Social Question

Jeruba's avatar

When someone you're talking with starts to cry (and it isn't your fault), what do you do?

Asked by Jeruba (41917 points ) August 20th, 2011

You’re talking with one or more friends, or you’re part of a group discussion (maybe including people you don’t know well), and you realize that someone is getting very emotional. This is personal to them and not because someone present said something distressing or hurtful. When they break into tears:

•  What do you think you should do?

•  What do you do? Is it the same thing or not?

•  Do you behave the same whether it’s a close friend or someone you hardly know?

•  What do you want someone else to do if you’re the person who starts to cry?

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21 Answers

Cruiser's avatar

Most people have their own coping mechanisms and I give them space to let that moment pass. If they are particularly inconsolable I will ask them is there something I can do and depending on their answer a hug may be in order.

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

Well, first I ask them if they’re okay and if there is anything that I can do. I’m not a hugger, whether you’re my friend or not, so mostly likely the only physical comforting I would do is a hand on the shoulder. Now that I’m reading @Cruiser‘s answer, I see that ours are almost identical… so I’m guessing this is the appropriate protocol.

I would probably want someone to do exactly that, for me, and I highly doubt I would ask for anything else.

ucme's avatar

Here in England Town the correct “protocol” in this scenario is to offer the individual concerned a nice cup of tea. Been the way of things for generations past, as if a cuppa could cure the world’s ills.

Jeruba's avatar

And is that what you do, @ucme? That was the question. (I’ve always though that nice cup of tea would at least make the world’s ills look more bearable, particularly if offered by Mrs. Bridges.)

I’m especially interested in consistency versus inconsistency here. Do people do what they think they should do or something different? (For example, they think they should offer a hug, but instead they look away.) And do they do the same thing they want others to do for them?

Lightlyseared's avatar

I always seem to end up holding hands (whcih now that I write it sounds slightly creepy).

ANef_is_Enuf's avatar

@Lightlyseared actually, no… I think, now that you mention it, I would much prefer my hand being held to a hug.

rebbel's avatar

I think I would feel I would want to comfort that person by putting an arm around their shoulder, and say nothing at first, untill the person starts her-/himself.
I would (probably) only ask the person what was happening with him/her, and go further from there.
I think I would treat a ‘stranger’ and a familiar the same not sure though, but my gut says I do.
I would like to be comforted, through both the arm and the words.

Tbag's avatar

@rebbel I would probably do the same thing as you and if Necessary a hug for him/her.

rebbel's avatar

@Jeruba “When someone you’re talking with starts to cry (and it isn’t your fault)
Just love that addition (I read the question as if you ask me personally and then it feels like you assume that usually people start to cry because of something I did or say) :-)

bkcunningham's avatar

I’m a big hugger. A wrap you up in my arms, rub the back of your head and instinctively do a “ssshhhh, ssshhh, it’s okay. Let it out,” kind of hugger.

But, I’m the total opposite if I’m the one crying. I don’t want anyone to see my face or touch me.

sliceswiththings's avatar

I’ve been the one crying in this situation far too many times. Mainly it’s embarrassing so it helps if the person/people validate your emotions. Hugs are nice. Jokes are best. Usually the cryer feels better after crying, so listen intently, sympathize, and help them let themselves feel better.

augustlan's avatar

I’m pretty sure I do what I think I should do, which is offer some physical and spoken comfort. For the physical comfort, if I know the person well enough to know they’d appreciate a hug, I give one, or maybe just throw my arm around their shoulders and do a kind of ‘side hug’. If it were a stranger, I’d probably put my hand on their forearm. If I understand why they’re upset, my spoken comfort would be something like, “Aw, it’s ok, sweetie.” If not, I’d ask, “Are you ok?”.

If I’m the one crying, that’s what I want, too.

abysmalbeauty's avatar

I generally make a weird twisted face, open my mouth and hope something comes out. Usually what it is is a long deep breath. Then I say something like “are you okay?” while offering a tissue. Its all very akward….

What I want to do is run away…

I dont like when people cry as much as I dont like crying and I certainly suck at comforting people.

ucme's avatar

@Jeruba Do you know what? I think I probably would yes, assuming a kettle was at hand of course.

Earthgirl's avatar

It would depend on how friendly I was with the person. I am not comfortable hugging someone unless I can sense that they are open to it. Sometimes when this sort of thing happens the person is trying to pull themselves together. You can see that they don’t want to cry in front of everyone and giving too much sympathy will have the effect of making them totally break down in tears. Then I try to respect that distance while offering words of understanding and maybe a brush on the arm to comfort. In other cases I have known people who were very open about their emotions and I knew that they would love to get a hug and so I would hug them. You can almost intuitively sense what the other person would be comfortable with even if you don’t know them.
I have a lot of reserve myself even though I have a warm heart. It is just the legacy of how I was raised. My family was always very awkward about expressing love and affection. I don’t understand why. People sense this reserve in me and they become hesitant to hug and kiss me. What I want them to do is is give me empathy without pity. When you start to break down and cry the emotion is so intense. With me it can happen when I talk about something that brings back a feeling that I have buried. Usually it’s because I feel like I need to be strong about it and stoic.

_zen_'s avatar

I have a confession of sorts.

I was in a situation wherein someone close to m, very close, began to cry. Not because of my actions. I felt close to this person, yet something stopped me – held me back – I don’t know what or why.

I have felt bad about this since – and have thought about it often.

I vowed never to do nothing again. In the very least – a hug.

athenasgriffin's avatar

I feel very awkward. I have no idea what to do with myself. I hope they pull themselves together. I avoid looking at them.

I pull myself together. Look at them. Ask them if they are okay. Give them a hug. (If they are my friend.) Promise myself I will check up on them later in the week.

Except for my best friend. Whenever she cries, I cry. We’ve known each other for so long that I don’t have to wonder where the boundaries of our relationship are. Lots of hugging and crying and talking.

Earthgirl's avatar

zen I think that’s a good way to overcome your initial hesitance and awkwardness. I mean this feeling is so common, not knowing what to say or do.

Just 3 days ago I was talking to someone at work about a coworker who had just died of lung cancer. We were talking about how everyone thought he was doing better and was going to pull through. He was telling everyone he was feeling fine. The person I was talking to mentioned about how he could have just been trying to think positive. I said that I knew how important that was being a cancer survivor myself. Then he told me that it helps, but not always. He got a very sad expression and seemed distant all of a sudden. Then he told me he had a son who died 5 years ago of lymphoma. He said “he would have been 18”...I didn’t know what to say. I don’t know this man well but he is very warm and friendly. I heard myself saying all the usuall things one says…“I’m so sorry, that must have been awfully hard on you…” I struggled for the right thing to say, but in the end, there is no perfect thing to say. I guess if it had been me in his shoes I woould have been grateful for whatever sympathy…but I felt like I should have known what to say.

bkcunningham's avatar

You know one of the very best thing, in my humble opinion, to give someone in that circumstance @Earthgirl? The exact thing you provided to your co-worker.

Two ears.

It is the same thing @zen provided and everyone else in the above examples. When someone opens up and talks, regardless of the circumstance, it is just nice to know the experience is being shared with someone else who takes a minute to listen. Just sharing your ears to listen for a minute may be all that person needs at that moment.

Don’t ever feel badly for just listening.

Earthgirl's avatar

bkcunningham Thank you for that. It means a lot to me.

lifeflame's avatar

This is a great question. My first response was, I’d go over and make physical contact to let them know that I’m with them. I wouldn’t say much, just let them cry it out.

However, thinking about actual situations, I realise how little I’ve actually done this.
The hug usually comes afterwards, rather than before; and not with everyone. It;s really very dependent on how close I am with that person. Main thing is I am breathing empathetically with that person.

When I cry, I generally want people to leave me alone and give me space to cry. There are certain people I feel comfortable hugging; in which case I will go to them and for a hug. It’s also really dependent on what sort of social context it is… generally when I cry I am already in a pretty safe context already. If there is something overwhelming and I’m in a public context (e.g., when my grandfather died) I generally want to be alone, or just be with my dogs. So I remove myself and cry on the toilet or something. In a vulnerable state I am quite picky about whom I want around.

So I guess I’m more consistent in what I do and what I want; as opposed to what I think.

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