Why Do We Cry and That's Okay?

The social attitude on “positive” is approaching absurdity, because of which we often feel irrational shame for our own sadness. A common stereotype that tears are weak stigmatizes women and hurts men’s self-esteem.

Crying theories

Elephants, seals, otters, and, of course, crocodiles know how to shed tears. True, for them it is a way to get rid of excess salt in the body without any sentimentality. There are many theories about human crying. According to one of the ancient (XVI-XVII centuries), it was believed that when emotions warm up the heart, the body produces steam to cool it. It turned out that tears are a kind of condensation of emotional steam that accumulates between the eyes and the brain when our bowler hat begins to boil.

In the 1980s, researcher William Frey discovered a protein in emotional tears and suggested that tears flush out the toxic substances produced by stress. Since then, there has not been a single study to support this idea, and yet it still seems plausible to many today.

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Scientists today do not see a direct relationship between the number of shed tears and the level of stress. A study of the dependence of mood on tears, conducted by Dutch scientists, has given mixed results. The subjects were shown sad films, and those who did not cry while watching reported a stable mood – both before watching and 20 and 90 minutes after. Those who cried felt much worse after watching but reported an improvement in mood over time. Such an assessment is subjective, therefore it cannot be said whether the emotional state has really improved or whether it is a trivial contrast.

How tears regulate our behavior

Crying has features of the so-called displaced activity, such as “unmotivated” licking of cats’ fur, or the desire to drum fingers on a table or bite people’s nails. Long-term retention threatens depression, which is dangerous to health, so that in stressful situations, “protective” nervous activity appears. Perhaps crying was originally one of its types – it distracted us, occupying the body with important things: deep breathing, screaming, or howling.

During sobs, we breathe in briefly and exhale for a long time, which slows down breathing and heartbeat; relax the throat, muscles, and even the intestines. However, you cannot induce relaxation simply by shedding tears from an onion. So, when they say that it is harmful not to cry and keep everything in oneself, they mean not so much the absence of tears themselves as the willingness to give oneself a break.

Researchers increasingly consider tears not as a reflex, but as a means of highly organized human communication. Babies can cry already in the second or third month, and for a long time, this remains their only way of communication. Perhaps the chemical composition of emotional tears can really affect the people around you, even in adulthood.

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The catch is that the environment of the crying person must be tuned in to her. Collective ethics often do not involve empathy, such as at a board meeting of a large firm. In such a situation, crying may not bring relief, but humiliation and a sense of shame.

The reason women cry more often is because of the social permission to express their feelings. This is not available to men in many cultures.

The reason that women cry more often is in social permission for the manifestation of experiences. This is not available to men in many cultures. Men, undoubtedly, do not cry, as they guard the most fragile thing in this world – their masculinity. Men feel pain, but it is forbidden to express it. In general, many things are forbidden for men: not only to cry, but also to laugh, dance, and generally express emotions. If you move away from standards and become more emotional, it turns out that expressing and experiencing feelings is not only good for your health but also pleasant.

Men grow up under emotional repression. From the point of view of psychology, raising children in the spirit of “don’t cry, you’re a man” is not only cruel but also extremely harmful to the child’s psyche. Studies show that a boy’s psyche develops more slowly, and emotionality matures longer than in girls. The child, whose fears, despair, and cries for help are drowned out by the total demand to be always ready to “defend the homeland” with a dry nose, withdraws into himself. Closure makes it difficult to achieve emotional maturity, which requires accepting your own feelings. Often, psychotherapy helps men to reach emotional maturity, which teaches them to accept and express their feelings in a comfortable psychological environment.

Anastasia Fetter

Anastasia Fetter