Let’s be honest, men are pretty bad at showing any signs of struggle, physical or mental, in the fear that to do so would be a sign of weakness and so tend to keep their perceived weaknesses to themselves. If you do this, understand that you are not alone. You are the result of years of hearing other people and ourselves being told to ‘Man up’ or ‘Grow a pair’, even ‘Don’t be such a girl’, etc.
We are conditioned not only to behave this way but also to judge other men by the same standards. From our early childhood, we are taught to remember that “Big boys don’t cry” rather than the benefits of crying.
“I know a man ain’t supposed to cry
But these tears, I can’t hold inside
Losing you would end my life, you see
‘Cause you mean that much to me”
Marvyn Gaye – I heard it through the Grapevine
Well, I cry
This post is not about me, but I will admit that I cry. I didn’t for many years but, these days I will allow the tears to flow, though not always, it’s generally something I do in private; I’m in my 60s and old habits die hard. In fact, I built such a hardened shell that even those in my closest family just assumed I was uncaring, lacking in empathy and, in one person’s view I “lacked humanity”.
At my Father’s funeral, I was 38 years old. I stood alone at his open grave, looking down at the coffin of my hero, the man I loved but was never able to tell me that he loved me and not a tear was shed. I was shaking inside, breaking apart and feeling very ‘alone’ yet, still, I wouldn’t cry. It was 11 years before I sought counselling and was treated for PTSD.
I hadn’t processed losing my Dad, and the grief had been rotting away in my brain. Once I heard this from a clinical psychologist I wept fully and unreservedly in my car. Finally, I was able to process my grief and release 11 years of pent-up emotions. Sadly, it was too late for my marriage, but that’s another story.
“Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears.”
Charles Dickens – Great Expectations
Crying as a guilty secret
Even if we do allow ourselves to cry, albeit in private, we rarely are willing to admit it to other men. We might tell a spouse/partner but not to another man, despite the benefits of crying being pretty well understood by mental health professionals; however, feeling the need to keep this as some kind of guilty secret is actually placing even more stress on ourselves.
Crying is a perfectly natural process that is not reserved for women and children or when we get a splinter in our eye from doing something ‘manly’ (see our post about manliness here).
Three types of tears
Whilst we understand that we might cry for a range of reasons, from joy to despair, there are, in fact, three different types of tears, too: basal tears, emotional tears and reflex tears.
These are the standard liquid that our eyes are constantly coated with. Our eyelids spread Basal tears in a thin and even coat that helps with vision and focus. They keep the eye wet, wash out dust etc. and keep out germs and infections.
Unlike anything else, emotional tears contain additional proteins like potassium, manganese, and prolactin, as well as stress controlling hormones. Our limbic system in the brain triggers production from the lacrimal glands which can cause a rush of liquid, often running down our faces and through our noses.
These are generated in reaction to irritants such as smoke or those produce by chopping onions. They serve to wash away the irritant and help to fight infection.
The 7 benefits of crying
It has been shown in research that crying for more than a few minutes activates the Parasympathetic Nervous System to help with rest and relaxation.
- Pain reduction
The same research shows that extended crying releases oxytocin and endorphins that can provide both a physical and a numbing effect on the body.
- Reduced risk of hypertension (high blood pressure), cardiovascular disease and erectile dysfunction
Holding back our emotions and refusing to process them is something that psychologists call ‘Repressive Coping‘. Meta-analysis of 22 studies has shown that the stress of repressing our emotions can increase the risks of stroke, erectile dysfunction, obesity, and heart problems.
- Improves mood
Sobbing is shown to increase the rate of deep breathing of cool air and subsequent cooling of blood and, therefore, the brain.
- Helps with bonding
Crying in the presence of another signals to them that you are in need of something and demonstrates your attachment to them. It is thought to be unique to Humans but universal amongst Humans. This means that crying in one culture can lead to attachment and support in another, regardless of background.
- Can help with overcoming grief
In another post I will cover The Chimp Paradox but suffice it to say that we need to process our grief such that we can fully accept it. This is what my PTSD was about… I was in a repressive coping state that caused me to lock away my emotion and push away those around me. Counselling was the only way out, and that involved a lot of crying.
- Return your emotional balance
Whether in the depths of despair or in extraordinary elation, neither emotion is sustainable, and crying can return us to a state of homeostasis, a manageable equilibrium where we can function normally and still have room for emotions to flow up and down as needed.
Is it healthy to have a cry?
Yes, without question, crying in response to physical or emotional trauma helps the body cope with, and overcome the cause.
Crying provides additional proteins and hormones to enable the body to fend-off infection, it garners support from others and cools the brain to help process the root cause.
It is very healthy to cry.
Is crying a sign of weakness?
Crying in a society where the misconception that crying is a sign of weakness prevails takes even more strength and it is time that people understood that crying is normal and healthy.
What are the health benefits of crying?
The health benefits of crying are manyfold including, self-soothing, clearer thinking, reduced risk of stroke, physical pain reduction, and detoxification.