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Why Do We Cry?

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mother-comforts-crying-baby Lite Productions/Thinkstock

You know you are about to cry when you are running late for work, your child is sick and you get into the car to speed away only to find that your car won’t start.

Money is tight, your boss isn’t happy with you and you’re not doing either your mothering or your profession correctly, you haven’t eaten and you’re exhausted. You cry.

Tears flow freely from your eyes, salt-water puffing your eye skin and making your nose run. But why?

Or, of course, there's the babies who are always crying because they are hungry, wet, tired, uncomfortable, or simply want your attention. We forgive their crying and understand, instinctively, that they have no other way of communicating with us since they can’t talk yet.

That, certainly is one of the reasons why people cry.

In fact, humans are the only mammals that do this. While we can all agree that babies crying makes perfect sense, how do we explain the phenomenon in grown people, some of whom are quite strong and brave, all of whom are prone to it from time to time, and that this category includes men and women, parents and people without children, couples and singles, humans of all walks of life and religion.

Why do we cry?

Empathy has been cited as a major reason. Without empathy people simply would not have evolved. It is our ability to care for others that created our skills to form tribes, build villages and hunt for game for the group.

Some experts feel that crying evolved along with our sense of empathy so that we could begin to feel for one another when we sensed vulnerability. Along these lines, it is thought that crying can show someone how vulnerable you are, so that in a way it is a smoke signal, literally, a “cry for help.”

It is also thought that crying helps to relieve stress. In some, but certainly not all cases, crying makes you feel better. You can have a good cry and then feel clearer, almost as if the storm needed to cloud up the sky and the rain needed to fall in order for the sun to shine through once more.

In our culture, it has historically been more socially acceptable for women to cry than it is for men. Perhaps this is in keeping with the evolutionary model of men going out to hunt while women stayed with groups of other women and children. Perhaps their being allowed to cry impacted the group’s awareness of what needed to happen to facilitate safety and protection.

In any case, crying is a singularly human phenomenon, one that has many layers and complexities to it. Crying out of deep sadness or depression is one type of crying, but then, of course, there are tears of joy. People cry when their children are born, when they fall in love, when they win something.

They cry on television when they get the million dollar question or talk about their past on talk shows. Traumatized people cry simply reliving trauma that they’ve been through. People cry watching television shows, commercials and movies, even if something warm and beautiful is happening onscreen.

Crying is a natural part of life and something we have as unique to our particular species. As such, we should acknowledge and embrace it and, maybe, stop telling ourselves, our children and other loved ones to cut it out.


Why We Cry: The Truth About Tearing Up. WebMD
Retrieved from the internet on February 20, 2012

Teary-Eyed Evolution: Crying Serves a Purpose. NPR.org
Retrieved from the internet on February 20, 2012

Aimee Boyle is a regular contributor to EmpowHER

Reviewed February 27, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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