Did you know that there is a very important debate that has raged in psychology, counseling and therapy programs for years? The debate is a very heated one, and it all centers around tissues….. yes, this controversial topic has caused many passionate verbal exchanges. And what is the debate? To pass or not pass a tissue box to a person who is crying.
Why the debate? It is really quite simple. It is all about the subtle cues we give to those around us.
There are two camps in this debate – those who are pro handing tissues to crying people and those who are against… these are their arguments.
Individuals need to be okay with crying. Therapists and others must be able to sit with tears as it is therapeutic for a person to know that they can release their tears without fear or shame. Passing a tissue box to a person who is crying sends a subconscious/ unspoken message that you are not comfortable with their tears. Handing a person a tissue box is the equivalent to saying to them, “wipe up those tears and make them go away.”
All individuals cry and most people in our society are able to accept and handle this. Handing a crying person a tissue is a sign of respect, empathy, and compassion. Handing a person a tissue is a small way of letting them know that you are reaching out to them and that you care. If you do not hand a tissue to someone who is crying you may be perceived as distant and uncaring.
What an interesting debate, isn’t it? I fall somewhere in the middle – many times I will allow a person to be with their tears and I leave the tissue box in a prominent place that they can see if they need them. On occasion, depending on the circumstance, I may hand a child a tissue….. particularly if I have a teenage boy in my office and it is clear to me that he is mortified that he is crying.
Today, 247 days ’til 40, I am reminded that I must accept the emotions of others. Crying can be very healing and it is okay to cry – the person who is crying needs to be okay with the release of emotions and those that surround them must also be able to empathetically witness this emotional outpouring. It is so healing and freeing.
June 19, 2012 at 00:14
If we have learned one thing from our society and culture on this topic it’s that there is no crying in baseball. Period. Thus, the tissues become a moot point. Otherwise, interesting write-up!
June 19, 2012 at 12:13
June 19, 2012 at 00:17
I was in an intensive workshop where many therapists didn’t like the idea of passing the tissue. Thry thought it broke the stream-of-consciousness where the person would get distracted and not get out everything they needed. Made me think twice about passing a tissue. Great post!
June 19, 2012 at 12:12
Ah, so you can vouch for the fact that the debate is real! Yes, the first time I heard it it really made me think too!
June 19, 2012 at 00:21
let people cry but always have tissues, after all no one likes snot running down their face and when You come out you are red and blotchy enough so tissues can only help
June 19, 2012 at 12:12
Lol!!! Yes, snot is not very attractive!
June 19, 2012 at 12:22
June 19, 2012 at 00:32
Have always said that I have the same right to my tears as I have to my laughter – I cry when ever I have a need for it – don’t really care where I’m. If I see somebody crying and being upset I always take my time and stop .. asking if they are okay – if they need help. Even if I have a train to catch.
So important that somebody care .. in sad moments. Been there so many times myself and I must say most times somebody has asked if I’m okay or not.
June 19, 2012 at 12:11
Yes, you are so correct. I have also found that in the really rough moments I have had it always meant so much when someone noticed (I tend to keep things inside, so they do not notice often or if they do they keep it to themselves).
June 19, 2012 at 12:13
It’s only to show some compassion and show that you care, only takes a couple of minutes and the person feels so much better if only somebody ask – are everything okay.
June 19, 2012 at 12:14
Yes, so very true!
June 19, 2012 at 00:51
personally i like to be handed a tissue gently or the box which ever 🙂 it might just depend on the individual and not be about the professionals opinions at all..
June 19, 2012 at 12:10
Very true! Good point!
June 19, 2012 at 01:59
What a wasted debate! Good lord, how does handing someone a tissue indicate that one is uncomfortable with any of the human emotions? Ignoring someone in pain says more about a person’s lack of empathy or compassion. Dispassion is not compassion and isn’t that what care is about, from anyone in the field of health care. I hand paper napkins to strangers on the subway. I’ve hugged strangers because the human touch is so healing. To know one is not alone, even for just a moment can give a sliver of hope. I have been known to ask, when a person’s body language is “keep away” or they are so paralyzed by their emotion a touch on the shoulder. Yes, you are entitled to your discomfort, and your tears. If a stranger finds you crying, hands you and hands you a Starbucks napkin, it just may be me.
June 19, 2012 at 12:05
Your comment made me laugh! (Only the wasted debate part). I have also reached out to strangers and it has been a powerful experience.
June 19, 2012 at 02:04
very interesting…another similar issue is that of saying “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I’m sorry turns the attention off of the person who needs it, and onto the person who is uncomfortably saying “I’m sorry.”
June 19, 2012 at 12:00
Very interesting point – I agree with you completely. I see that a lot when people are upset and another person turns the conversation away from the hurting person and to themselves…..
June 19, 2012 at 02:10
Not such a hard question. My dog passed a week ago. We’d been together for 12 1/2 years. I’ve been crying off and on since. Hand me a tissue or not. I don’t care. Drying my eyes doesn’t end my sadness. I’ll get better eventually.
June 19, 2012 at 12:00
First of all, I am so sorry to hear that your dog died – in our family, pets are family members and it is always very hard when they die. I agree with you, sometimes when we are in the midst of a painful moment it does not matter whether or not we get a tissue, we are just struggling.
June 19, 2012 at 16:38
Thank you. Not much more to say. Eventually, I’ll get past this. None of my usual tricks seem to be working.
June 19, 2012 at 03:22
I think your middle ground is the right place to be. If you are truly empathetic, you will know which course to take, instead of choosing a side and sticking to it regardless of the circumstances.
June 19, 2012 at 11:59
Very good point!
June 19, 2012 at 04:05
I’m not a therapist, but have been a consumer of their services. And I am the type of person to whom people pour out their feelings, tears and all. I always appreciated having a box of tissues handy when a consumer, especially. And I try to carry tissues, as much for my allergies as for anyone else’s needs. There’s really not much worse than not expecting to need tissues, whether for an unexpected cry or allergy attack. 🙂
June 19, 2012 at 11:56
Very good point too – yes, it is very awkward when you are in a situation and all you have is a sleeve. Been there, it sucks.
June 19, 2012 at 04:07
It always bugged me that in movies/TV, a character would have some horrific event just happen and the ‘hero’ comes over, gives a hug and tells them not to cry. “Shhhh, it’s ok, don’t cry.” Your town was just vaporized by aliens. Clearly, that is not OK.
June 19, 2012 at 11:55
Ah, yes, I also cannot stand that.
June 19, 2012 at 04:20
I guess it depends on how well you know the person too right? I think people should be able to cry in public and not feel embarrassed. It’s a tough one… I always find being around someone who is crying extremely awkward… I never quite know what to do….
June 19, 2012 at 11:55
Yes, it can be awkward when people cry (thus the whole tissue message debate)….. I do think that it does depend how well you know someone and also on the individual circumstances….
June 19, 2012 at 05:02
I would imagine this debate is for therapists etc only. In that specific case I would opt for making sure the box is close enough for the patient/person to reach and let them decide if they need it. But under normal situations I would of course offer the tissue box (or tissue) to a person crying as it is more for the sniffles etc. that I would be doing it for….Who would have thought there would be a possible question on the test given to counselors regarding this…lol Diane
June 19, 2012 at 11:53
Yes, crazy, isn’t it? The tissue test! I agree, probably not a critical debate for a non-therapy type, but interesting nonetheless.
June 19, 2012 at 06:06
Very interesting debate. I am also in the middle. There are times when I reach for the tissues to pass on, but when I am ‘working’ with people, I let them cry. For me to pass the tissues on those occasions can pass on the message “come on, pull yourself together” which is really not always a good thing, especially when people are really needing to learn how to let go.
An interesting topic which, I have no doubt, will not have a right nor wrong answer.
June 19, 2012 at 11:50
Yes, so it sounds like we feel the same way about this issue… there has to be a balance and the ability to try and read the person who you are with at any given time.
June 19, 2012 at 06:44
It truly is very interesting that a gesture as small as offering someone some tissues when they are crying can send vastly different messages. I completely agree that crying can be very healing, and in the case where someone’s crying like it’s raining cats and dogs, I’d say tissues should be called for ‘cos that kind of crying gets really messy…don’t you think? =)
June 19, 2012 at 11:49
It is true that one small thing can send so many different messages…. yes, when things get messy tissues are good! 🙂
June 19, 2012 at 08:24
I totally agree with what you say but I am appalled that the anti-tissue distribution even exists. IF anything all it would indicate to me is that the therapist/doctor/psychologist/counsellor had absolutely no idea what it feels like to be in that situation. Surely they would want to be passed a tissue if it were them? I like your approach though. Make it possible for the person to choose for themselves if the want/need a tissue.
June 19, 2012 at 11:48
It is interesting that there is such a big debate, isn’t there???? I wonder how many have felt truly vulnerable and are speaking from their own experiences and how many are in a more theoretically place with the debate…
June 19, 2012 at 08:45
Well at a certain point in time the tissue is pretty handy especially when the inevitable snot comes! That’s the first thing I thought of! Tough one! I have never thought of the tissue as being asked to stop my tears though it very often does just that. Interesting topic!
June 19, 2012 at 11:47
That is a very good (and practical) point!
June 19, 2012 at 11:00
if the therapist is not comfortable with crying then s/he is in the wrong business. How can there be a predetermined course of action that is not judgemental? Have tissues available for the client to use if needed otherwise let them be!
June 19, 2012 at 11:47
You would be surprised how many therapists do not belong in the business!
June 20, 2012 at 05:13
probably not 😦
June 19, 2012 at 15:06
I guess my therapist is ok with crying. For my first 3 sessions with her I blubbered the entire time. There was a box of tissues handy by my chair so I could use them or not. If felt good to get it out. She ventured to guess that I was depressed. I responded “What was your first clue, Bubba?”
June 19, 2012 at 22:45
This made me laugh, just because of the stating of the obvious. The amazing thing is that you immediately felt safe enough to cry…. good that the tissues were close… I think that is the way to go…..
June 19, 2012 at 18:47
I DEFINITELY let people cry and I oftentimes will cry with them. Crying is a healthy release.
June 19, 2012 at 22:46
The Quiet Borderline
June 19, 2012 at 20:27
I’m a pro-tissue-giver. I find it to be a very nice, kind and generous act which puts me at ease.
Just like when I notice my psychologists slight change in body language. He hands me the tissues and then sits on the edge of his chair so he’s as close to me as possible and I really feel that he’s there for me.
It’s all very charming, whether you have a male of female therapist.
June 19, 2012 at 22:46
Wow, great point that it is not just the handing of the tissues per se, but the WAY a person does it and the accompanying body language.
June 19, 2012 at 22:35
I don’t think it is an either or debate. Sometimes, the fact that there are tissues near (i.e. in a doctor’s or therapists surgery) is enough but it would sure lift my spirits if a stranger passed me a tissue in a public place. But there could equally be people who would be mortified in the latter situation. I’ve always offered a tissue in the presence of someone who is crying – never considered that to do so my cause offence.
June 19, 2012 at 22:47
I agree. I really like the nearby and visible option the best.
June 20, 2012 at 02:07
I guess I’m somewhere in between. I am a compassionate person, I don’t like seeing people cry. But instead of handing them a tissue, I usually wrap an arm around their back and soothe their back while saying “it’s okay” OR I give them a hug and they can cry on my shoulders.
Or sometimes, I might get sad myself too, and I’ll cry with them..haha, but that doesn’t happen often. Perhaps one of the best ways to let people know they aren’t alone is to jump in and cry with them!!
😛 just a speculation.
June 20, 2012 at 15:32
I also tend to have a reaction similar to yours… depending on the situation.
June 20, 2012 at 05:08
Wow, never heard of this debate. I think crying is definitely something we all have to do sometimes and if you’re with the cryer, then letting them do so and feel safe doing so is important. I think passing someone a tissue box is simply to make them feel physically comfortable (it can get messy with your nose running all over the place!)
June 20, 2012 at 15:31
Very good points! And yes, if it is getting messy, it would seem they would NEED a tissue at that point!!!!!
June 20, 2012 at 13:09
I find it easier to cry and focus on what I’m feeling if I’m not worried about my snot dripping onto my shirt. 🙂 For me a tissue is just a tissue.
June 20, 2012 at 15:27
Yea, the whole snot thing is really bad……
June 21, 2012 at 02:38
So interesting, as I was caught in this situation just this morning. I am a nurse and I was caring for a family of a dying child. Many staff chose to hand boxes of tissues around, but I occasionally feel as though this gesture is like asking someone to hide their grief. However, I can understand both sides of the argument.
June 21, 2012 at 23:04
Yes, I agree with you….. and I think you have to find the careful balance between compassion and giving the wrong (or unintended) message.
June 21, 2012 at 15:43
Good post. The act definitely has meaning. In my career I was part of a restructuring at work. A group of us who were very close were all separated into different departments; we had no warning, we were just herded into the cafeteria and given a piece of paper telling where we would be working. One of my coworkers was very upset and was crying; the big boss walked by and tossed a box of kleenex and walked away. It only made her cry more…
June 21, 2012 at 23:02
Wow, it sounds like the big boss was pretty heartless….
June 25, 2012 at 04:11
Honestly…it’s all about the snot to sleeve ratio whether I pass them a tissue or not. LOL
June 25, 2012 at 14:11
July 1, 2012 at 14:01
I think I’d be very uncomfortable about being handed a tissue in any circumstances when I was crying. I’d see it as addressing the crying as a problem and doing nothing to address the reasons why I was crying – and I have been known to cry with depth of emotion that wasn’t negative or painful. Music can make me cry.
In a culture less neurotically scared of physical contact, a hand on the shoulder would be an appropriate response, and is between, for example, close relatives and friends or combat comrades.
Failing that, how about a smile once the crying person looks up?
July 1, 2012 at 22:18
Yes, I actually tend to feel the same way – I am happy to have a tissue by me, but I don’t like being handed one, I prefer to take it myself.
Quilting And Applique Shop
July 18, 2012 at 22:45
I always hand the tissue because I when I start crying my nose does too! So I appreciate a tissue being passed to me. I find it thoughtful!
July 19, 2012 at 14:19
Yes, noses can cause quite a mess!!!
August 14, 2012 at 06:54
As Shakespeare said; To give a tissue, or not give a tissue, that is the question. All joking aside I would definitely want a tissue cose I’d have a runny nose which I’d have to relieve somewhere in the room and your couch might not benefit from it. This is how Sue sees it.
August 14, 2012 at 23:13
hehehe – me too!