Cry Freedom

This year, I experienced a quiet Fourth of July.  I enjoyed the liberty of watching coverage of this fully American Holiday from home, with the independence to choose which television channel to watch the nation celebrate. I was struck with the beauty and passion of the celebration, but also with the amazingly diverse ways people celebrated.  I saw looks of pure awe and jubilation.   There were those that cheered as if they just won the lottery.   And then, there were the folks from the water department.  Yes, the criers.

Why do some people cry with almost any strong emotion and others almost never do?   The answer to this simple question is complicated.  The hardest and most powerful amongst us may cry at watching the next underdog American Idol accept the crown while the most sensitive laughs at the show where Zombies take over the world.  Does this make sense?  Not really, so please don’t feel alone in your tearful confusion.

Crying has been studied extensively and is still not totally understood.  Some things have been proven.  Women in the USA cry more frequently (and publicly) than men.  I would argue that a man who is angry and being “macho” during a sad or bad time, is crying in a most primitive way.  We live in a culture where men are not supposed to cry.   (This is changing, but excruciatingly slow).

Research also suggests some physiological explanations for why women cry more.  It has been reported that women have more Prolactin in their tears than men.  Prolactin is a hormone that has multiple functions in the body.  It has been associated with bonding and nurturing feelings, so it would not surprise me that a female may cry more.  I consider that to be a good thing.   How great to connect so strongly with other people and be able to fully express emotions.

Additionally, at puberty, there is a clear spread that develops between males and females crying.   Females tend to cry more.  This may be a product of the increased Estrogen and Prolactin that comes with puberty.  Conversely, in males, the increased Testosterone may slow down the ability to cry.  It also may be that a boy’s pimples block his tear ducts.  It is probably a bit of both that contribute.

Crying can serve many purposes.  Most agree that it is an emotional outlet.   You don’t have to be the CEO of “Kleenex” to realize that it is important to let feelings out.  There is a saying attributed to British psychiatrist Henry Maudsley, “The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.”  In other words, cry if you feel the need; if you don’t, the feelings will come out in potentially harmful ways.

Some people can’t cry.  There are rare medical conditions that cause this, but often they are psychological conditions.  I have worked with people that were scared to cry because the emotions associated feel too strong or uncontrollable.   The question of why some people can’t emotionally cry is being studied but there is currently no direct answer.  Those that can’t emotionally cry may not be ready for the good old Hallmark moment, but with help they can be brought to a safe place, with care and support, to test those waters.

You may be wondering what purpose the tears serve.  There are three kinds of tears.  There are basal, which we constantly make to keep our eyes clear and with good focus, healthy and protected from infection.  There are reflex tears, which our eyes produce immediately when a foreign body or other irritant enter in order to clear it.  Last, there are emotional tears. These are the ones shed in conjunction with any kind of strong emotion, mostly sadness or fear, but also anger or happiness.

There is a difference in the composition of these tears.  Reflex tears are mostly water, basal have a consistent balance of water and other ingredients.  Emotional seem to be the most complex.  Research has shown that emotional tears have elevated proteins in them related to stress hormones.  This suggests that one possible purpose of emotional crying is to rid the body of stress hormone excess or other toxins; to help make us feel better after a bad experience.  Tears also help others’ identify a person’s emotions more rapidly and accurately.

To review, crying is a way to show intense emotion and gain support and attention a person needs.  It is a way to keep vision clear and eyes healthy.  It is a way to be as ecstatic as an AFC Championship win or as pissed as a Super Bowl blowout.  It is a way to show you are cutting onions and it is a way to get that piece of jalapeno that just flew in your eye back out.

Tearful crying is unique to human beings and is a part of being human that I feel we must embrace.   No more running from tears; it is time to go with the flow.  No need to be embarrassed.  Sometimes, you can even pick the time and place.  Men, if you need to cry in private, tell your friends you are checking on your Harley and then go outside and let ‘er rip.  Cry however is comfortable for you, but find a way to do it when needed.

Next year, if you find yourself crying on the 4th of July, you can use the excuse that the smoke from the fireworks and burned burgers got in your eyes or you can truly choose independence and say, “I cry because I am free to cry”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.