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It sounds silly, but I've always been quick to tears. I underwent therapy to try to fix it, but really I never saw any improvement.

Recently, I was speaking with my HR manager about some personal issues I had in the office, and to my surprise I began tearing up and being unable to speak right in front of her. I was incredibly embarrassed, but she seemed at least understanding because of the subject matter.

Today I made a blunder. I tripped an alarm in the early morning and almost had police dispatched, which required me calling the same manager, waking her up, to fix it, and was chastised for it (over the phone). Immediately, I began to cry. Luckily, no one was there, but I can't help but feel like my tendency to cry is going to end up negatively impacting me in the future.

My question: How badly will being an easy crier, especially when being chastised, hurt me in the future, and is there any way to help either prepare employers for this issue or deal with it on my own?

Edit: In response to the people suggesting I try therapy again, I am certainly open to the idea, but I will give a bit more detail: I went once a week for a few years for various issues, one of which were these emotional outbursts, which I spent much time on. I have seen three different therapists, and still continue to have this issue. While I'm sure it's possible, it is not an especially attractive suggestion, and at this point a logistically straining one. I don't expect psychological help on a place meant to deal with workplace questions, but I'd ask for the sake of myself (and, in the future, any other viewers who may not be able to seek therapy for one reason or another) that this be considered.

Edit 2: In case this is relevant, I don't seem to have any issues with expressing myself, as in I don't start speaking emotionally (using inappropriate choices of words, attacking, etc), though might have issues that come with crying, such as tightening of throat or sniffles/stutters. Basically, it's just crying that's an issue, not any other emotional outbursts.

39

How badly will being an easy crier, especially when being chastised, hurt me in the future?

It's impossible to tell how this will impact your specific career path but generally speaking, while this will reflect on you in some way, as long as you manage this well you shouldn't suffer over it professionally.1

So how do you manage it? Ultimately I'll always suggest getting professional help for a problem like this. Perhaps you are simply on the extreme end of the emotional curve, but in most cases where people have trouble dealing appropriately with constructive feedback or criticism there are ways to improve your reaction. Professional help or therapy should be considered, but anything beyond that is outside the scope of this site.

Now, even if you manage to get this under control over time, you still need to handle this when it happens at work. What it comes down to is this: receiving and processing feedback, even when it's highly critical of your performance, is an essential skill in the workplace. The problem with reaction overly emotionally to such feedback is twofold:

  • it may cause your manager to think that you won't be able to process the feedback because you're distracted by your emotions or because you're not recognising feedback for what it is: suggestions on how to improve your peformance
  • it may lead to your manager being hesitant to give you feedback

Both are problematic for a career so you need to handle both, to do so you need to:

Take the feedback to heart

Whether your reaction is simply a physical or whether there's also a surge of emotions that makes it harder for you to process what your manager is actually saying, you need to evaluate what was said when you've calmed down. Handling and responding to feedback is an entire subject of its own but in short:

  • note the issues your manager identified
  • critically reflect on how correct the feedback was or if you have concerns or explanations: it can be difficult to explain that your manager actually told you to drop Project X when you're stuck in a storm of emotions
  • review what your manager suggested you do to improve
  • reflect on what other things you can do to improve or prevent the problem from happening again

After that, you need to work on improving your performance and avoiding the problems that made it necessary for your manager to give you feedback. This is the single most important thing to do: your manager may think it strange that a stellar employee reacts so strongly to feedback but as long as you take that feedback to heart and use it to improve he'll love you as an employee.

Explain

There's no easy way to do this but it has to be done. You have non-standard behaviour that could reflect poorly on you and that means it's on you to explain and manage people's reactions. The key is to be matter-of-fact about it and don't make a big deal out of it. Your explanation should hit on the following: you reacted emotionally, it may happen again in the future, but you heard what your manager said and you'll do X, Y and Z to improve or to avoid the problem from happening again.

Either do this in person after you've gotten the feedback or over mail. Only do this in person if you know you can do so without misting up again as it may be counter-productive.

At this point I'm copying some suggested scripts that Alison Green over on Ask A Manager created. The articles where they come from are suggested reading as well. If this was a rare occurrence you could say:

Despite my reaction yesterday, I want you to know that I really appreciate your giving me that feedback, and it’s incredibly helpful to me to know where I should be focusing on improving. I’m a bit mortified that I got emotional about it, and hope that you’ll excuse it (and ideally wipe it from your mind forever!).

Source: should I apologize to my boss for crying in front of her?

Or, specifically if you know that this is a recurring issue for you:

Ugh, I have a weird reaction sometimes with criticism, but please know that it doesn’t indicate I don’t want to hear it — I actually love feedback and really value getting it. I’m working on getting the embarrassing visible reaction under control, but meanwhile I don’t want it to deter you from telling me where you think I could be doing better. I know how important that kind of feedback is to hear.

Source: I get embarrassingly emotional when criticized


1 - This applies to most, but not all, careers. If your job explicitly deals with handling or passing on feedback, such as PR or project management consulting, then you've got a much bigger problem.

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    +1, I found this answer to go well into detail as to how to approach and handle this issue. In addition, I appreciate the extra help from the sources provided. – user19996 Dec 12 '16 at 14:27
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How badly will being an easy crier, especially when being chastised, hurt me in the future, and is there any way to help either prepare employers for this issue or deal with it on my own?

If you really burst into tears that easily, it will almost certainly hold you back from growing professionally. Coping with situations in the workplace is an important skill for professionals who want to advance.

Like it or not, confrontation happens in the workplace. It happens more in some than others, but it happens. Being able to deal with confrontation and negative feedback effectively, without breaking down, will be important sooner or later.

While you can alert HR and/or your manager about your tendencies, that likely won't help the situation much. They may understand that you tend to cry, but they really can't be expected to protect you from triggering situations.

I'm not a medical professional, but it seems to me that even though you haven't seen therapy help in the past, you may be wise to seek better therapists. If you have an issue that responds to medications, that's one possibility. Otherwise, a good therapist can probably help you find new coping strategies, and help you become desensitized.

I know that if I tended to cry easily, and I worried that it might impact my career, I'd be talking to medical professionals.

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    ^ it also wouldn't hurt to see a doctor. Could be something neurological, or something, I'm not a doctor :) – Jonast92 Dec 8 '16 at 13:48
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    Good advice here. I'd really suggest investigating if there's any anxiety related support groups around. It may help to attend some sessions and try to role-play some scenarios in a non-judgemental environment. In the meantime, I'd suggest trying to resort to email for confrontation. Your keyboard won't care if you cry while you type and your respondents simply won't know. – Snow Dec 8 '16 at 15:21
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    My wife is a therapist, and has a lot of clients with anxiety issues. My understanding is that they tend to respond well to practicing coping strategies and simple exposure. – KRyan Dec 8 '16 at 15:46
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    @Jonast92 Seeing a doctor certainly did help one of my relatives, who used to be easily reduced to tears, too. Right medication seems to have done the trick. – Pavel Dec 8 '16 at 16:53
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    @Jonast92 +1. I know a woman who had this problem because of the pill who affected her mood. – Loïc Lopes Dec 9 '16 at 17:58
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This is definitely not expected professional behavior, even if people ought to be more understanding. I could see any number of co-workers using it against you as a reason to withhold promotions you would otherwise deserve.

Your situation - being expressive and articulate but sensitive to criticism - sounds an awful lot like Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, common to people with ADHD symptoms.

Even if you don't feel like you have any other ADD / ADHD symptoms, you might benefit from talking to a therpaist who specializes in recognizing and treating them specifically. Lots of people - especially but not exclusively women - deal with ADHD that doesn't express itself in stereotypical ways. This kind of rejection sensitivity is one of them.

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    I really appreciate this information. Though it might not apply to every case, I actually have been suspecting I might have ADD and/or ADHD for a while now. I'll definitely look into it with a doctor. Thanks! – user19996 Dec 8 '16 at 16:36
  • @r19996 You're very welcome. I'm close to a lot of people with ADHD, and the biggest hurdle is understanding that it's neuroscience and not just a character flaw. RSD is not in the DSM yet, but most therapists familiar with ADHD will have heard of it, and it seems to respond well to existing ADHD treatments. Good luck! – Justin Dec 8 '16 at 16:43
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    @Justin: Please explain your acronyms. "DSM"? – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '16 at 16:47
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    Oh, right! RSD is the above-mentioned Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, and the DSM is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, used by therapists to help diagnose and categorize symptoms. It's the standard for mental health professionals in the same way that ICD codes are for physicians. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… – Justin Dec 8 '16 at 16:52
  • Wow! Excellent answer! – Melioratus Dec 9 '16 at 15:53
1

It depends on how strong the crying is. If you can at least talk a bit or if you do it loudly can make a difference.

I like to see a problem this way; find a quick solution then find a long term solution. A lot of people talk about the long term solution.

It must be embarrassing for you when this happens but try to look at how it feels for the other persons. When it happens, make sure the people that were around get to know your problem. Don't let them in the dark about what just happen (this could be done later 1on1 or email). Take extra steps to display that you actually listen to the criticism "In last meeting, you said x, I did y". This will show others, through actions, that you really do care and that your crying isn't a form of defensive mechanism.

I had a similar problem where I would easily get red and sweaty. I have a lot more control over it now. Problem is, the more I expected it, the more it would happen. It would start with small reaction (I would get hot, throat would tighten up), I thought people would look at me and it got worst. After a lot of work (no therapy), when those small reaction happen, I would be able to ignore them knowing that others actually don't see them or even care. This thinking help remove the strong reactions.

0

I'm going to take a very different direction, to augment what's already been said.

I suggest you learn about sadness (not identical with crying, but clearly related) and shame (a possible trigger for your tears), and dive deeply into them to figure out what your crying is trying to tell you.

My own relationship with sadness changed completely with reading the work of Karla McLaren. She's the only person I've found who can tell you what your emotions are trying to do for you, and why (and HOW) to listen to them.

In brief, tears of sadness can help you release "that which is not working for you." Sadness honored leads frequently to joy. Sadness stifled leads to bad things.

If you're crying a lot more than feels right for the situation, then you may have a lot of dishonored sadness wanting to come through. (Or it might have another cause entirely.)

McLaren's guidance on dealing directly with your emotions includes a lot of excellent practices for becoming grounded and centered. When you can do that reliably, you'll cry less and for the right reasons.

To give you a sense of the depths here, read Is it a feeling or is it an emotion?

Here's Karla's unusual and empowering take on shame and guilt.

Please, honor the source of your tears, whatever that turns out to be. I have a strong sense your tears are trying to tell you something important.

  • 1
    Not relevant to the question that is being asked, but good advice nonetheless. – Adnan Y Dec 10 '16 at 23:01
0

I propose that you try to increase your immunity to crying triggers (crying trigger = whatever it is that makes you cry).

From what you wrote I have the impression that you don't cry always. Sometimes you do, sometimes not. If you could expand the periods without crying the problem would be solved.

The first step would be to empirically find out, what it is that makes you cry.

Second step is to train your "no-cry" muscles. Let's say that you cry, when you see symptoms of a conflict. There are many shades of conflict.

For example:

  1. Right now, someone somewhere is dying from old age (conflict with an uncontrollable external force; you aren't involved).
  2. Right now, someone somewhere is being killed (conflict with another person; you aren't involved).
  3. Someone saying to you "Dear r19996, you could improve your skill X by doing more of Y and less of Z" (constructive criticism, you are involved).
  4. Your boss saying to you "r19996, your performance on project X was below my expectations. You either improve by Y percent, or we'll fire you in Z months" (criticism with clear information about your options).
  5. Same as before, but now the boss yells at you.
  6. Someone telling you that you are a worthless piece of ... (purely emotional, irrational aggression).
  7. Same as before, but now with yelling.

You start with the first item and try not to cry. Once you have learned to live with that kind of level (i. e. when you are exposed to it, you don't cry), you get to the next stress level. Again, you take your time and do as many attempts as possible.

That way you'll be able to understand and therefore to control your crying impulses (and if you can't, it's a medical condition like disability).

If you live in a big city, you could hire a theatre actor or student (the other person would act as your boss or whoever it is that makes you cry) so that you can train in a safe environment.

Variation of the same: Using the same approach you can develop a feeling, when you are about to cry. Let's say that a minute before crying you get an intuitive signal. In this case you can tell the other person that you have to go to the bathroom. There, you can cry, get calm, and return to the "battle scene". In all organizations I'm aware of, nobody would prevent a person from going to the toilet (even during conflicts), which allows you to take your crying to a place, where nobody sees it.

-1

So far it seems it didn't occur to anyone that what you have is most likely a genuine disability. And people around you should treat it that way. Just as I wouldn't ask a person in a wheelchair to climb on a step ladder and pick up a book from the hightest shelve, I wouldn't start shouting at you if you did something wrong. In both cases, I wouldn't achieve whatever I wanted to achieve.

When you have a disability, in most countries the workplace has to adapt. In your case it's not that difficult. For example, this morning you made a mistake, and the end result was that some manager shouted at you over the phone. There was no need to shout. It didn't help with the mistake one bit. So this manager has to figure out that shouting at you is pointless.

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    I don't want to dismiss the possibility of this being a disability, but it's certainly not a commonly known one. Reactions to medications for other disabilities seems more likely, but I don't think that is directly protected in most states/countries. – user30031 Dec 9 '16 at 15:59
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    Even if it were a disability, it will still impact professional appearance and the future career. Protected disability or not, crying when a manager does their job and confronts you is not going to be viewed or taken well. Nobody is going to advance someone into a senior position where they risk crying at the smallest disagreement or confrontation. – SnakeDoc Dec 9 '16 at 20:23
-4

This depends on exactly why you are crying. If for example, relatively minor stimuli cause you to be disproportionately upset, then you have a very big problem that will affect your personal life as well as professional.

However, I want to address an issue I didnt see brought up in other answers. If you are not easily upset by minor problems, but rather cry even when you are not very upset, this is a very different issue. I would argue that therapy is unlikely to help in the latter case, and probably not necessary. Instead you should focus on explaining to people that you are not overly sensitive, but simply prone to crying. Of course if you are overly sensitive, then therapy is probably something you should try to get back to.

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    Can you explain why you think therapy is unlikely to help? That is a big claim that definitely needs citation or preferably expertise in the area. – user42272 Dec 8 '16 at 21:55
  • Usually psychologists and psychiatrists don't diagnose people from online posts, just saying. – user42272 Dec 8 '16 at 21:55

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