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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.

Coping With Crying continued...

So, how can you -- and how should you -- respond to a crier? Here are four tips:

  • Be aware that if you do nothing, you can make the crier feel worse, Bylsma says.
  • Try to do something supportive. What that is depends on the situation and how well you know the person, ''So hugging someone you aren't very close with might not be appropriate, while simply listening in an empathetic way would be suitable," Bylsma says.
  • Don't assume you know how to comfort them. ''The less intimate the relationship, the more it is appropriate to begin by asking how you can help and be supportive," Sideroff says.
  • Know that criers who tear up in a very large group generally feel more uncomfortable than those who cry in front of one or two people they're familiar with. But even in a large group, the criers welcome support from those they didn't know well, Bylsma has found. 


Trying Not to Cry

Sometimes, it's just not cool to let the tears flow -- you are trying to put up a brave face while accompanying a loved one to a medical treatment, for instance. Or your boss has just told you your hours will be cut in half.

What to do? Bylsma has this advice:

  • Try to postpone the cry but don't cancel it altogether. Suppression isn't good.
  • Excuse yourself, find an appropriate place, and cry.
  • If you can't leave the situation, postpone the cry and stem the tears with a positive distraction.  It would depend on the person and the situation, but she suggests watching a funny video. If you're in the middle of a doctor's office, you might grab a magazine and read.


The Downside of Not Crying

Too many tears can make observers uncomfortable, but never crying may not be mentally healthy.

"For various reasons, a lot of people push down their tears; they suppress them," Sideroff says. One of the consequences is we sort of deaden ourselves, to suppress or not even notice we have those feelings inside. The way that looks to the outside world is depression."

Better to acknowledge feelings such as sadness and hurt, he says. "Feelings are not about good or bad, it's just what is."

Those who suppress emotions and cannot cry may be jeopardizing their physical health, DeLuca agrees.  She cites a saying attributed to British psychiatrist Henry Maudsley, among others: "The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep."

Reviewed on October 30, 2009

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