Is Crying Good For You?

blue-eyed child crying
Image by Myriams-Fotos from Pixabay

Crying can be a sign of joy, sadness, or frustration. Crying in public isn’t generally considered socially acceptable, and may be interpreted as a weakness. But are there any benefits from it? Well, maybe.

Who cries, and when?

Crying in response to pain is common until adolescence, but adults don’t usually cry for that reason. Older adults become more likely to cry in positive situations, particularly situations that are quite meaningful to them.

One study found that people in wealthier countries tended to cry more than people in poorer countries. The researchers speculated that emotional expression may be considered culturally unacceptable in poorer countries. Perhaps crying is seen as an indulgence.

Gender makes a difference. Females cry more often and more intensely than men; there’s undoubtedly a strong cultural element to that, but it may also be partly hormonal, with testosterone inhibiting crying. Females are more likely to cry in conflict situations, which may be culturally related to feelings of powerlessness and helplessness, which are the most likely kinds of emotions to precipitate crying. I’ve done this and I hate it. I’m not generally anti-cry, but in situations where you want to come across as strong, bursting into tears doesn’t exactly help with that.

Personality also has an impact. People who have high levels of the personality trait neuroticism (a tendency to experience more negative emotions) tend to cry more than people with low levels of the trait.

What effect does crying have?

While people often report feeling that crying is beneficial, research has had mixed results. It’s been speculated that crying may trigger the release of oxytocin or endogenous opioids, which could promote more positive feelings, but that hasn’t been clearly established yet.

Circumstances can influence how a cry session will affect us. People are more likely to feel that crying has been beneficial if they receive social support from one person as a result. However, the effect is more likely to be the opposite if there are two or more people present. Crying is also more likely to be judged as beneficial if the issue that prompted it somehow gets resolved.

People with secure attachment styles are likely to feel more comfortable crying than people with insecure attachments, who may be activated to cry easily but hard to soothe once they get going.

While gender and neuroticism are both associated with crying more, they don’t seem to influence the likelihood of experiencing positive effects from it. Another personality trait, alexithymia (which involves difficulty identifying feelings) is associated with crying less and being less likely to find it to be beneficial. People with high levels of alexithymia may even experience a worsening of mood post-cry.

Several studies have shown that people with depressive and anxiety disorders are less likely to report benefits from crying. People who experience shame in relation to crying are also less likely to experience beneficial effects from it, which isn’t surprising.

Oddly enough, the smell of female emotional tears seems to be a turn-off to men. This isn’t just a one-off finding; after one study arrived at this conclusion, another group of researchers was able to replicate the results.

What’s your experience?

I think there have definitely been times when having a full-on ugly cry has been a cathartic experience for me. Tears in social experiences where I really didn’t want them weren’t helpful. Tears in power imbalance situations suck big-time. Recently, the times I’ve cried have tended to be a slow seepage of tears, which doesn’t seem to have much of an emotional impact either way.

How do you tend to react post-cry?

People cry, not because they're weak. It's because they've been strong for too long.

References

  • Collier, L. (2014). Why we cry. American Pyschological Association Monitor on Pyschology.
  • Rottenberg, J., Bylsma, L. M., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2008). Is crying beneficial? Current Directions in Psychological Science17(6), 400-404.
  • Vingerhoets, A. J., & Bylsma, L. M. (2016). The riddle of human emotional crying: A challenge for emotion researchers. Emotion Review8(3), 207-217.

92 thoughts on “Is Crying Good For You?”

  1. PrEdIcTaBlY UNpreDicTaBLe

    I cry most days…and sometimes its due to hormonal issues, sometimes anger and hurt, pain, deep emptiness, and it may be due to experiencing deep shame too. Cptsd and bpd mixed together make it so that there are usually a lot of tears, either from triggers, or emotional buttons, and things we find difficult.
    I hate it, but after a good crying session, I do generally feel better and it releases some pressure inside.
    I have different types of crying too…
    Sometimes I try to hide my tears or if they are angry tears, I scream and cry into a pillow.

    All I know is my eyes are always reasonably puffy…and with possibly peri-menopausal symptoms now, it seems more crying is on the cards…

    It’s a mess really…

    It was interesting to read that the smell of tears is a turn-off for men…

    1. I used to have PMS-triggered crying. I seem to have mostly aged out of PMS, but I have a feeling it might just be the lull before the storm of menopause.

      The turn-off thing was weird.

  2. I wrote a poem recently called “Go ahead, please cry” and called for a movement. When others tell you not to cry it is their own feelings they aren’t wanting to express. Expressing is healthy, necessary and human! This is part of the stigma that needs adjusting I feel. The blocking of energy and stuck emotions is the issue. Let’s be real. Real humans cry!! Great piece Ashleyleia 👏

  3. What a great read. I’m on the neurotic side of the scale, so tears can easily beckon. Luckily, depression usually kills emotional responses. Oddly, that doesn’t apply to sad reads and movies. I let out there, although only in secret.

    The tears that rise up when I’m angry or frustrated are so annoying. I wish the problem was uncontrollable fire spitting or something. I feel it diminishes my message. Mostly though, I don’t like to cry, especially if it’s being triggered by my mental illnesses. In those cases, it rarely solves my problems and my nose gets completely stuffed with adjacent swollen sinuses. I hate that part.

    And yes, I agree. Ugly crying is defined by the snot quantity 😂

    1. Dictionary.com needs to update its entry. They say: “Ugly cry refers to an intense sobbing which contorts the face of the person crying in way that is often perceived as exaggerated or unpleasant.” Contortion doesn’t matter when snot is flying everywhere.

      Fire spitting is a superpower that I would like to have!

  4. I can’t generalize when I cry…but I can say that I cry when I get disappointed with my results when I worked very hard to achieve it…when I lose something precious… when I’m very scared for a situation in future for which I’m least prepared and having least time to prepare myself for it and then last thing I would do is crying… when I get scolded I used to cry as a kid…now as an 19 year old, I try to calm down myself because I was harming myself after getting scolded but sooner or later when I’m alone in a room, I cry a lot… idk if that crying session helps me… but my parents feel that I’m trying to gain sympathy by crying and that provokes more crying… I also cried in my 1st session with my College counselor while explaining my situation… these days even thinking about lockdown situation makes me cry at last…

  5. I believe crying should not be seen as a sign of weakness. I think it is the most liberating emotion, and the best way to release the pent up energy. It should be encouraged, no matter the gender of the person.

  6. An amazingly well informed post, huge props. Going from my subjective experience, crying sessions helped calm me down and clarify my thoughts, while also bring me into a much more positive mood. Naturally, that’s only anecdotal evidence so a gazillion other factors might’ve come into play. I’ve rarely cried with many people around though, that might’ve help haha

  7. aguycalledbloke

    Good post. The last time l cried and really sobbed was with the death of Scrappy, l didn’t cry when Suze and l split up, although l lost a few tears when she told me of her cancer diagnosis last year and l shed a few tears of relief when l heard the price of my teeth last week.

    Suze on the other hand cries quite bit – firstly before the cancer as a way of releasing her emotions – she would say a good cry – prevents her becoming pent up, although now, post cancer and cancer treatment she also cries a lot more because she is so frustrated at everything.

      1. aguycalledbloke

        Oh yes very much so, l might be crying soon funnily enough – when the dentists start their craft … hahaha 🙂

        Suze does, you know, l wish in some ways she would write about it, because so many people don’t understand cancer, they think that people get it, then get treatment and then they are fixed ………….. but that’s just so not the case.

        At times l feel quite helpless .

          1. aguycalledbloke

            Which then takes us to your other post l have bookmarked on gut health hahaha 🙂

  8. good or bad crying is necessary….its just a way of expressing ur emotions…is a way to explode the dangerous raw material that might bcom more hazardous if stored inside….afterall..crying means that u have survived the situations worth taking a break from the bravery and strong mind!!!!!

  9. A proper, bawling, snotty sob is so good for my well-being! 😭😊

    I do also cry when I’m frustrated and cross and can’t seem to communicate or express myself adequately or clearly. That can be annoying, especially when I’m trying to appear calm and collected.

  10. Absolutely a good cry sometimes is always good, it’s a way of letting go of that emotions and looking at the situation at hand with fresh eyes and perspective thank you for the post🌼💛

  11. My ability to cry in different situations and my feelings post-crying have both changed over time and with therapy.

    I’m still really private about crying but I don’t move to stop it if I’m safely in my room. I used to have to, to avoid verbal abuse about being “weak” if caught. I also no longer shame myself for crying and have learned to offer myself compassion.

    I cry freely in therapy if I need to.

    A new thing has been feeling like I desperately want to cry but it’s “blocked”. Music helps me get unblocked though.

      1. Mhm, it’s a bit of an inside joke between my therapist and me these days about how I used to absolutely shut off my tears. 😆

        I’ll tease her on how she doesn’t fetch me tissue anymore, because she basically had to in the past, as I used movement very effectively to shut down tears haha.

  12. I cry almost periodically, weirdly enough. I hate it and it’s usually due to fights at home. Sometimes, I’m more irritable than I am at other times. Crying for such reasons as I do is very unpleasant. The “venting out” crying, is however very beneficial.

  13. All these facts about crying!!!
    I never knew about it.

    After crying, I feel alright. But when it is attached to someone whom I really love like a loved one’s death, I cant stop and its hard for me (and maybe for everyone) to stop crying.

    I loved the quote at the end.
    Thanks for sharing.

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