You’re determined to keep it together, bracing yourself for conflict.
But when someone you love is angry with you, you hear it in their voice and see it in their faces.
And, ready or not, the tears come in a sudden, powerful wave.
Your eyes burn, your lip trembles, and you can’t keep your voice even to save your life.
You’d give anything to know how to stop crying when mad and maintain your composure.
Is it even possible?
Yes, it is.
There’s hope for the tenderhearted.
Read on to learn why.
Why Do I Cry When I Get Mad?
This flood of tears has happened more times than you care to remember. And you ask yourself, “Why do I cry when someone yells at me?” “Why do I cry so easily when I’m upset?”
There’s a reason. And it’s not weakness. We’re not born knowing the secret to keep our emotions under control. And this post isn’t about suppressing all emotion.
Sometimes, honest tears are an appropriate response. But when they aren’t, here’s why they might ruin your prepared speech anyway.
- You’re a highly sensitive person (HSP)
- You’re tired, hungry, or otherwise depleted.
- You’re already expecting the tears to come.
- Your conversation partner doesn’t play fair (undermines and belittles you).
- You’re feeling especially vulnerable.
More than one of these can come into play and sabotage your best efforts to keep the tears back.
And the more of these you’re dealing with, the tougher it gets.
The Reasons Women Cry More Than Men
According to a study by leading tear researcher Ad Vingerhoets, women cry 30 to 64 times a year (raise your hand if you’ve got that beat already this year), while men cry only 6 to 17 times a year (though that number does depend on self-reporting).
What’s the science behind that? Blame puberty — especially two critical hormones:
Men on testosterone-inhibiting drugs tend to cry more than men who aren’t, so Vingerhoets believes there’s a fair chance testosterone helps men keep their faces dry.
Then there’s prolactin. In the 1980s, biochemist William H. Frey compared the chemical composition of emotional tears to that of tears caused by irritants.
Emotional tears contain prolactin — a reproductive hormone produced by the pituitary gland in response to emotion. And after puberty, the amount of serum prolactin in girls grows to around 60% more than in boys.
(Dr. Vingerhoets also wrote a paper about the health benefits of crying. Fast forward to the bit about “Emotional Tears: Unique to Humans.”)
How to Not Cry While Arguing: 11 Ways to Stop the Tears
Back to reality. When you want to have a serious discussion, it doesn’t help that those renegade tears will help keep your skin looking younger (bonus!)
You want to state your case, defend your integrity, or express your point of view without losing your composure and having your mascara run down your face.
You’re here to learn the best ways to stop crying, so you can finally say what you need to say like the powerful woman you are.
1. Identify Your Triggers
Generally speaking, if you’re depleted in any way — tired, hungry, thirsty, or emotionally spent — it’s not a good time to engage in a difficult conversation. You need energy.
Some of the following triggers are more or less universal. Others may feel more personal:
- You haven’t eaten recently, and your blood sugar is low.
- You’re thirsty — or you need to use the bathroom.
- You had a lousy night’s sleep. Or it’s late in the day, and you’re exhausted.
- You’re feeling run down as if your body is fighting something.
- You’re jittery from too much caffeine and/or keyed up in anticipation of conflict.
- Your hormones are raging, making you more emotional than usual.
While you can’t wait for perfect conditions, you can at least try to eliminate your biggest triggers before a difficult conversation.
2. Tilt Your Head
You’re in the middle of a big fight, and suddenly you feel the tears welling up — not so much because you’re hurt but because you’re mad, darn it.
And you don’t want him to misinterpret your feelings. You certainly don’t want sympathy right now. What you want is to get it all out without blubbering.
So try this trick: tilt your head back and let the tears flow back into your tear ducts and your lower lids. Pinch the bridge of your nose and take a deep breath until you gain your composure.
Try to look like you’re containing your anger rather than your tears. Then speak slowly and calmly, focusing on the words rather than your urge to cry.
3. Honor Your Sensitive Nature
If you’re a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP), you process positive and negative input more thoroughly than the average person. This tendency means you’re more likely to feel overwhelmed by sensations and emotions.
Your high level of sensitivity doesn’t make you either superior or inferior (weaker) than others. It just means you feel more, which means keeping those emotions in check is more difficult.
The plus side? When it comes to mindful enjoyment of things (like your favorite tea at the perfect sipping temperature), you have an advantage. But it does make you more susceptible to tearing up during an argument.
What to do? When you feel yourself tearing up, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Count to ten and wait to respond until you feel more in control of your emotions.
4. Prepare Yourself for Tough Conversations
Keep your triggers in mind. Make sure you’re neither hungry nor overly full and ensure you’re hydrated and comfortable.
Before you initiate a difficult conversation, it’s best to have some idea of what to expect and how you’ll deal with it.
Know the outcome you want and plan ahead to get that outcome or get you as close to it as possible. Don’t expect it to go perfectly (because it most likely won’t), but don’t let worst-case scenarios hold you back, either.
At some point, you just have to jump in.
5. Use a Safe Word
Choose a safe word with your partner, which either of you can use if you need a moment to recover and collect yourself.
Your partner should never shame you for using this word. Whether or not you use it is not about strength or weakness; it’s about knowing what you need in the moment and loving yourself enough to take heed.
Anyone who shames or ridicules someone else for crying or using a safe word shouldn’t be in a relationship.
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6. Acknowledge What You’re Feeling (without Judging)
Be honest about what you’re feeling, even if only with yourself. Acknowledge those feelings without judging them.
You’re not “weak” or “overdramatic” or “oversensitive” (a reactive insult leveled at those whose sensitivity is visible to others).
You’re feeling something. And feelings aren’t the enemy.
They’re not stupid or pointless, either. They come for a reason. Ignoring them or shoving them down does nothing to address the pain behind them. And you deserve to heal.
7. Drink a Glass of Water
You’ve seen people making speeches who suddenly get verklempt and overwhelmed.
The last thing they want is to cry in front of a large audience. So what do they do? Reach for that handy glass of water on the podium.
Taking a sip of water buys you some time and redirects your attention away from your emotions. It also gives you a moment to wipe your nose or eyes if necessary.
The key here is to prepare ahead of time by having a glass of water and tissue nearby.
8. Take a Time-Out
Give yourself a bit of time and space to breathe and regroup. Remind yourself of the outcome you want, what you want to say, and why.
If you have to walk away for a bit, let the other person know you “need a moment,” and take it. Don’t allow feelings of guilt or embarrassment to bully you back to the scene of the argument until you’re ready.
Don’t wait more than 24 hours, though, or your new hobby will be avoidance.
9. Learn to Self-Soothe.
Try different self-soothing techniques to see which ones are most effective for you:
- Taking a deep inhale, holding it for a few seconds, then exhaling
- Squeezing a stress ball or using a fidget.
- Relaxing your facial muscles
- Hugging yourself
Likely this will involve trial and error: trying one self-soothing technique, finding it doesn’t help as much as you’d hoped, and switching to another.
Even diverting some of your attention to self-soothing techniques, though, can help you decompress a little.
10. Ground Yourself
If it’s possible, get your bare feet outside and into the dirt or onto the grass. Take a moment to ground yourself until you feel calmer and steadier.
If going outside (with or without your feet bared) isn’t an option, try a grounding mat.
Or take a time-out that involves a bath, a foot soak, or at least five minutes of quiet meditation.
11. Switch Up Your Thoughts
This one takes practice. You’ll essentially stop the thoughts that make you well up and replace them with positive (or even funny) thoughts.
For example, you can think of something you love or are intensely grateful for.
If you have a pet who lavishes you with unconditional affection, think of them snuggling with you and offering comfort.
Or focus on a mental picture of one of their ridiculous and endearing antics.
Redirect both your thoughts and your feelings for the best result.
Try this with a more comfortable conversation first. It’s not easy to redirect your focus when you’re overwhelmed and not accustomed to pivoting with your thoughts.
How will you use these ideas to stop crying during your next argument?
Even though there’s nothing wrong with getting emotional, there are times when you want to bypass tears so you can express the heart of the matter clearly.
You want to be in command of your tone of voice, your nose (no running, please), and your expression. You want a dry face with make-up intact, so you don’t look like a sad clown.
Now that you know how to keep from crying when you’re upset, use some of these tips the next time you’re facing a difficult conversation, and you start to feel teary.
If one trick doesn’t work for you, try something else. The more you practice with those that do help (if only a little), the easier it will be to keep the tears at bay until you have the time and space to let them flow.