To cry or not to cry....


I am a newer nurse, so my experience is quite lacking.

This week I encountered a situation that just broke my heart, I teared up a few times when communicating with a patient's family, but fought back and kept myself from letting those tears actually roll down my face. It almost felt callous to not allow that emotion out however.

So I am curious what the proper way to handle this is? (If there even is such a thing) How much emotion is ok to show, and how much do you keep to yourself? Do you become more numb to these things over time?

llg, PhD, RN

13,469 Posts

Specializes in Nursing Professional Development. Has 46 years experience.

There is no one, solid rule that works for all occasions. You have to use some judgment base on the details of the particular situation. But one guideline I like to use is that ... If you are so emotionally overwrought that the family and/or other staff members feel a need to take care of YOU, that is probably too much emotion. You are there to care for the family, not the other around. It shouldn't become all about you. The focus should remain on helping the patient/family. So I think it is usually wrong to actually fall apart in such a way as to be unable to be the caregiver. However, displaying no emotion can appear un-caring -- and that is not good either. Something in between is usually best.

For example: If you have been involved with this patient/family for a long time, it is usually fine to shed a tear or two when they die or face some other tragedy -- assuming you are remaining calm and in control sufficiently to be able to continue helping them. But were you to completely break down and start blubbering and other resources needed to be called in to do your job for you, then that is going too far.

If you don't already have a strong relationship with the patient/family ... they will probably feel uncomfortable if you display a lot of emotion, start crying when hearing their sad story, etc. They need someone to be strong and focused on helping them through this difficult time. Don't burden them with your emotions beyond making comments that are supportive to them.