Our culture has a misunderstanding of tears from crying. People in therapy, who may be working to heal profoundly deep emotional wounds, often cry in session but then apologize for crying. Boys and men are given the implicit, or sometimes even explicit, message that crying is unacceptable in every circumstance. Those examples demonstrate a lack of understanding of the positive purpose of tears.
Our bodies are designed to move us toward survival and wellbeing. Basal tears are ever present to prevent our eyes from drying out. Reflex tears protect our eyes from things that could irritate or damage them, like dust or smoke. Triggered by sensory nerves in the cornea, reflex tears that well up in your eyes flush out the irritant. The third type of tear is the emotional tear.
With emotional tears, the part of the brain that registers sadness triggers the endocrine system to release hormones to the ocular (visual) area, causing a different kind of tears to well up in your eyes. Scientifically, the content or makeup of reflex tears differs from that of emotional tears with reflex tears consisting of 98% water. Emotional tears, on the other hand, include the protein prolactin, adrenocorticotropic (stress) hormones, and the endorphin, leucine-enkephalin, which reduces pain and improves mood.
Until boys and girls reach the teen years, characterized by significant hormone changes, it is believed by researchers that their frequency of crying is about equal. As testosterone increases in boys, their crying decreases. As their estrogen levels increase in girls, so does their crying. Interestingly, the protein, prolactin, is related to breast milk production. It may be for this reason that biochemist and researcher William Frey and co-author Murial Langseth, who wrote, “Crying: The Mystery of Tears,” found that women cry roughly four times as much as men. It is believed the prolactin revs up the endocrine system, making women more likely to cry. Most weepy pregnant or nursing women would agree.
Someone once said, “Crying is how your heart speaks when your lips can’t explain the pain you feel.” Leo Rosten said, “What soap is for the body, tears are for the soul.” There is healing power in tears. They serve a positive purpose. Much like men experience release of frustration by expressing anger, women experience relief of frustration through a good cry. In Japan, people embrace the benefits of crying through organized crying clubs.
I, for one, would like to see our society do away with the negative judgment of tears and instead embrace their benefits.
Stockton is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor and owner of Inner Peace Coaching & Counseling located at 4030 Mount Carmel Tobasco Road in Cincinnati. For more information, please call 513.201.5949 or visit https://www.lindastockton.com.