I glanced across the room and noticed tears forming in the creases of my husband’s eyes. We were at a funeral for a favorite uncle whom we all adored. My young daughter tugged on my sleeve. “Look mom. Daddy’s crying. He never cries. Why is he doing that?” I simply responded, “He’s sad. He’s going to miss his uncle.” She accepted my answer, but it left me wondering, “Why do so many of us perceive a lack of emotion as stoic and the expression of emotion as weak?”
Fast forward to 2019. We are entrenched in the #MeToo movement, and “toxic masculinity” is the current buzzword. The new Gillette commercial is causing controversy throughout the media and the Internet. Suddenly, we are questioning what it means to be male, including the old adage, “Boys don’t cry.”
We are finding ourselves asking — is it wrong for men to cry?
There’s Nothing Wrong With Tears
And we have found ourselves in the midst of a paradigm shift. According to Merriam-Webster, a paradigm shift is an important change that happens when the usual way of thinking about or doing something is replaced by a new and different way. Paradigm shifts naturally lead to pushback. As humans, we don’t embrace change well, and we don’t like to be told what we’ve been doing wrong. There is nothing inherently wrong with crying. Some people are more empathic and sensitive than others. That is, they feel more deeply and may cry more often. Throughout the years, my students who displayed their emotions often felt ashamed afterward. They were afraid they’d be labeled as weak or crybabies.
I don’t like labels because they begin to define us. When we label kids, we create mindsets that are difficult to change. Besides, no one fits neatly into only one box. Throughout the years, I’ve seen the toughest boys cry; I’ve also seen girls who refuse to shed a tear. The bottom line is that expressing emotions is healthy for all humans. When we stop crying, we stop feeling. Humans are supposed to feel; it’s what accords us our humanity. In fact, we are the only species that release tears as a response to emotional distress.
Suggested Read: How to Build Your Resilience In Your Most Vulnerable Times
The Science Behind Crying
When we understand the science behind crying, it can erase long-held stigmas like, “Don’t be a crybaby. Big boys don’t cry.” or just an irritated, “Stop crying!” Boys in our society have been routinely chastised for crying. The more we learn, the more we understand that it’s healthier for all of us to shed a tear regardless of our gender.
University of Minnesota
In a study from the University of Minnesota, Dr. William Frey noted that tears contain chemicals that the body produces in response to stress. By holding back our tears, we may become more susceptible to stress-related illnesses. After shedding tears, Frey found 85 percent of women and 73 percent of men felt less sad, angry, and stressed. They also received a boost in immunity.
Crying releases endorphins and oxytocin. These neurotransmitters make us feel better and are thought to mitigate both physical and emotional pain. Therefore, crying not only boosts our mood, but it can also make us more immune to pain.
Dr. Margaret Crepeau of Marquette University found that people who suffered from stress-related illnesses were more likely to view crying as a sign of weakness and cried less than those who were healthier.
Judith Orloff, MD
According to Judith Orloff, MD, crying helps to resolve grief. When we cry in response to a loss, the tears are a means to process our experience and open our hearts back up. She states, “Otherwise, we are a set up for depression if we suppress these potent feelings.”
Steven Sideroff, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at UCLA and the Director of the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, also believes crying is good for the body. When we are stressed, our muscles become tight and tense. Crying releases the tension and restores the body to a balanced state.
“Crying is how the body speaks when your mouth can’t explain the pain it feels.” – Anonymous
I believe that crying is a critical form of communication and a means to connect with others. It shows us that someone is suffering and in need of comfort. As humans, we should be supporting one another, not shaming each other for expressing grief or sadness. I’ve witnessed boys especially try to hide their tears for fear of being ridiculed. I hope this paradigm shift is successful. If it is emotionally and physically healthier to release tears, then everybody, regardless of gender, should have a good cry in honor of his or her health.