8 reasons for crying: The science explained
When you cry emotional tears, you relieve emotional distress and physical pain. Crying can be a way to self soothe. Here are 8 reasons why we cry:
1. To get help
The saying “a cry for help” has some truth in it. Crying often lets others know that you have having a difficult time and can come as a result of fury or grief.
Tears can convey to someone that you need support without having to ask directly with words. This does not mean that people cry on purpose as a way for asking for help. Tears are our body’s natural response and often cannot be controlled.
An article from 2013 looks at a study where people were shown photographs of sad and neutral faces. They suggested that those with tears on their face were in more need of support than those without tears.
2. To relieve pain
Most of us have welled up with a few tears when experiencing sudden pain, for example stubbing our toes.
Lingering pain, on the other hand, such as a migraine or broken bones can cause a more steady stream of tears.
When we experience pain and don’t have access to relief, we cry as a means of self-soothing.
3. To promote social bonding
Many see tears as a sign of weakness as it often renders us more vulnerable. Tears cannot only blur our eyes, making it harder to see, but they are also evoked by distracting emotions.
Nevertheless, expressing our weaknesses with tears can often generate sympathy and cause us to bond emotionally with others. Tears are often a form of social signalling which people respond to with kindness and compassion which deepens human connection.
4. To show sympathy
People often cry in response to another person’s emotional distress whether this be in real life or a sad movie.
Sympathy crying suggests that we can put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and see their point of view. It means that we have empathy.
5. To process emotions
When we have trouble managing our emotions, we often express them with tears. This could be feelings of sadness, guilt or worry.
Even happy emotions such as gratitude, love and joy can make us cry. Happy tears are just another way of regulating intense emotions.
6. To get our needs met
Some people cry as a way to get their needs met. While this is manipulative, it’s not always intended to be malicious. Some people simply don’t know any other way to get their needs met so they “turn on the tears” or produce “crocodile tears”, so to speak.
The belief that you are helpless might also prompt you to cry as a form of getting sympathy from others who may offer assistance.
7. To enhance mood
Crying can help to improve our mood. Research suggests that when we cry, we release endorphins and oxytocin, to help us relieve physical and emotional pain.
8. To fight bacteria
Crying is a useful tool that can help kill bacteria and protect the eyes. Tears contain a fluid called lysozyme which has powerful antimicrobial properties.
The Different Tears
Not all tears are the same, there are 3 types of tears which serve different purposes. These are:
Basal tears keep our eyes lubricated, nourished and protect the cornea. They also keep dirt and debris out of the eye.
Reflex tears appear when we need to wash away irritants such as smoke and dust and other foreign bodies. They are defined as tears which result from external stimuli. You may experience reflex tears when chopping onions because of the vapour, for example.
Tears triggered by internal rage, joy or sorrow are known as emotional tears. Many researchers believe that only humans cry emotional tears.
Why can’t some people cry?
There are often complex reasons as to why some people can’t cry. Not being able to cry may be to do with our emotional states, beliefs about crying and vulnerability or past traumas. The inability to cry can also be due to a medical reason.
Certain medications can affect our ability to produce tears such as:
- Birth control pills
- Antihistamines or decongestants
- Blood pressure medications
Dry eye syndrome
Dry eye syndrome often leads to a decrease in tear production and can make it more difficult for people to cry. It is often experienced with:
- Using contact lenses
- Eyelid disorders
- Thyroid problems
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
Those with dry eye syndrome will often benefit from eye drops or artificial tears.
Those who live in dry or very windy climates typically produce less tears as the dryness of the air causes them to evaporate at a rapid rate.
Depression with melancholia
There are many different types of depression which is why people don’t necessarily experience depression in the same way.
Melancholic depression can cause one to feel unemotional, slowed down, hopeless and disinterested in the world around them. Being unemotional can result in the inability to cry.
Beliefs about crying
If you believe that crying is a sign of weakness, you may have a lump in your throat in response to emotional distress but find it hard to produce tears.
People who see crying as a sign of weakness might have been shamed for it in childhood by people including parents, siblings and teachers.
There are a variety of reasons as to why people cry and while many equate tears with weakness, they are actually a positive form of offering relief and demonstrating our emotional connection with the world around us. There is nothing wrong with having a good cry, in fact crying has been proven to make us feel better.