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Why We Cry: The Truth About Tearing Up

The lowdown on tears: Why some cry easily, others don't cry, and how to handle all those tears.

Why Do You Cry? continued...

On top of that, crying may have a biochemical purpose. It's believed to release stress hormones or toxins from the body, says Lauren Bylsma, a PhD student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, who has focused on crying in her research.

Lastly, crying has a purely social function, Bylsma says. It often wins support from those who watch you cry. Sometimes, crying may be manipulative -- a way to get what you want, whether you're asking a friend to go shopping with you, your spouse to agree to a luxurious vacation, or your child to get their math homework done.

Crying Out Loud: Who's Most Likely?

Women tend to cry more than men do, most experts concur. "Women have more permission to cry. To some degree it's changing," Sideroff says. But not entirely. "It's still viewed by many, particularly men, as a sign of weakness," Sideroff says.

When it comes to crying habits, the population as a whole is on a spectrum, experts say, with some crying easily and others rarely. Experts aren't exactly sure why, though temperament probably plays a role. "Some people are just more prone to crying," Sideroff says. "Others ignore or are not as fazed by certain things [that provoke tears in criers]."

People with a history of trauma have been found to cry more, Sideroff says. That's especially true, he says, if they dwell on that past.  "If you keep referring back to the past of trauma or emotional pain, it will generate more feelings of hurt.''

Women who report anxiety, as well as those who are extroverted and empathetic, are more likely to say they feel comfortable crying, according to Bylsma. Those were the results of a study Bylsma and others published in Personality and Individual Differences in 2008.

Benefits of a Good Cry?

People often refer to a cry as a good cry and say they feel better afterward.

But is that always true?

Usually, but not always, says Bylsma.  In a study of nearly 200 Dutch women, Bylsma found that most did say they felt better after crying. But not everyone.  "We found that individuals who scored higher on [measures of] depression or anxiety were likely to feel worse after crying."

Exactly why isn't known, she tells WebMD. It could be that those who are depressed or anxious simply don't derive the same benefits from crying as others do.

Coping With Crying

If you're not a world-class crier but are often around those who cry, it can make you feel awkward, useless, or just uncomfortable. That's because when someone cries, it shows their vulnerability, Sideroff says. "I think in general, people are uncomfortable with vulnerability.'' When the crier exhibits vulnerability, Sideroff says, "it's shifting the level of intimacy of the environment.'' Just being in that more intimate environment makes the other person uncomfortable in some cases, he says.

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