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The Truth About Tears - Part Two
Compiled by Dr. Rae Baum, Ph.D.
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(Source: William H. Frey, II, Ph.D. with Muriel Langseth, CRYING: The Mystery of Tears. Copyright 1985, Winston Press, Inc. with permission of the author)


Crying Frequency and Disease

As yet, no one has done any research measuring crying frequency in relation to illness. However, a study to examine the relationship between suppressed tears and specific stress-related disorders and between the free expression of tears and health was conducted at the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing in 1979 by Margaret Crepeau. She recognized that tears are one factor in emotional expression which can be explored in health and illness.

One hundred thirty-seven male and female subjects from Pittsburgh and other areas of the United States who were either healthy or had an ulcer or colitis, participated in the research. They filled out a three-part questionnaire to determine (1) how likely a person is to cry in a variety of situations, (2) what the person generally feels about crying, (3) what tears personally meant to the person. Crepeau found that healthy persons (both make and female) are more likely to cry and have a more positive attitude toward tears than those persons with ulcers and colitis, two conditions thought to be aggravated by stress. (Margaret T. Crepeau, "A Comparison of the Behavior Patterns and Meanings of Weeping Among Adult Men and Women Across Three Health Conditions" Ph.D. dissertation, University of Pittsburgh, 1980.) So it is possible that anti-crying socialization may have adverse consequences on health.

While Crepeau's research is one of the few studies specifically exploring the relationship between tear suppression and disease, other theories concerning the role of tears in disease have been presented. A three-year study at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center suggested that depression often precedes the onset of the common cold. Based on this information, Merl Jackel speculated that colds may be "symbolically repressed tears. "(Merl Jackel, "The Common Cold and Depression," Hillside Hospital Journal xvii-2 (1968): 165-77.) (This speculation seems to ignore the role of viruses in causing colds.) Other speculative theories linking asthma, urticaria (hives), and other physical conditions with the suppression of tears have also appeared in the scientific literature. (Franz Alexander, Psychosomatic Medicine (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1950), 139, 168. Leon J. Saul and C. Bernstein, "The Emotional Settings of Some attacks of Urticaria," Psychosomatic Medicine 3 (1941): 349-69. Joseph Kepecs, M. Robin, and M. Brunner, "Relationship between Certain Emotional States and Exudation into the Skin," Psychosomatic Medicine 13 (1951): 10-17. Thomas M. French, "Psychogenic Factors in Asthma," American Journal of Psychiatry 96 (1939): 91.)

Tears Alleviate Grief

Folk wisdom and literature contain many references to the fact that humans and animals become ill and die from grief. Until recently this epitaph could be found engraved on tombstones: "Died of a broken heart." During the last century scientific studies on bereavement have confirmed that the loss of a loved one, particularly a spouse, can lead to ill health and even death. Researchers found that widows with acquaintances who made it easy for them to cry and express their intense feelings were healthier than widows who experienced less encouragement from others to weep and discuss their feelings of grief. (David Maddison and Wendy L. Walker, "Factors Affecting the Outcome of Conjugal Bereavement," British Journal of Psychiatry 113 (October 1967): 1057-67.) This information supports the speakers in Alfred Lord Tennyson's famous passage in his poem "The Princess" written in 1847.

Home they brought her warrior dead.
She nor swooned not uttered cry;
All her maidens, watching, said,
"She must weep or she will die."

Rees and Lutkins (1967) found that widowers are more likely to die soon after the death of their spouse than widows, and the overall risk for bereaved male relatives is twice that of females.(W. Dewi Rees and Sylvia G. Lutkins, "Morality of Bereavement," British Medical Journal 4 (1967): 13- 16.) In a similar extensive 1981 study, Knut Helsing and his associates found mortality rates were about the same for widowed as for married women, but were considerably higher for widowed men than married men. (Knud J. Helsing, Moyses Szklo, and George Comstock, "Factors Associated with Morality after Widowhood," American Journal of Public Health 71 (August 1981): 802-09.) Dr. George Engels' research on sudden deaths found that more men than women die following a distressing major life event, and men died at an earlier age. (Dianne Hales, "Psycho-immunity," Science Digest (November 1981): 12-14.) Dr. W. Dewi Rees offers an explanation for this higher incidence of male deaths following a death in t he family in his article, "Bereavement and Illness," in the Journal of Thanatology. He writes, "It is conceivable that the increased mortality associated with bereavement found among men, when compared with women, may be due to the greater repression of overt feeling traditionally required of men and to the cultural taboo that prevents a proper healthy expression of grief." (W. Dewi Rees, "Bereavement and Illness," Journal of Thanatology 2 (Summer-Fall 1972): 814-19.)

The importance of crying is emphasized in literature written to help people resolve their grief. In their book About Mourning: Support and Guidance for the Bereaved, Savine Weizman and Phyllis Kamm explain that mourning is a gradual, natural process with many phases: shock, abandonment, denial, disbelief, withdrawal, guilt, resentment, anger, hostility, sadness, despair, self-pity, and integration. Eventual healing and recovery will take place if the process of mourning is completed. "Important components of the [mourning] process is crying, talking, sharing, and having permission from yourself and others to engage in these releases," they write. Weizman and Kamm emphasize the necessity of sharing feelings, words, and tears with a relative, friend, clergyman, therapist, support group, or someone who has had a similar experience. (Savine G. Weizman and Phyllis Kamm, About Mourning: Support and Guidance for the Bereaved (New York: Human Sciences Press, Inc., 1985), 37-111.)

In their pamphlet "When Your Mate Dies" Weizman and Kamm write:
You may feel very alone, abandoned and as if no one understands. You may feel constantly on the verge of tears. One young widow related, "I cried every day for a year."

Most important of all, don't be afraid to cry, don't be afraid to feel your pain and express your grief. Until you feel the gamut of your hurt, anger, hostility, and sadness, you will not be able to move forward to acceptance and live a full life. ...But happiness and sadness can coexist and you will find there is more to life than tears. (Savine G. Weizman and Phyllis Kamm, When Your Mate Dies, self-published pamphlet, 1977.)

Crying appears to be an essential part of the overall grieving process, which may take years to complete.  To continue...

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