Crying (or lacrimation) is one of the many things that we as humans know too well about. Not withstanding the long definition given by professionals, we all know that crying is best described as the shedding of tears. As healthy individuals, we all tend to cry in variety of situations and for plethora of reasons, be it, positive, negative, important or unimportant 3. One interesting fact about crying is that researchers claimed that crying is a uniquely human emotional expression 3. Studies found that only homo sapiens (humans) are proven to have developed lachrymal psycho-emotional hypersecretion 1.
Ironically, despite being such a ‘human’ thing to do, crying has always been looked down upon and frequently associated with weakness and even inadequacy. Men, especially in Asia, are always told that they are not allowed to cry for it is not a masculine thing to do. However, have it ever occurred to you that crying is most probably the first thing that we all do when we were born? Crying was a sign of a healthy respiratory system in newborns. With that said, the benefits of crying are not limited to newborns only. Here are few more importance and benefits of crying regardless of age.
Request for help
In an everyday scenario, when a child cries, adults would usually rush the child’s aid. This shows that crying and weeping are easy detections that promotes helping behavior 1. In a study involving 200 volunteers, it was found that the presence of tears in images was associated with increased willingness to help based on three parameters: perceived helplessness, connectedness-feeling and perceived friendliness 1. Since sadness and helplessness are often related, it was suggested that display of tears would increase the individual’s perceived helplessness, thus leading to a greater willingness to help that person 1. Some researchers also claim that people who cries and weeps are often perceived as more agreeable and less aggressive which explains why crying individuals usually receive more sympathy and compassion 1.
According to Gracanin et al. 1, biological processes may parallel with reappraisal processes that goes along with weeping, which leads to homeostatic regulation. It is suggested that tears that roll down the cheeks may have a massaging effect that may induce release of endorphin 1. The rationale is that when we touch and massage the skin gently, we felt better due to the endorphin produced from the gentle skin contact. Endorphins are said to induce a soothing sensation as well as analgesia 1. Another example to support this claim is that the contact of water on the skin during shower has been proposed for treatment of depression because of its ability to release endorphins 1.
More often than not, a person cries in order to vent out his/her feelings. Some people cry because they are sad, stressed, frustrated or even happy. Some researchers then suggested that crying is a mean of expressing one’s feelings, not repressing those feelings and reducing the intensity of those feelings 4. People usually reported that they received a sense of satisfaction when they are able to express their emotions via crying 4. This is very in-line with the concept of catharsis, which is the purging of emotions or relieving of emotional tensions 2. Popularized by the psychodynamic theory, cathartic crying is said to be a method to release tension and allowing blocked negative emotions to be released 2. In a dairy study by Frey et al. (1983), majority of participants reported that they experienced decrease in negative emotions after they cried 2. This effect of cathartic crying is also in-line with the view of Radcliffe Brown (1922) in regards to crying rituals in funerals where crying can be seen as a way for mourners to get emotional satisfaction from crying and subsequently returning to the community and continue with everyday activities 4. Hence, one can say that satisfaction from cathartic crying can provide a sense of emotional closure.
Understanding and memory
Normally, our thoughts and emotions are remained internally by a person when those thoughts and emotions are not manifested through overt actions 4. As crying is an overt behavior, it can help those underlying and repressed emotions to be manifested, thus, providing a feedback for the person that is crying 4. Crying is delineated to induce focus on put inner feelings and raise our awareness those feelings 4. Crying is also said to favor self-ascription (attribution of mental attitudes to cognitive systems) of underlying feelings 4. When we conclude from our crying that an event has put ourselves to the test and has induced some degree of emotional involvement, we are using crying as a sign of our underlying emotions. Furthermore, considering the propensity of people to withhold crying and the stigma involved with crying, crying may also be seen as a sign of seriousness or importance in the situation 4. In a study, a respondent was able to understand the importance of her relationships via crying 4. Sometimes, while understanding one’s emotions through crying, memories of certain event or people associated with those feelings can be revived. This is because affective states facilitate the recall of affectively congruent information 4.
In a Darwinian perspective, crying may have an evolutionary function because an infant’s cry can be considered as a communication for the need for help and protection, which then favors the infant’s survival 4. In relation to that, crying is posited by some researchers to act as a defense mechanism called regression that recaptures the feelings of helplessness of a child 4. Crying can also be a way to communicate protests as it helps to express a person’s lack of needed and deserved help. Crying also emphasizes one’s suffering for not being treated fairly. It is also claimed that crying communicates the guilt and sorrow for one’s misdeed 4. The implicit message of self-abasement conveyed via guilt crying also helps the guilty person to achieve further goals like reconciling with the other party or even reducing one’s own feeling of remorse 4. Besides that, crying is seen as a conveyer of empathetic feelings 4. Crying with and for someone is a means for expressing the sharing of others’ feelings and even solidarity. Messages sent through empathetic crying may go along the lines of “I feel what you feel. I am with you. You are not alone” 4.
Written by: Ryan Wong (Aizen) (MPS Psychological Services Intern)
Supervisor: Mr. Liang Yaw Wen
- Bellieni, C. V. (2017). Meaning and importance of weeping. New Ideas in Psychology, 47, 72-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2017.06.003
- Bylsma, L. M., Vingerhoets, A. J., & Rottenberg, J. (2008). When is crying cathartic? An international study. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 27(10), 1165-1187. https://doi.org/10.1521/jscp.2008.27.10.1165
- Gračanin, A., Bylsma, L. M., & Vingerhoets, A. J. (2014). Is crying a self-soothing behavior?. Frontiers in Psychology, 5, 502. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00502
- Miceli, M., & Castelfranchi, C. (2003). Crying: Discussing its basic reasons and uses. New ideas in Psychology, 21(3), 247-273. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.newideapsych.2003.09.001