Go ahead: have a good cry | Sunday Observer

Go ahead: have a good cry

We know what triggers it: Kate Winslet in Titanic, vowing, “I’ll never let go.” Your vet uttering in low tone, “It’s time to let your doggie go.” The boss saying, “I’m very disappointed in your work lately.”

Are you easily brought to tears at some Facebook posts? Or does it take a bit more to make you well up? Sometimes it sneaks up on you and before you know it... BOOM. You’re full-blown sobbing. Even something as emotionless as cutting an onion or walking on a windy day can cause those magic eye drops to stream down your face. Like all bodily functions, there must be a biological reason for crying. For most tears, it’s an obvious reflex; you get something stuck in your eye, and tears help to wash it away.

How about those emotional tears? Famed evolution biologist Charles Darwin understood the emotional advantage of crying, but the actual tears were, according to him, “an incidental result, as purposeless as the secretion of tears from a blow outside the eye.”

Now any good scholar of evolution knows that nature does not tend to favour useful function, so there must be reasoning behind the process, but experts are torn on just what this may be.

Biology behind tears

There are different classifications of tears. The reflex tears help to protect our body from irritants such as onions or cigarette smoke. The crying in infants is explained from an evolutionary standpoint as being necessary to attract attention from adults to address whatever needs they have.

Emotional tears are where the mystery begins. They are triggered in the cerebrum, the area of the brain responsible for emotion, and send a message to the endocrine system to release tear-inducing hormones.

One of the most reputable studies on tears and crying was done by Dr. William H. Frey. In his book, “Crying: The Mystery of Tears,” Frey explained that according to his research, emotional crying helped to relieve stress by ridding the body of potentially harmful stress-induced chemicals.

“Crying is a process in which a substance comes out of the body. Most of the other processes, like exhaling, urinating, defecating, and sweating, release toxic substances from the body. There’s every reason to think that crying does the same, releasing chemicals that the body produces in response to stress,” Frey explains.

He even found that the chemical makeup of emotional tears was different from ordinary lubrication tears. Frey describes how among other differences, emotional tears had more proteins, which helped to support his “release of stress” theory. He hopes his study would help remove the stigma that our society has placed on crying, particularly in men. “We should comfort people without telling them to stop crying,” Frey emphasizes.


Throughout literature, crying has been enshrined as romantic, good and noble. Charles Dickens assures us: “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.” To many people, the most powerfully affecting phrase in the Bible is “Jesus wept.”

Two categories

Reasons for crying fall mostly into two main categories: self-pity and gratitude. The first one relates to a feeling of sorrow (often self-indulgent) over our own sufferings. We cry for an unknown child’s tragic death because we feel it’s our child. The second one is joyful crying which means we cry in gratitude - that something could be so beautiful in this life.

Researchers say that women cry more often than men, and for physiological as well as psychological reasons. Women have a different set of hormones, which make them weepier. But psychologically, many women have a close relationship with very young children, and must use a lot of emotive, expressive cues to get their message across.

The man, on the other hand, has to be reserved. As hunter and fighter he couldn’t afford to cry - he had to see what he was doing. It’s the same with men today. Men traditionally can’t afford to break down, no matter what is happening inside. This internal stress is one reason that many men die of high blood pressure and coronaries and women live longer than men.

Few women are brave (or foolish) enough to admit to crying, and most would rather cut out their tear ducts altogether than be seen doing so in public. Yet sometimes even the best of intentions falter, as the self-styled impenetrable television personality Katie Hopkins discovered during filming for her documentary, “My Fat Story.” Hopkins proudly insisted she wasn’t a crier, pointing out that she had even abstained from tears at her wedding and the births of her children – but then proceeded to break down several times throughout the course of the show.

Facebook’s chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg has admitted to crying at work, and controversially claims it is acceptable to do so, other high-profile women advise against it.

I asked a Human Resources directress of a large company her opinion. 40% of her staff are women. She said, “Personally, I believe that for a woman to cry in her workplace is generally a bad idea unless some tragedy has happened. Crying over criticism is not appropriate. The workplace is not a personal environment.”

Feel awkward

She added, “Womenshould understand that to cry in workplace will display their weakness and may result in losing their power and respect. Their crying makes others feel awkward. When faced with a crying female her colleagues – especially men – know it would be inappropriate to put a hand on her shoulder and they are at a loss to know what to do.”

You may disagree with her view. That’s fine. But in the end, wherever it happens or whether it is right or wrong,crying is really good for the crier. So, next time if you watch the film “Titanic” once again, don’t try to stifle your tears at the end of the film.Remember those tears are part of a natural and healthy human reaction. So, let yourself have a good cry and cry to your heart’s content.