Crying : Facts and Myths. A Psychotherapist’s View. Written by Dr Linda Berman.


Picasso. Weeping Woman. Image: Nicho Design. Flickr.

“A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance”

(Ecclesiastes 3:4).

What do you associate with tears?

Are they a relief of stress and tension, a sign of genuine emotion, an expression of  joy and happiness, or of grief, frustration or anger?

Or could they be all of the above?

Are they a waste of time? Perhaps sometimes you may feel they are a hindrance. Tears and crying can have so many different meanings to different people.

“Real Men -and Big Boys -Don’t Cry.”

Real men, we have been told, don’t eat quiche. And they certainly don’t cry. Or do they? Is it a myth or a fact that real men do not shed tears? (What is a ‘real man’ anyway? Any thoughts? Comment below if you have.)

Why crying is important

Actually they do eat quiche and they do cry. (Maybe not at the same time.) Yet from childhood, many men have developed a socialised response of hiding their tears.

As a psychotherapist, I have found that many men in the early stages of therapy feared that they would be judged or mocked for their tears. Frequently, in a caring and non-judgemental atmosphere, these men could reveal that, beneath the macho image, there was an ocean of tears that had been restrained for years.

Sometimes, men might express the emotion behind tears in angry outbursts, whereas women are given more permission socially to cry when they feel upset.

“People cry, not because they are weak. It is because they’ve been strong for too long.”

Johnny Depp

Hopefully, this holding back of tears is changing for men. Reflected in literature and the media, men’s tears are becoming more acceptable:

“And tears came before he could stop them, boiling hot then instantly freezing on his face, and what was the point in wiping them off? Or pretending? He let them fall.”
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince


Allowing tears to flow is much healthier for both body and mind than repressing them. Withholding such expressions of emotions can result in the development of somatic symptoms. Some physiological effects of crying involve the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which makes people feel better. 

The energy from controlled tears has to go somewhere, and if it is stopped it will emerge in another, less healthy way:

The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep.  ~Henry Maudsley

Tearless grief bleeds inwardly.  ~Christian Nevell Bovee


Stop Crying!!

To a child or adult, the injunction to stop crying can be devastating. It reveals an absence of empathy and a condemnation of their emotional selves. Why do people try to stop others from crying?

We stop other people from crying because we cannot stand the sounds and movements of their bodies. It threatens our own rigidity. It induces similar feelings in ourselves which we dare not express and it evokes a resonance in our own bodies which we resist.”
Alexander Lowen, The Voice of the Body

Such dictates teach people to hide tears, to be ashamed of them, to be falsely ‘strong.’ In fact, it is not strong to withhold your tears, whatever one’s age or gender identity.

They are a way of expressing and communicating something very important. Crying in an empathic setting is especially healing:

“Tears are the noble language of eyes, and when true love of words is destitute. The eye by tears speak, while the tongue is mute.”
Robert Herrick

Crying often deepens a friendship; it shows trust and need.

However, sometimes people feel they are crying for too long or they are unable to stop crying. If this is a concern, they may need to see their GP, as it may be that they are suffering from depression.

Crocodile tears: Tears to manipulate.

Crocodiles, long ago, were believed to shed tears in order to lure their prey, or to weep for their victims after they had eaten them. Whilst they do have tear ducts, their tears have no emotional meaning behind them.

In Othello, Shakespeare showed the protagonist striking his wife, Desdemona. Othello saw her resulting tears as insincere, as he wrongly thought she was sleeping with Cassio:

“    Oh, devil, devil!
If that the earth could teem with woman’s tears,
Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.
Out of my sight!”

William Shakespeare

Regarding women’s tears as manipulative is unfair and chauvinistic; similarly, women who cry may sometimes be regarded as weak, especially in a public or work setting. This unfairness holds true especially in male-dominated fields.

‘Corporate culture is one that’s still very much male-dominated, and many women, and men, believe that women need to act like men—and yet be more likeable than a man—in order to succeed. This includes not displaying signs of any “weakness,” or even “feminine emotions,” and not making other people uncomfortable. The act of crying can be perceived as all three.’

Peggy Drexler.

Tears may indeed be used disingenuously to manipulate others. But perhaps there is sometimes also a need behind the manipulation; the tears are still expressing the wish for understanding.

In a macabre aside, an extreme version of crocodile tears may be seen in the way that some hardened murderers have teardrops tattooed under the outer corner of their eye. These often represent the number of killings they have carried out.


Freshly tattooed teardrops signifies the number of killings by a young member of the 18th Street Gang in Los Angeles.J. Ross Baughman

This is cruel, mocking the genuine tears of grief and loss. It is a perverse badge of honour.

What emotions may make us shed tears?

Some people cry when they are overwhelmed with happiness, or moved by something beautiful:

“Beauty of whatever kind, in its supreme development, invariably excites the sensitive soul to tears.”
Edgar Allan Poe


Washington Irving.

Do you have any thoughts to add? Please do make a comment below.



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