“There’s no crying in baseball!” Tom Hanks yells at a female baseball player. He is saying that men don’t cry because only men played baseball up to that time. Well, true manly men, right? Any man who cries must be less of a man or weak or some other variant of inadequate. Hogwash.
Insufficient research exists on crying in general, but on men, in particular, and it’s long past time for that to be corrected. Men cry, should be allowed to cry and need not be ashamed of crying when they do; it’s a normal human reaction.
Humans are the only animals that cry, so said Darwin in his extensive research into animal life. If crying is intrinsically human, what purpose does it have in addition to providing an overt expression of some emotion?
Researchers tend to believe that crying serves two purposes; to help us recover from emotional distress and the other to promote social bonding. The release of internal emotional pressure is, logically, a good thing because we know that retained and unreleased stress is dangerous to our physical and mental health.
What price do men or women who cannot cry or refuse themselves that normal release pay for this inaction? We can only suppose because of the limited research. One research project included 475 people who indicated they had lost their capacity to cry, did have less connection with others, showed less empathy, and, as a result, had less social support. However, they reported no problems in well-being. This is where we have to ask another question.
Self-report is notorious for underrating one’s self when it might have a negative effect on how others perceive us. Therefore, researchers tend to look with some concern on self-report measures. Unless there are valid instruments or other reports to support what the individual said, we take this with a grain of salt.
The particular research to which I refer noted that “additional clinical and therapeutic investigations into tearlessness may lead to clarifications.…between psychiatric disorders and tearlessness.”
You can see that the researchers were indicating they were somewhat skeptical that there wasn’t another reason for tearlessness and, in their opinion, it could have resulted from psychopathology. I tend to disagree with this because there is research that indicates cultural constraints on emotional expressions, such as crying, especially in males, prevents them from crying.
How many of you have heard the expression, “Big boys don’t cry,” when a boy cries because he’s fallen or failed an exam or anything else that caused emotion? Yes, big boys do cry and should cry. It’s normal.
Crying is a normal, self-soothing behavior noted in research in the past. The self-soothing also has an action of relief the person feels following crying. It is as though we opened an emotional rescue valve and allowed the pressure to return to normal.
To prohibit anyone, but particularly males, from crying when it is appropriate could be seen as punishment for being an emotional human being. Do we want to punish our boys and men? Indeed, we want them to be happy and healthy, but we may also be encouraging unhealthy behavior, which can result in less empathy toward others. Is that the kind of world we want to live in?
We hear a lot about being our authentic selves, and yet here is an example where we suppress that authenticity to create a world with less emotion in it. If men cry, it can be seen as negative. We want them to be strong and almost unemotional. Such a stance does not enhance a world of caring, closeness, and love.
Yes, we did see the “summer of love” in the 1960s, and some of that behavior needs to be returned to the world we live in today. No, not the anything goes type of behavior, but loving of everyone in our world, both male and female.
Crying need not be exclusively in times of separation, loss, and helplessness where we are overwhelmed by extreme emotion. It can also be in times of intense joy and relief when we see others after extended periods, or something extraordinary happens in our life, such as the birth of a child, accomplishment in school, or our profession. All of it is a relief and an emotional outpouring of what we are experiencing psychologically. Nothing wrong with that, is there?
Do big boys cry? I certainly hope so.