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Why It's Ok to Cry at Work

crying.jpgFor a long time, when I cried in front of someone, the first words of out of my mouth were, “I’m sorry.” I guess I was sorry for what I assumed made them uncomfortable.

About a year ago, my mom and I took a trip to pack up my grandfather’s house. It had been a hard spring – in addition to his death, I had spent hundreds of hours and a healthy chunk of change to apply to grad school, only to be turned down. I was about to move to another state, and I had no idea what direction my life would take. 

On a break from packing boxes, my mom asked how I was feeling. I started crying. “I’m sorry, Mom,” I began.

“Why are you sorry?” she asked, “Your tears are telling you something. Honor your tears.”

So I resolved to stop saying, “I’m sorry” for crying. I didn’t apologize for crying, even – get this – at work. And an amazing thing happened – nothing.

A friend listened and empathized when I cried during a car ride to the store. My supervisor didn’t bat an eye when I cried during a check-in. No one voiced feelings of discomfort or awkwardness. In fact, in both cases, it led to honest, in-depth conversations.

And it’s not just me – research and science back up the fact that crying is not only okay, but can be good for you. In her now famous TED talks that can be found here and here, researcher Brené Brown explained her research findings about connection and feelings of self-worth. People with a strong sense of worthiness, love, and belonging possessed qualities that set them apart from others: they possessed the courage to be imperfect, and they fully embraced vulnerability.

Imperfection and vulnerability? Trust me, this was not great news to me, either.

However, in the second video link above, Brown went on to note, “Vulnerability is our most accurate measure of courage… [and it is] the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

I could stomach that idea a bit more. With my resolution to not apologize for crying, I challenged myself to become increasingly honest and vulnerable with people around me in my personal and professional life. In the last few months, I’ve realized just how much I’ve been missing out on in my relationships. I’ve experienced longer and more fulfilling discussions, and I feel more known and connected.

Crying is my barometer for vulnerability, and here are the benefits I’ve found to be true:

  • Crying signals to others (and you!) that something is up. When you might not otherwise be able to express frustration or fear, tears tell you something about your emotions.
  • Once you let them come, tears provide a release valve. It’s science: In this Psychology Today article, research found that tears stemming from emotion help people excrete stress hormones (toxins that cause weight gain and other negative effects) and stimulate endorphins (your body’s naturally occurring feel-good chemicals). In other words, crying helps you get rid of stress and feel good.
  • It reminds people that you’re human and gives them permission to be, too. As Brown says, “Empathy is the antidote to shame.”

I am lucky to have people with whom I can be vulnerable and feel safe. While this may not be the case with all workplaces or families, I would encourage you to find the place that feels right for you to open up and push yourself further into vulnerability.

Come on in, the water’s fine.

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