Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Joanne M. Hall

Committee Members

Sandra P. Thomas, Marian W. Roman, Becky Bolen


The belief that crying leads to healing is so widely held and of such longstanding that many healthcare professionals—including nurses, physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists—accept it as fact even though there is little substantiating scientific evidence. Crying is commonly believed to be an essential factor in restoring mind-body equilibrium after physical and/or emotional trauma has been experienced. If, as has been hypothesized by many scientists and healthcare practitioners, emotional crying is a biopsychosocial healing modality, then specifics of its therapeutic praxis, including limitations and ambiguities, should be incorporated into nursing education and practice. In this grounded theory study, the meaning and functions imparted to crying by women who cried after experiencing stress in a variety of crisis situations and settings was revealed in semi-structured interviews. Analysis of this data permitted realization of the Tipping Point Theory of Crying, a new grounded theory explanatory of the stress-related crying process. This theory shares similarities with other theories of crying, but its empirical perspective offers a fresh, more subtly nuanced appraisal of how crying is indispensable to a processual sequence that involves stress relief concomitant with the attenuation of crying; restoration of cognitive clarity that leads to accepting and adapting to a reenvisioned reality inclusive of the crisis event; and a new state of psychophysiological equilibrium necessary for self-preservation and “getting back to life.” Included in study results were findings that further illuminated how women deal with crying in different social settings, why crying during sad movies is qualitatively different than the emotional crying associated with stressors personally endured, why women in our culture try hard to control crying, why women cry alone, how women define different types of crying, how emotional crying at non-crisis levels may be amenable to self-regulation, and how crying in response to overwhelming emotional upset can be empowering. Analysis of the data provided by study participants revealed numerous potential investigative opportunities that are likely to lead to the advancement of holistic nursing teaching and practice. In addition to the theoretical, clinical and educational implications of study findings, opportunities for additional research, both quantitative and qualitative, are elaborated.

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