless it’s someone from my family who just cries a lot like my Mum or grandma.

  13. Thank you for sharing your experiences with crying in public. I don’t like to cry in public, but only because it is frowned upon societally (which as you point out, it shouldn’t be!!). I’ve cried on airplanes many times because I get panicked during turbulence.

  14. When I was growing up my dad wouldn’t allow me to cry. He couldn’t stand hearing someone cry. So I’m really good at holding my tears back. I very rarely cry but when I do it feels so good afterwards. I think crying can be a sign of strength and weakness. I agree with you… You should be able to cry when you want to and not feel bad about it. I was trained not to.

  15. Not big on crying and the tears of others make me uncomfortable. I like reach over and pet the person, because no hugging, and them I fear snot getting on me…it’s a upheaval of awkwardness for me but I do believe in the cleansing of crying. Now if I cry because I am enraged, run because shit is about to fly. Not a good look.

  16. I can honestly say that I hate crying in public. Not because I (or anyone) is immune to strong emotional responses, but because of the fear of embarrassment and prying. I rarely cry around my girl friends and they know me pretty well. Vunerabality is something I have a problem dealing with, even though I know that it’s perfectly normal to cry. It’s such a release!

  17. I hate it when I cry in public, though I wouldn’t judge someone else for that. It’s usually because I’m badly triggered, and fortunately it’s mostly been just a few tears.

    I’ve cried at work while in my cubicle or in the bathroom due to stress, triggers, painful memories. Sometimes it’s full on sobbing. I used to self harm to prevent crying, but stopped and I’ve cried a lot more since. Tears of frustration, despair, tremendous sadness.

    I’ve also cried from rage. Rare for me, but sometimes happens.

  18. I hate crying in public too. If God forbid I do it for some reason, I always have to come up with some excuse,even to my kids, something like “there is dust in my eyes and can’t get it out”. I feel silly most times, but it is embarrassing.

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