Name Calling, Insults and Teasing

A Guide To Anger, Conflict and Respect

Archive for the category “social intelligence”

My Answer to the Question, Are People Who Cry When Criticized Immature?

cryingRecently, I wrote a post titled, “Responding to Criticism by Crying: Is it a Sign of Immaturity?”  In that post I explained that I had, in earlier posts, put forth a model of how to respond maturely to criticism. To help readers to rate their own skill level, and that of others, I had outlined five levels of maturity. Level 1 was viewed as the most immature level, level 2 as a little more mature, and so on. Level 1 had been described as follows:

1.  This level requires displaying one or more of the following:

  • Weeps or sobs with tears or pouts
  • Physically attacks the criticizer
  • Damages property

crying manAs you can see from this description of level 1, I had come to believe that weeping or sobbing with tears was best to view as one of the most immature responses.  I then explained several reasons why I had come to believe that, but I won’t repeat them here. I then wrote that since I came up with the five levels of maturity, I had met some individuals who seem rather remarkably mature to me in many ways, and yet they had revealed to me that they find themselves crying quite often when they are criticized.  They say that they are very sensitive individuals, that they don’t hurt anyone or anything when they go through this experience, and that I should consider removing crying from the description of the lowest level. As I thought about this, I thought it would help me if I propose a change to my readers, ask for feedback, and only then make my decision whether or not to make the change.  I ended that post as follows:

Proposed Change

crying 5Weeping, sobbing and crying will only be viewed as the lowest level of maturity if the person responding to criticism does nothing else but that, or if he or she does that along with the other lowest level responses such as physically attacking the criticizer or damaging property.  If, after crying, he or she then begins to display responses consistent with level 4 or 5, crying will no longer be viewed as a sign of immaturity.

Although I could make this change after I get some feedback, I hasten to point out that it won’t change the fact that many people will still consider crying in the face of criticism as a sign of immaturity.  Some will lose respect for those who cry.

Perhaps these sensitive individuals can help to reduce the lack of respect that they might encounter.  They can explain that their sensitivity helps them to more deeply consider the criticism.   Moreover, they might suggest that for people who feel uncomfortable around someone crying, they can provide the criticism at first by email, snail mail or voice mail.  This will allow the sensitive person time to process the criticism. Then, a follow-up meeting to further process the criticism can be arranged.

I hope to hear from readers on this.

After I published this, I received more feedback on this post than anything I had previously written.  It came mostly from several Facebook groups I belong to, but also from a couple of professional organizations as well.  Today I’d like to share with you several of these comments, and then provide my new description of level 1.

The Feedback

The first three comments came from psychologists.

crying 1I have read your material, and tend to agree w/ you.  It appears to me to qualify for a level 1 response, as it reflects a lack of (age appropriate ) skill development (if it is not a reflection of serious cognitive inefficiency in general).  It does invite further negative input from the criticizer and others.  It increases the victims sense of vulnerability.  There are many other alternatives which could be modeled or practiced  — even if they are not available for immediate accessing by the victim.  In this sense, I agree with Dr. Phil (who I many times don’t agree) “Fake it till you make it”

Dr. Charles Morrissey school psychologist and lic.clinical psychologist NY

crying 4Hi Jeff,

Your query is very intriguing to me. As a psychodynamic therapist, I have found that crying can occur when a criticism becomes associated with an old psychological wound that has yet to be fully processed (e.g., perhaps the criticism sounds like something painful someone heard from his/her mother repeatedly, but they did not recognize this past hurt until it was activated by the current criticism). I hope this example makes sense. I like your revision and think it takes  into account such a consideration. I hope that helps!

Take care,


Ashley Curiel, Psy.D.

crying 3Jeff, you write (I think correctly) that, regardless of any adjustments you make in your hierarchy, you “hasten to point out that it won’t change the fact that many people will still consider crying in the face of criticism as a sign of immaturity.  Some will lose respect for those who cry.”  I suspect that many will considering crying a sign of “weakness,” an even more damaging judgment than “immaturity” in many social and vocational settings.  (I admit to some confusion about the strength-weakness continuum as it has sometimes been explained to me, where compassion was considered “weakness” and aggression a sign of “strength.”)
I wonder how much the context of the criticism matters in this analysis.  If a grad school classmate told me I was “incredibly stupid” because I did not know some obscure fact about endocrinology, I could probably have shot at a Level 4 (well, at least 3) response, especially if I had been getting all As in my courses and making great progress on my dissertation while anticipating a return to a secure and fulfilling job.  However, I might well cry upon hearing the same words from the chair of my dissertation committee a week before my defense, especially if the time limit on my doctoral program was almost exhausted, I was struggling to make payments on the second mortgage I had taken out to pay for the doctoral program, and my new job was contingent on my receiving the doctoral degree by the end of the school year.
You are obviously correct that most individuals cry less readily in the face of criticisms and other stresses as they become older, which does fit a “maturity” continuum, but there do seem to be individual differences in general readiness to cry when criticized, when singing the national anthem on Memorial Day, when watching a sad movie, or in moments of joy.  Some folks also think there are gender differences involved.
Thanks for sharing these posts with us.
John Willis

The rest of the comments came from members of Facebook groups that I belong to.

Phoebe Âû Perlman-Miller
crying 2Thank you Jeffrey. I had a few thoughts about your article in so much as I think that we have to be careful about labelling someone who cries, as a response to criticism, as immature. I think context is important and needs to be appreciated, and the nature of the conflict or the criticism needs to be explained. Crying is a pretty normal response to grief, stress, sadness etc., and isn’t something that the “crier” should automatically be ashamed of or guilty about, nor is it a reaction to which the other party, or parties, should automatically attach shame or blame. We expect people to be able to manage their emotions and to control themselves physically, but sometimes I think that this expectation can be a little unreasonable although, again, context is everything. Crying is a reaction which is generally triggered by a heightened emotional state, and sometimes it is difficult, even for the most emotionally mature or emotionally intelligent person, to manage to balance out their threat and soothing/calming systems, depending on what has just been triggered for them. There are also, in genuine cases of distress (not the “crocodile” tear brigade), things going on in the automatic nervous system which make it difficult not to cry once the emotion has kicked in, such as the opening up of the glottis, the muscle controlling the opening from the back of the throat to the voice box, causing the “lump in the throat” feeling which often accompanies crying. Sipping water and deliberate yawning are techniques which help to release tension in throat muscles when this happens but I don’t imagine that these will automatically spring to mind when someone is in the middle of a conflict situation and, indeed, deliberate yawning might be taken the wrong way and exacerbate the matter. I think that a great proportion of those who cry when criticised do indeed use tears as part of an immature or manipulative or inappropriate response, because they know no other way of expressing or managing their distress or anger or fear etc., but I don’t think that it will be the case in every instance. I have known some of the most “together” and emotionally mature people to crack under sufficient levels of pressure (those who were criticising were certainly deliberately pushing buttons and hitting below the belt), and to cry despite obviously not wanting to, and they were certainly not wanting this physical manifestation of their emotional state to take centre stage in the interaction. Their response happened to be accompanied by some tears, but those tears were not central to their response, and certainly were not being used in a manipulative manner, nor were they accompanied by aggression or any other inappropriate behaviours, such as shouting or hitting or abuse of any kind. I think we need to look at the skills sets of both the criticisers and the criticised, and make a judgement based on the bigger picture – a somewhat wide-angled approach. Also, while I think that those who use tears to manipulate should not be allowed to gain any traction with such behaviour, I would hate to think that we “condition” people not to cry – there is a “stiff upper lip” stigma already in many societies which can be and is emotionally damaging, especially for men. We need to respect the fact that crying is natural and helpful and healing and cathartic, while also helping people manage their emotions and their conflicts using appropriate language and careful, respectful, assertive forms of communication.

crying 7I think this depends a great deal on the type of criticism. Careful constructive criticism would be less likely to evoke tears especially if, for example, the sandwich technique was used – strength, need, strength. I think still, it is possible that someone who is tired and stressed might break down – perhaps consider that human if it is an atypical response. If the response to considered criticism and I am not talking about victimization, provoking, harassment or brutal comments, is always tears, the person may be highly manipulative, rather than immature.

Peter Rafferty

crying 6Sometimes a criticism may tap into something from childhood, to which the natural response is to cry. Crying could also be seen as mourning for a parent who criticised a child, but because of the child’s inability to cry in front of the parent, will cry in front of a therapist. Even if crying is accompanied by anger, it may display a need that the inner child is unconsciously displaying – perhaps an insecure, anxious attachment that needs to be addressed.

Kerrie Moor
crying 8Your level 1 change pleased me ..

Kerrie Moor
crying 9My response to many things are tears.:

Abrar Pirzada
Crying can only mean to show your sensitvity for a certain moment or thing!

Carmen Hipps Prettyman
crying 10IMO, crying releases all the pent up anguish that is toxic, it is a way to cleanse. On the other hand, it can also be an overwhelming emotion that can only be expressed through the release of the flow of tears….words just can’t express some of the emotions we feel…good or bad!!!

Franciane Thonet
Sometimes, criticism can remind someone of a bad place in their Life, re-open a wound that never was quite healed..I agree with no right or wrong here.


Ellen Cohen
crying 11Crying is natural and very human. If you feel that you want to cry as a response, then cry! Your feelings are your feelings. There’s no right or wrong feelings.

And so, those are some of the many thoughtful responses that I received.  After giving them a great deal of thought, I have now decided that in future posts, when I describe the five levels of maturity, I’ll word the first level as follows: 1.  This level requires displaying one or more of the following:

  • Weeps or sobs with tears or pouts and then does nothing else to address the criticism. (Some mature people are very sensitive and do cry on occasion when criticized.  If they cry and also address the criticism in a manner that is consistent with level 4 or 5, crying is not viewed as a sign of immaturity.)
  • Physically attacks the criticizer
  • Damages property

Although this is my plan for the future, I am always open to hearing additional comments and suggestions for improving the wording of all of the five levels of maturity. My Best, Jeff


Some people will enjoy reading this blog by beginning with the first post and then moving forward to the next more recent one; then to the next one; and so on. This permits readers to catch up on some ideas that were presented earlier and to move through all of the ideas in a systematic fashion to develop their emotional and social intelligence. To begin at the very first post you can click HERE.


Post Navigation