Is This Normal?: “I Tear Up Every Time I Get Angry”
In this series, we dig into our strange phobias, fixations, and neuroses, and ask ourselves — Is This Normal?
I was raised in a non-confrontational household. We dealt with disagreements inside the privacy of our separate rooms, coming out and interacting only when we could perform civility again. The few times we did address a conflict head-on, it resulted in profuse crying, involved discomfort, and ended in watery smiles and exhaustion, met with relief all around. Fast forward to adulthood, and I find myself unable to express any anger, disappointment, or disagreement without immediately choking up, awash with the particularly grating shame that accompanies vulnerability. Most of these unfortunate times, I fail to immediately articulate why I’m annoyed. When the impulse to cry has passed — hours later — I find myself not angry anymore but still ashamed of having let go of yet another opportunity to assert my feelings.
Is this normal?
Tears are an emotional response to stimuli, be it stress, joy, anger, sadness, or physical pain, as previously reported by The Swaddle. Contrary to popular belief, our brains and tear ducts are not attuned to specific emotions like sadness, University of Maryland psychology professor, Robert R. Provine, told Refinery29. Tears are a response to any intense emotion that cannot be contained, including anger, he explained.
It may be natural, then, to react with rage tears, but that doesn’t make them any less inconvenient and humiliating. Angry crying is an uncomfortable feeling, stuck between a flurry of confusing thoughts and not being able to articulate them. Angry tears also express powerlessness, according to a study published in the journal Group Dynamics and Emotional Expression. “The individual is so frustrated by forces that allow no effective action, that only one reaction seems possible — crying and admitting failure. These angry tears have low social value because the weakness associated with them calls into question the legitimacy of the original feeling of frustration,” the study states.
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This negative perception of angry tears, especially its connection to weakness, is also gendered, the study states. Controlled and powerful displays of emotions, especially anger, are encouraged and even celebrated in men, not in women. Young girls are raised not to express their anger, let alone being taught how to handle it in a healthy manner, leading to the development of coping mechanisms involving suppression. This has resulted in gender perceptions that normalize, even stereotype, crying in women, while making it socially taboo for men.
These gender norms reinforcing suppression of anger have resulted in entire populations being frustrated, unable to articulate or be comfortable with their feelings. In Japan, hotels have launched “Crying Rooms,” targeted specifically toward women who might need a space in the middle of the day to quietly let loose their anger or sadness away from judgmental eyes, The Conversation reported. An entire industry has sprung up around emotional release in the country, centering on cry-therapy, with the aim of emotionally liberating its population.
Tears are a healthy way of coping with intense emotions and allow people to deal with their frustration, Northern Illinois University counseling chair Suzanne Degges-White told Refinery29. “Crying helps us manage our feelings, and, from a biological standpoint, it forces us to breath and requires taking a deep breath, which keeps our heart rate slow,” Degges-White said. “It’s a self-soothing mechanism that the body has built in. It’s productive.”
Angry tears, therefore, are not only completely normal, but might even be the most ‘normal’ way of expressing frustration in the moment. What is not normal is the weakness and vulnerability associated with it. We might not be able to control the initial physiological reaction that results in a release of tears, but whether we perceive such a reaction negatively in the aftermath is completely up to us, and everybody around us.