Written by: Leighanne Higgins, Lecturer in Marketing, Lancaster University
When Ariana Grande cried on stage recently, following her performance of an emotionally laden song, she later took to Twitter to apologise and thanked her fans for accepting her humaneness. Producing emotional tears is a uniquely human thing and yet, for many, our first reaction to crying is to apologise.
Public displays of crying and emotional release, especially of emotions deemed as unattractive like being upset or angry, remain taboo. This is because there are socially accepted rules that govern the way we feel things. These “feeling rules” guide the types of emotions and feelings deemed appropriate to display at certain times and places.
These rules tell us that is it acceptable to cry at funerals, but not necessarily at pop concerts. Equally, such rules have often stereotyped certain cultures and genders into particular norms. So feeling rules tend to dictate that men must show greater restraint in expressing their emotions publicly.
The pressure of fast-paced, 24/7 societies has created a deficiency of times and places to release emotion. And into this emotional void a marketplace has sprung up to provide people with places where they can safely vent.
Japan is at the forefront of this. The Japanese, often stereotyped as emotionless, have found ways to cater to a growing demand for emotional release. In response to the stresses of everyday life particularly among women, hotels launched so-called Crying Rooms. These made-to-order rooms come complete with weepy movies, a cozy atmosphere and tissues on surplus, with the aim of providing women a time and space where they can privately release their upset and tears, free from society’s judgement and gaze.
The Japanese company Ikemeso Danshi is even building a reputation for its cry-therapy services, during which customers watch emotive short films under the guidance of a “tear courier”. In a culture where crying in front of others is taboo, the cathartic benefits of group crying brings stress relief and relaxation, leading many Japanese companies to embrace the service as a useful team-building exercise.
But it’s not just Japan that has an emotional release industry. Cities around the world have seen the launch of anger rooms that provide a designated and safe space for customers to release rage through destroying objects. The recently launched Rage Club in London is a monthly event marketed as a game where participants “play with different practices to embody, enjoy and express rage”. The Wreck Room lets you just smash things up in a room on your own.
For some, these services will represent the unwelcome commercialisation of human interaction and fundamental needs. Others will welcome them as a therapeutic experience.
A commonality across these services is that they are an opportunity to release emotions in a judgement-free environment, with like-minded others. These are the key features of our new concept entitled Therapeutic Servicescapes, which outlines how service providers can build an environment where people can healthily release their emotions. Our research was based on a three-year study of the Catholic sanctuary of Lourdes in France. We uncovered three key features that help produce a setting where particular emotions are permitted and released. These features involve:
1) A space that’s designed to stimulate particular emotions.
2) Like-minded beliefs provide a sense of safety, security and acceptance of the behaviour and emotions of others.
3) An escape from the dominant cultural feeling rules.
We found that these features catalysed emotional release, which boosted people’s emotional well-being. While many of the Japanese services outlined above are aimed at women, our research found the therapeutic environment at Lourdes was crucial to both men and women. Many of the men we spoke to saw it as a safe space, where they could release emotions and cry, free from judgement and stigma. This acceptance of crying, people told us, contrasted with their home cultures that they described as “emotionally straightjacketed”.
The value of this kind of service space is evident, especially at a time when society faces a mental health crisis, with men often worse affected by the inability to talk about or release their emotions. Suicide is the number one cause of death for men under 50 in the UK and suicide rates among US men is four times higher than women. Our study shows the importance of creating spaces where men can open up about their feelings, free from the usual societal pressures that stop them from expressing their emotions.
The health and wellness industry is expected to grow to £632 billion globally by 2021, with more and more people spending money on healthy eating, exercise and activities that help their mental health. We see the appeal of services that promote emotional release as a relatively untapped but growing segment of this burgeoning industry.
The authors do not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and have disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.