I have a confession to make: I am a crier. I cry very easily. Not when someone insults me or yells at me, but when I watch others experience great joy or pain. I cry at movies — even happy movies. I cried during Hidden Figures (and that movie is not supposed to be sad!) (by the way, if you still haven’t seen it, you should).
I’ve never teared up while, say, questioning a witness. I think in that kind of performance situation, the adrenaline, competitiveness, and focus on the task at hand probably interfere with any crying reflex. When I sit in court as an observer, though, and watch a defendant’s remorseful allocution or a victim’s recounting of the harm she’s suffered, I really have to fight to maintain my poker face. I’m an empathy crier. I can’t help it.
I was curious about what causes this condition and how many others are afflicted, so I did some casual research. This kind of crying is triggered by oxytocin (sometimes called the “love hormone”), and women release more of it than men. In addition to causing us to tear up, oxytocin also leads us to be more empathetic and, as a result, more generous. It makes us more trusting, facilitates social attachment, and encourages forgiveness. There is even some evidence that people who experience high levels of oxytocin are more spiritual. Too much oxytocin, however, can make us too sensitive to others’ emotions, perhaps causing us to falsely perceive emotional reactions in others.
There is another possible explanation for being quick to cry. Research has shown that approximately 20% of people are “highly sensitive persons,” a condition likely influenced by genes and other hormones in addition to oxytocin. I took the highly sensitive person test, and the results indicated that I’m not among that 20% of the population. I guess I’ll just blame my weepiness on oxytocin and be grateful for all of its positive effects.
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