I come from a long line of cryers. I’ve seen my grandma choke up, which chokes my dad up, which in turn makes my eyes sweat. There is something in my family’s genetic makeup that has our emotions tied directly to our tear ducts. And yet there are people like my husband who never cry. What gives? Why do some people cry more than others and does that make them weak?
Actually, there is a science behind crying and behavioral neurologists, psychologists, and other experts have dedicated a lot of research into why humans cry. Turns out, crying is actually good for you!
Why Do We Cry?
Did you know human beings are the only species on the planet who cry for reasons other than reflex? Some animals shed tears as a physiological response to pain or irritation, but humans are the only ones who cry because of our feelings.
Crying doesn’t just happen when you’re sad. Powerful emotions such as empathy, grief, anger, intense happiness, and being proud of an accomplishment can evoke tears. Sometimes we cry when we are especially moved by art, music, nature, or spirituality. Crying is the key that unlocks our defenses and allows us to feel and scientists want to know why.
The truth is, there has been some controversy on whether or not crying has any real benefit to humans. Charles Darwin believed emotional tears were “purposeless,”¹ and yet 150 years later, experts are agreeing that there’s something more behind a good cry.
Emotional Tears vs. Reflex Tears
Emotional tears are the ones that come from a good Nicholas Sparks movie, a steep climb to the pinnacle of a grand mountain peak, or your favorite song played in the right time and the right place.
Reflex tears are the kind that flow when you get a speck stuck in your eye, when you are cutting onions, or getting your legs waxed. They are your body’s response to pain and irritation.
Scientists have found some evidence that emotional tears are chemically different than reflex tears. Emotional tears contain higher levels of stress hormones, proteins, and mood-regulating manganese.² Having a good cry is like releasing loads of stress. No wonder you always feel better after!
No Apologies Needed
Although not much is known about why some people cry more than others, the fact is that crying is not a sign of weakness. Some of the greatest names in history were moved to tears and we couldn’t respect them more. News anchor Anderson Cooper often gets emotional when covering tough topics—a sign of his humanity. When he first heard “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” President Abraham Lincoln wept³.
History is full of cryers and their tears move us to feel things we normally wouldn’t. No one should have to apologize for crying. The next time you try to hold back your tears, remember that crying is actually good for you! It releases stress, unlocks your humanity, and allows others to see the genuine you.