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I Cry all the Time – Am I Normal?

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I Cry all the Time – Am I Normal?

Jul 05, 2018

Severe grief or disruption can cause anyone to cry, and that’s normal. Prolonged crying that persists without reason is not normal and may indicate a serious condition requiring treatment. Dr. Kirtly Parker Jones talks about tears, crying, and emotions that are uniquely human.

Episode Transcript

Announcer: Questions every woman wonders about her health, body, and mind. This is, "Am I Normal?" on The Scope.

Dr. Jones: There are very sad things that happen in some... in everyone's life. We are all going to go through a time where we experience grief because of either a situation or a loss of a loved one. I am a fertility doctor and I see women who are trying desperately to have a child and they are working at it everyday, and they're taking their temperature, or they're taking medicines. And they are tearful everyday because everyday in our community here in Salt Lake, you're reminded that you're not a mother because there are children and babies everywhere.

Acute Grief, Chronic Grief, Depression, Sadness

So, the question is, what's going on in your life, and is this something that you're having difficulty managing? There's acute grief. There's chronic grief. There's depression and there's sentimental. So, chronic grief is an ongoing reminder that something is bad in your life. So, I think my infertility patients are the most likely and understandably to be tearful most days when they're reminded everyday by both their therapy or by their environment that they're struggling and not succeeding. There are ways to help you deal with that. And I think that if it is interfering with your day-to-day life, your therapy or your relationship, that kind of chronic sadness over situations, can be helped.

There's acute sadness, as in grief of a loss of a loved one. You get about six weeks so that you're not crying everyday and six months before you're back to yourself. If you aren't back to yourself in six months, that's what we call complicated grief. And that's where therapy would be important. So, crying everyday over the loss of your son or the loss of your parent after six months is a complicated grief and that's where therapy or even medication would be indicated.

So we have people who are situationally sad. Their character and their biology is healthy, but the situation is awful and it keeps being reminded how awful it is. There is a situation's acutely awful, but you get over it and that's acute grief.

Crying for No Reason

There are people who cry everyday for no particularly good reason, who are truly sad. And if you are tearful everyday over activities that are normal in your life, that may be depression. And that's not normal and it is treatable. I think here in Utah, we tend sometimes to go to medicines first, but there's some very good evidence that behavioral therapy works as well as medicine and it's probably more sustaining in the long run.

So, if you're feeling hopeless, helpless, sad, and tearful, you get no joy from day-to-day life, you've noticed that you've lost your appetite, or maybe you're eating a lot, you're not sleeping well and you're tearful all the time for not any acute, new reason, that's very likely to be depression and some kind of intervention is indicated.

Sentimental Tears

Then, there is what I call sensitive or sentimental. So, on any given day, I would say, I tear up because I see something that makes my heart soft. It might be a McDonald's commercial with kids in it, or it might be seeing a child, and it usually has something to do with children or animals, where I become tearful. And it's because my heart feels full. Human beings may be the only species that cries. And why in the world would we cry? Well, crying is a way of letting others in our community know that we are emotionally full, and it might be sad. I tend to cry when I get angry as well. I cry when I'm sentimental. So, we use tears to advertise our inner state. No other animal really cries. Animals do cry out, meaning they vocalize their unhappiness. And a dog can be horribly, horribly unhappy, but they don't cry tears.

So, tears are an advertisement that's uniquely human. So, we may become tearful because we are offered up in a Madison Avenue, slick way something that's very sentimental. It pushes our buttons. And sure enough we will tear up, not that we're sad, but we're feeling that our hearts are full or we're sentimental.

Now, women are more likely to tear up than men, because we may be more sensitive to emotional states biologically. We certainly are more likely to tear up culturally. Men are told not to cry. Big boys don't cry. So, they are less likely to be tearful. This coming Father's Day, we'll see when that beautiful card that the three-year-old made for Daddy if the daddy tears up a little, not because he's sad, not because he's depressed, but because he's feeling sentimental.

So, that's the skinny about tears. There're good tears of happiness, tears of being sentimental. There are bad tears, I think, of rage. There are complex tears because you've lost something important. And complex grief or crying for no good reason that isn't sentimental, we can help out, here at University of Utah Health.

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updated: July 5, 2018
originally published: November 6, 2014