How do you cry with tears

Three types of tears

Tears are sung about in songs, expressed in poetry, and they have long been a topic in science. The result is astonishing - but much remains a mystery.

The couple has made themselves comfortable: Just in time for the big film at 8:15 p.m., the two of them sit on the sofa wrapped in woolen blankets. It should be a cozy winter evening in front of the television. On the side table is freshly brewed tea with a few biscuits. The couple follows what is happening on the screen with enthusiasm, develops sympathy for the protagonist, suffers with her, wishes for a happy outcome to the conflict. But in the end everything turns bad and the heroine goes under. In the face of this horror, man and woman can no longer hold back the tears and let them run free. Not a rare scenario.

In fact, it is in these or similar situations that most tears are shed. Most people cry when they are at home and alone or at most with two people. The wedding of tears is daily from 6pm to 10pm. Because at this time, tiredness favors the tendency to cry. In addition, many spend this time in front of the television and watch harrowing news or touching films.

The blink of an eye. The airstream has thrown a fly in the eye. The beloved hamster is dead. - Three very different events. And yet the human eye produces tears in all three cases.

The first case involves basal tears that continuously wet the eye with a tear film with every blink of the eye so that it does not dry out. This enables clear vision as the tear fluid acts like a polish on the lens.

The second case is reflex tears, which are produced in response to possible damage to the surface of the eye. These can be triggered by cold, harmful chemicals, mechanical irritation or even smells. The most prominent example of the production of tears through a smell is probably the cutting of onions.

The mystery of emotional tears - it has always been attractive to science and also to art.

Image: Wikipedia Commons

Finally, the third case is emotional tears. This is the term used to describe tears that are cried completely independently of any irritation to the eye. They are often accompanied by sobs and changes in facial muscles and voice. Despite, or perhaps because of, their diversity, the emotional tears are far from being fully explored, but seem distant, inaccessible and inexplicable. The last secrets remain for man from himself.

Man deals with his emotional tears. They are probably the most conspicuous form of processing emotions and are also unique to humans because animals are not capable of crying emotionally moved. The motif of tears runs across human life. With joy and sadness, with love and hate, with redemption and pain, we cry. Because emotional tears can be caused by positive as well as negative feelings.

For example, the separation from a loved one is often mourned sadly, but the reunion is showered with tears of joy. When it comes to sad events, "crying is obvious, and at best one is surprised that there is not much more crying," notes Cord Benecke from the University of Innsbruck in a study for which he evaluated the emotional behavior of some female test subjects during personal interviews . In the tears of the happy moments, however, "the long-awaited, the long-awaited happiness that has not been thought possible for a long time, and the happiness that may not even be experienced as deserved are reflected."

Emotional tears are psychologically close to humans. They accompany him at the junctures of his life and in very everyday situations. As a result, you have tremendous power over human relationships.

This becomes particularly clear when looking at crying infants: crying guarantees the infant the basic care provided by the parents, since by crying he shows himself helpless and dependent on the support of others. In the first months of life, crying shows fundamental problems such as hunger or pain; it is not yet used in a manipulative manner. This use only begins with the tenth month of life: From now on, people instrumentalize the tears in order to arouse attention and to express the desire for help. Experiments show that this sign language is actually very effective: observers do not rate the crying person positively, but they are still ready to help and are more patient with them. However, if the crying occurs too frequently or incessantly, as can be the case with infants, it can also be dangerous. As a survey by Benecke showed, about 80 percent of all mothers have occasionally felt the impulse to want to hit their constantly crying baby.

Not all people have the same tendency to cry. First of all, ethnic differences can be identified. Ad Vingerhoets from the Dutch University of Tilburg, who has been dealing with the subject of emotional crying for over 20 years, discovered after empirical studies that residents of warm countries generally cry less than people in cold surroundings. He explains this phenomenon on the one hand with the higher emotional expressiveness in warmer countries, which prevents crying, and on the other hand with the mild evenings that would be spent there in community rather than alone and withdrawn. Since people are more likely to cry in the evening when they are alone, this component is smaller in warmer areas with their evening sociability. Vingerhoets was able to observe an influence of temperature himself in his home country: "I found out that people in the Netherlands tend to cry more in winter than in summer."

Other important factors that influence the occurrence of emotional tears are the occupation and the social environment in which someone moves. Education, gender understanding and contact with other people play a role in particular: the more educated, open and relational the person, the more often they cry. Examples of such groups are primarily nursing professions such as therapists and nurses. Opposite them are, for example, stockbrokers, engineers and soldiers - professional groups who go through life with dry eyes.

Doctors should be viewed as a special group. Although they are confronted with suffering and death directly and above average every day, they still cry very seldom, as a study at three hospitals in Sydney has shown. This paradox arises from the fact that outward emotions for a doctor can also always lead to a reduction in reputation. This problem becomes apparent with medical students: When they cannot hold back their tears at work, they are often laughed at by colleagues. Doctors also fear losing control with the outbreak of tears and leaving room for the feeling of being overwhelmed.

The saying "An Indian knows no pain" is characteristic of the gender-specific handling of tears. Every boy knows these words. On the first bike ride without training wheels, I kept falling over, my knees were bloody - and yet not allowed to cry. Because male crying is quickly understood as a weakness in character, a lack of steadfastness and a loss of face. While in women dissatisfaction in conflict situations, in case of loss or the experience of their own inadequacy often leads to tears, men do not give in to these feelings but act instead. For men, empathy and personal moments of happiness are more likely to trigger tears.

The first differences in wine behavior become apparent from the age of 13. Then it becomes apparent that women cry more often than men, namely 30 to 64 times a year compared to 6 to 17 times for men. There are also differences in the duration of the individual wine process, as it lasts an average of two to four minutes for men and six minutes for women. All of this has been scientifically investigated.

But Elisabeth Messmer, ophthalmologist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, recognizes in a current summary of the state of research on emotional tears some movements contrary to these observations: On the one hand, women in high professional positions often experience an emotional hardening that their tendency to Decrease crying. On the other hand, today more sensitive men with the courage to cry would have increased social sympathy, as weeping figures on the big screen or touched politicians showed.

Of course, very individual factors also play a role: The stimulus threshold for crying emotional tears is different for each individual. It is changed on the one hand by physical conditions such as fatigue or menstruation and pregnancy in women. On the other hand, mental states such as anger, frustration and sadness also increase wine behavior. So individual experiences, experiences and memories play a role when we assign a corresponding emotion to a situation from the existing, already experienced repertoire.

Wine behavior is particularly dependent on character traits: Empathetic, extroverted people are more prone to emotional tears - especially when their personality is solid. Because then they don't fear exposure. In contrast to these people are the more distant ones with a high need for self-control, which is theirs
forbids emotional outbursts.

Throwing off the ballast once, crying yourself properly once, letting your tears run free once. But do they really help fight sadness?

Image: Maximilian Liesner, CC-BY-SA

Probably the most common thesis about the benefits of emotional tears is the catharsis theory. According to this, tears bring a psychological cleansing of the painful feelings and free people from their pent-up emotional imbalance by allowing themselves to fall into simple reactions. This view has found its way into everyday life in proverbs and sayings.

When the young woman at the dinner table gnaws absent-mindedly on her bun at the dinner table because she had a terrible argument with her boyfriend, she remembers the words she knew from her mother from childhood: “Yes, exactly, little girl, cry first of all, everything is strong from the soul. Then the world looks completely different again. "

We even offer seminars on crying - with the aim of making everyday life easier for the participants. "By crying you can become freer and more flexible and enjoy life more again," says the description of such an event, for example.

There is nothing to do with the catharsis theory. More detailed investigations have shown unequivocally that this assumption is a fallacy. Depressed people, for example, cry more often than average, but hardly relieve themselves of their psychological burden. The tears can only have a cleansing effect if the problem that caused them is actually solved. Or when, in the wake of tears, people give consolation and support, when social bonds are strengthened and support is offered. Otherwise, despite the crying, the discomfort will persist. It can even be intensified when such intimate tears flow in front of strangers or in public spaces. To defuse this situation, crying people often take refuge in smiling or laughing, as Cord Benecke observed during his interviews.

Ad Vingerhoets has tested another widespread thesis: It boils down to the fact that emotional tears wash stress hormones out of the body and thus have a calming effect. Vingerhoets measured whether emotional tears contain more stress hormones than basal or reflex tears. But he found no differences in the chemical composition - and refuted the thesis of reducing stress.

The research on emotional tears is very reluctant to come forward to new knowledge because it turns out to be very difficult. According to Vingerhoets, a key problem lies in the particular research measure used. A clear distinction should be made between the frequency of wine and the stimulus threshold of crying. The latter arises on the one hand from the general character of a person and on the other hand from the fluctuating selective state of mind that would be influenced by insomnia or alcohol, for example. Vingerhoets criticizes that test participants are often only given situations in which they should assess how likely it is that they will cry. Only the frequency of wine would be determined and the stimulus threshold would be completely disregarded. “The crying is usually not triggered by situations like a funeral or a breakup, because these are simply rather rare. It often occurs for trivial and mundane reasons. ”This suggests that a person's physiological or psychological state may be more important than the occasion.

When crying emotional tears, people are a secret to themselves. Kind of reassuring too. Or not?

Image: Maximilian Liesner CC-BY-SA

The question now arises whether it might not even serve people that emotional tears are not fully theoretically explainable and transparent. A person would remain a secret from himself. After all, not every emotional impulse, which is actually individual and personality-creating, has to be interpreted theoretically immediately! Research does not want to be satisfied with this view: "I find the thesis nonsensical," contradicts Elisabeth Messmer. “In my opinion, it is extremely sad that, for example, so little is known about the central interconnection of emotions. Knowing about a phenomenon always facilitates understanding, and that is precisely what is very important in the case of emotional tears. "Ad Vingerhoets mentions another point: the therapy of mental illnesses:" Medical treatment methods differ significantly in the use of crying. While some doctors forbid their patients to cry during the course of therapy, others see tears as an important signal for therapeutic progress. "Now who is right? Only exact science can clarify this.

So it is probably too early to draw a general conclusion. Because so far you can only tell: people sometimes cry to attract attention, sometimes out of pity, sometimes for hormonal reasons. Sometimes the tears improve your emotional state, sometimes not. Some connections have already been clarified, many are still missing. Science is interested in the discovery of further phenomena so that people get to know their own emotionality better and better. In doing so, he may lose a secret about himself, but he can benefit greatly from the new knowledge. Describing emotions in scientific terminology may seem strange, but it helps to be able to handle mental crises better and better.