When we come into this world there are people praying and banking on the single fact that they need to hear us cry. Crying is one of the very first things we do when we enter the world and it signifies not only healthy lungs and arrival, but life. It is often the very first indication that we are alive.
For our first year of life, crying is all we know. We cry morning, noon and night, as a form of communication and further proof that we are in fact still alive.
We cry when we cannot form words. We cry when we want or need something as simple as food or a change of clothes.
Once we learn how to speak we are able to use words instead of wails and tears to express ourselves, and at some point in our very young brains the act of crying switches from basic communication into a technique to get what we want, to show emotions of sadness and disappointment, to express physical pain, and that we are unhappy.
I can’t pinpoint an exact age or time, but very soon into our lives, what was once our ONLY way of communicating, soon becomes something associated with shame.
“Don’t be a baby”
“Big girls/boys don’t cry”
“Use your words”
Soon after mastering things like walking and running and learning to write our names and know all the animal noises of the farm yard, we enter a new phase where crying is no longer “needed”. We enter a phase where crying is accompanied by shame and disappointment from adults and our peers. We so quickly transition into trying to be strong and pushing emotions that often bring on tears, away.
Before we talk societal norms, let’s break this down scientifically.
If we break down crying or tears, we find 3 types of tears:
- Basal tears: these provide lubrication and nourishment to the eye and protect the cornea
- Refelx tears: these happen when we get something in our eye, they help wash out any foreign body that gets into the eye
- Emotional tears: these occur in response to a range of different emotions
Science has also found that there are benefits to “letting it all out”. Crying benefits include:
- Has a soothing effects and can calm us
- Helps relieve pain
- Releases toxins and relieves stress
- Aids sleep
- Fights bacteria
- Improves vision
We are created to cry. We are meant to cry to reap it’s benefits and we have THREE types of tears. We only have 2 arms and 2 legs but THREE tear types!
So we are given this tool, and a way to release things we keep pent up for days, weeks, sometimes years, we are BUILT with a mechanism meant to help us, and yet we try so hard to fight it. We have made crying almost a negative reaction to something. When we see people cry we feel more sorry for them, when people see us cry we quickly try to hide and apologize for showing emotion.
I know this isn’t just a canadian thing either, to apologize for crying, we see it on tv, in movies, in friend groups, in families and even when it’s more expected; at weddings, funerals, therapist sessions, we apologize for having emotions that are so strong they force our body to go into a mechanism to release stress. I’m guilty of this too, the second tears find their way down my cheeks, my first reaction is to squeeze my butt cheeks together (I’m told this stops tears), dab at my eyes and say “sorry, uhh this is so embarrassing”.
How did we go from crying to communicate, to being told not to cry because we’re “not a baby”, to crying ONLY if we’re in immense emotional or physical pain, all the while feeling apologetic for it if and when we do.
I don’t want to bring up gender norms much here, but in my personal and unofficial experimentation (instagram polls and life experience), I know it’s not a surprise that women generally cry more than men. I know this isn’t always true, but this is usually the case.
I have also spent a ton of time around seniors and elders and I have noticed that they rarely show emotion. I’m curious, but have no way to poll them like I do for my gender curiosity, if age plays a factor or if science attributes to this as well. Is it the experience on earth, the attendance of multiple funerals as many of your peers pass on? Do people ever get “used” to them? Do the sad, emotional things in life eventually become less sad as we get older? Or is it science again? Are we less emotional as we age because we lose certain hormones that were once responsible for bringing out tears? I don’t have answers, I just wanted to share this curiosity.
Back to the women crying more than men topic of discussion, I posted a poll on instagram asking my male followers to weigh in on whether they cry less due to societal standards and being raised to be “tough” and “manly” or if the physical makeup of men doesn’t physically allow them to shed as many tears.
*I just want to stop here and acknowledge that I understand that attaching genders to this opens up several other conversations and that I am not taking every variable into consideration and that this is very limited and completely unscientific data and is completely based on my experiences and friends/followers and their experiences. *
64% of the people I “surveyed” said that they cry less due to how they were raised and being influenced by society to be “tough like a man”, while 36% said they believe they cry less because they are “genetically built differently” and therefore don’t have the same emotional makeup as women.
Again, I could write ten different blogs branching off of each of these things but I want to focus on crying itself, for what it is and the shame built around it.
We’ve covered physically what crying is, why we did it growing up, the benefits it has, weird social “norms” around crying – like apologizing for it, and the gender roles associated with crying, and now I want to share why I wrote this blog.
Last year around this time I typed into google; “Is there a drug to make me cry less”.
As a nurse, this was obviously embarrassing because I had never heard of such a thing, but I wanted to know if maybe such a miraculous thing existed and I just didn’t know about it.
Everything was making me cry. I didn’t go a single day in a month without breaking down. Beautiful things made me cry, sad stories made me cry, happy tears, heartbreak tears, I cried them all! I was convinced something was wrong with me and I needed medical help.
I was so embarrassed to be in this “state” so I didn’t tell anyone, at least not right away. It’s embarrassing to pass people on the sidewalk and tears stream down your face. It’s awkward to show up somewhere knowing your eyes are reddened and still show evidence that you had been crying. But why?
Why is it so embarrassing to be sad?
Life is hard! Beautiful things happen, but so do soul crushing events and both can summon tears. Why do adult tears automatically bring out sympathetic looks, pity glances, embarrassment, shame?
I’m guilty for looking at someone crying and thinking “poor thing” or “I wonder what happened”. I’m guilty of awkwardly trying to change topics when I notice something we’re talking about is making the other person “teary eyed”, I’m guilty of telling young children not to cry. I’m guilty of saying “big boy’s/girls don’t cry”.
Maybe calling this an epiphany is a stretch, but I just needed to write out my thoughts on this and note the stigmas and societal norms around this emotion in particular because I hadn’t thought much about it until I found myself ankle deep in tears and hot water in my bathtub each night.
I encourage you to cry. I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable. I know it’s not what we’re used to and I know it feels very vulnerable and scary and it’s such a raw emotion, but It helps release what we hold inside. It allows us to let go a little bit. It gets something out, so there is room to put more in, and when we make room, we can be conscious about what we put back into that space. Let out the things that are hurting us, emotionally and physically, and let in the things that comfort us and bring us joy.
If you haven’t cried in awhile, I encourage you to sit with your thoughts, turn everything else off. The shower is a great space if you need a place to be alone, and just have a good old fashioned cry.
I’m sorry in advance for your day long loop repeat of the frozen soundtrack, but, Let it Go. Then feel good about feeling your feelings. Don’t feel any shame or embarrassment. Have compassion for yourself and your feelings.
I say these things because I need to remind myself of this as well.
Thank you for reading. Enjoy your release in your next cry.
Crying with you, in the happy and the sad tears,