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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...

Crying does serve an emotional purpose, says Sideroff, also an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine. "It's a release. There is a buildup of energy with feelings."

It can also be a survival mechanism, notes Jodi DeLuca, PhD, a neuropsychologist at Tampa General Hospital in Florida. ''When you cry," she says, "it's a signal you need to address something." Among other things, it may mean you are frustrated, overwhelmed or even just trying to get someone's attention, which DeLuca and other researchers call a ''secondary gain'' cry.

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.

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