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Showing emotion equals “break down”?

While reading news on CNN.com, a headline caught my eye: “Jennifer Lopez breaks down on stage.” Curious, I clicked on the article.

The first paragraph of the article states that Ms. Lopez “broke down in tears onstage after singing a song about loves from her past.” The authors then write that Ms. Lopez had performed a song with choreography depicting several relationships from her past. The article finishes with:

After she was done, Lopez told the sold-out crowd, “I took a trip down memory lane” – and then started to cry as the crowd applauded.

But it wasn’t all sadness for Lopez. A photo of her twins Max and Emme, 3½, and said flashed above her and she said, “There’s love – and then there’s love.”

It is typical for this kind of article to exaggerate an incident to increase its interest; there is nothing unusual about that. However, I find the choice of wording informative.

If I understand correctly, it sounds like Ms. Lopez cried briefly after the song, presumably because it reminded her of a relationship situation that was making her feel some sadness.

In other words, she didn’t run offstage and end the concert. She didn’t weep inconsolably for an extended period of time. She didn’t require hospitalization or drugs to manage her outburst. Rather, she showed a bit of sadness by shedding some tears. How does this get labeled a “break down?”

I don’t follow celebrity news, so I don’t know if Ms. Lopez has a history of being incapacitated by her emotions. If so, it would be more understandable that people become concerned when she shows her feelings.

I suspect that this says more about American perceptions than it does about Ms. Lopez, though. I think that calling a brief show of sadness “breaking down” reflects mainstream American views on emotional expression. Any expression of emotion, especially “negative” emotion, is somewhat alarming to many people in our emotionally repressed society.

As a therapist, it doesn’t concern me to hear of someone shedding a few tears when reminded of a recent love loss. It does concern me to hear others consider it newsworthy, because that sends the message that emotional expression is unusual or even a cause for concern. This promotes the idea that there is something wrong with people who don’t repress or hide their feelings.

The reality is that emotionally healthy people do sometimes show what they are feeling. If you do not believe that this is true, I encourage you to seek further education about emotions. You may be missing out on something important.

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