The Truth About Tears

By: Sherry Williams White
Monday, November 9, 2015

"Should I cry or should I try to hold back the tears?" "What if I can't cry?" "Do women really cry more than men?" "If I don't cry, does it mean that I don't care?" In all my years in grief work, these are only a few of the questions I have received about tears. It would seem that these questions reflect the high level of ambivalence about crying. Many of us feel that crying shows our feelings of love, concern and sadness. In the same breath, we can say that if we hold back our tears, we are being strong and courageous.

by Sherry Williams White

"Should I cry or should I try to hold back the tears?" "What if I can't cry?" "Do women really cry more than men?" "If I don't cry, does it mean that I don't care?"

In all my years in grief work, these are only a few of the questions I have received about tears. It would seem that these questions reflect the high level of ambivalence about crying. Many of us feel that crying shows our feelings of love, concern and sadness. In the same breath, we can say that if we hold back our tears, we are being strong and courageous.

The truth is that tears are a normal way that the eye's surface is cleansed and they are an escape mechanism of emotional buildup, whether it is sadness or happiness, pain or fear. It really is okay to cry; in fact, it is good for you and here is why:     

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a professor at the University of Colorado, founder of the Center for Loss and Life Transitions, author and private therapist states that "In my clinical experience with thousands of mourners, I have observed changes in physical expressions following the expression of tears...not only do people feel better after crying, they also look better.
Dr. Frey, a biochemist and director of the Dry Eye and Tear Research Center in Minneapolis has completed research that indicates tears do indeed rid the body of various toxins and other wastes. Additionally, tears that are released as a result of emotion are chemically different from tears that result because of eye irritation. Emotional tears contain more protein and beta-endorphin which is one of the body's natural pain relievers.
Women really do cry more than men because of a higher serum prolactin level than men. Prolactin is a hormone connected with the production of breast milk. In fact, according to Dr. Frey women develop 60% higher levels of prolactin between the ages of twelve and eighteen than men do, and they start crying nearly four times more often.
Sadness accounts for 49% of tears; happiness for 21%; anger for 10%; sympathy 7%; anxiety 5%; and fear 4% according to diaries kept b y the Dry Eye and Tear Institute.

So the next time you feel like you're about to explode, don't be afraid to let the tears come to your aid. They are a tangible sign of our ability to feel.

Charles Dickens puts it very well in "Oliver Twist" when Mr. Bumble declares that crying "opens the lungs, washes the continence, exercises the eyes and softens the temper." So, don't be afraid to cry.

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