It is with immense pleasure that I had the opportunity to have a long chat with my dear friend Alessandro Bigarelli, psychologist and Counselor with a humanistic-relational orientation, as well as university professor of German and Italian Language and Literature. We have dealt with a topic of which, perhaps out of shame or shyness, little is said about it:
the emotional universes of crying for the adult male
For some time now, crying has no longer been a female monopoly. It is true that women tend to cry more, and more often than men, but family education, the historical-political context and cultural expectations demonstrate that they play a fundamental role on the frequency and intensity of crying in both sexes. Both women and men tend to consider crying a typically female behavioral expression much more than it is in fact. It is common belief that a woman’s crying is more easily tolerated than a man’s; but if this is true, it is also an established fact that male crying is today less unacceptable or more dignified than previously believed. When a man cries, he sheds the emotion of feeling vulnerable and fearful, something to be avoided until a few decades ago. Women, on the other hand, often cry out of anger. In Western culture (but not only), those who cry tend to be seen as a loser, therefore male children are taught to hold back or postpone tears by reserving them for intimate and private occasions. Crying in public would make the adult male appear as helpless a child or woman. A soldier does not cry, so, by extension, a man must not cry, even if angry. But in the cry of anger, the suffering expresses not the anger in itself but the sense of powerlessness that manifests the anger itself. And this also happens to males. However, it is true that the cry of anger is more frequent among women than men. Women are less familiar with violent and confrontational behavior, and finding some difficulty in expressing direct hostility, are more prone to crying. [The phenomenon of female-gangs and the consequent bullying between girls is tangibly changing this figure]. In short, when the sense of helplessness prevails for not being able to express anger, when the renunciation to oppose resistance and to counterattack predominates, when anger is held back and not expressed, weeping explodes, which also happens with males.
The underlying cause of crying is the perception of impotence which always implies some frustration and suffering. We cry for help, but also to protest or accuse. We cry in pain, for the loss of a loved one (mourning and abandonment), for a failure, a conflict, a disappointment, because we feel guilty, for discouragement. But one can also cry for joy, relief, satisfaction, for exultation. There was talk of the perception of impotence at the basis of crying. When the physical pain, for example, is unbearable and even the most stubborn macho is unable to resist it (to fight it, reduce it or suppress it), then the crying breaks out. If the threat of failure can lead to a sense of helplessness and tears (the anxious and troubled student), all the more so the discouraging failure, that feeling that the attempt made to reach a goal has failed, leads to tears, because the individual experiences the fear of feeling vulnerable. The next step, perhaps even more obvious, is that of frustration, as can be seen well in fans of a sport (and in part also in the athletes themselves) and in the managers of finance. There is frustration when the aim pursued is compromised or missed. Frustration causes more suffering than bankruptcy both for the waste of resources and commitment, and for the greater disappointment of the (positive) expectations placed in the company. The discouragement here is such that it makes self-esteem falter and causes the alienating feeling of ineffectiveness and inefficiency.
Even males cry in front of a tragic situation or a dramatic scene, sitting in a cinema hall or on the sofa at home on TV. It is the so-called empathic crying that concludes the process underlying empathic involvement. The empathic crying arises when the person identifies with the other, with the victim or with the hero in difficulty, and putting himself in his shoes he experiences a profound state of impotence and at the same time feels the total inability to remedy the situation (which he is witnessing). Frustration and suffering, first held in check (resistance), suddenly give way to emotion (surrender) and the tension melts into tears. Crying with and for another person (film or television character, where image and music contribute to increasing emotional tension) expresses the sharing of feelings, closeness and solidarity with the other with great effectiveness.
And men are capable of this too, they always have been and no longer hide it, and they finally feel authorized to cry. It should not be underestimated that crying not only strengthens the perception of impotence but also has a paradoxically opposite effect: crying does not reduce the intensity of the emotions involved, sometimes it increases and heightens that intensity. Just as there is empathy for the suffering of others, there is also an empathic cry of joy. Typical in sports and strong friendships, it occurs in complex contexts (often collective and mass but not necessarily). It implies a particular emotional and cognitive state that includes the existence of a previous concern and the consequent final relief : when the vicissitudes of the other (hero, victim, team of the heart and so on) have a positive result in the end, the person who shared his (anxious) concern and his (presumed) sufferings, including resistance efforts (do not give up and give in to excessive emotion), she suddenly feels relieved and burst into tears. In all this, when dealing with empathy, the memory, or rather the retrospective re-enactment-reconstruction of one’s pain, or of one’s past joys, plays a very important role. In fact, empathic crying can increase suffering or joy precisely because of its evocative power: by directing attention to feelings and encouraging the re-enactment of facts and people associated with them, crying has the power to strengthen and revive emotions and memories both negative and positive.
A further communicative use of crying is guilty or guilty crying, closely linked to the regret of not being able to cancel the guilt and repair the evil committed. More than repentance, this crying declares the will to accept punishment by submitting to the broken norm but at the same time asks for clemency for not having been able to control one’s conduct. It is difficult to say whether the guilty crying is the prerogative of men and not rather of women. It can only be observed that the expression of strong emotions such as shame, embarrassment and guilt tend to reduce the risks of rejection and social aggression.
“Alessandro, our chat about this topic ends here, which is often never mentioned”
I would, however, quote a sentence from Jim Morrison. Beyond all the important thing is always: