Outdated attitudes like “big boys don’t cry” encourage men and boys to hide their tears. But crying can be healing — and necessary — for all genders.

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In many cultures around the world, it’s considered taboo for men to cry, especially in public. Many people still believe men should be stoic and show little to no emotion.

As a result of this stigma, many men feel that it’s not okay to cry. They might hide their emotions, choosing only to cry in private, or not at all.

Suppressing your emotions — including hiding your tears — can be unhealthy.

Mental health stigma affects people of all genders, but men may be less likely to access mental health care due to stigma. Men may also be more likely to die by suicide.

It’s okay for men to cry. Crying can be a healthy way to process your emotions, and it can have a range of emotional and physical benefits. Hiding your emotions can make it harder to cope with your feelings and seek support.

Social responses to men crying can vary from culture to culture, but they’ve also changed over time.

As a 2015 Aeon essay points out, history is full of weeping men. In fact, in some cases, crying was seen as noble. From medieval knights to the soldiers in Homer’s “Iliad” to the samurai in the Japanese epic “The Tale of the Heike,” crying was associated with strength and virtue. Even in major religious texts, prophets were frequently depicted as weeping.

Changing masculinity

It’s not entirely clear what changed our attitudes toward men crying. But for a while, stoicism was — and arguably still is — seen as important to masculinity, while crying and emotional vulnerability are associated with femininity.

More recently, with the beginning of fourth-wave feminism and increasing discourse around toxic masculinity and mental health stigma, many people are starting to believe that it should be acceptable for men to cry.

Men and mental health stigma

Increased mental health awareness has also contributed to this shift. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports that more than 6 million men are affected by depression in the United States every year.

Men are also two to three times more likely to have a substance use disorder when compared with women, and suicide is a leading cause of death among men.

It’s clear that men need access to more mental health support — which may start with society accepting and supporting men when they cry.

Tears have a very important function in your body. There are three different kinds of tears:

  • Basal tears: continuously produced by your tear ducts to keep your eyes lubricated and healthy
  • Reflex tears: released to clear your eyes of irritants, like debris and smoke
  • Emotional tears: flush stress hormones and toxins out of the body

The composition of your tears depends on which type of tear you’re releasing. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, emotional tears can contain higher levels of adrenocorticotropic hormones, which stimulate the release of cortisol — the “stress hormone” — in your body.

As a 2014 review points out, crying can be considered a self-soothing behavior. Crying activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts you in a “rest and digest” mode, helping your body relax after a time of stress.

When you’re not suppressing your emotions, you’re giving yourself the chance to feel them. This means you’re getting the opportunity to process your emotions, whether it’s a positive emotion or a negative one.

There may be a good reason why people often cry after experiencing pain. The same 2014 review indicates that crying releases oxytocin and endorphins. These hormones can soothe pain and lift your mood, helping you feel better.

If you’re somebody who tends to hide or dismiss your own negative emotions out of self-preservation, you might have what experts call a “repressive coping style.” Repressive coping can have negative consequences.

A 2012 literature review linked repressive coping with health conditions, such as:

  • cancer
  • cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • lower immune system function

A 2013 study linked repressing emotions with a range of physiological illnesses. And yet, another 2018 review links “emotional inhibition” with depression, stress, and more, especially in people with personality disorders.

In one 2018 study, researchers looked at 475 people who had reportedly lost the ability to cry. Of those non-criers, 46.1% felt that not being able to cry affected them negatively. Those who were unable to cry reported feeling less:

  • social connection
  • social support
  • empathy

If you’ve been taught to suppress your emotions, it is possible to learn to deal with them in a healthier, more constructive way.

Working with a therapist can help you learn how to positively cope with tough emotions and teach you strategies for healthy emotional regulation.

Many people believe that men shouldn’t cry, or that they should hide their emotions. But in truth, crying can be healthy and beneficial at times, no matter your gender.

Crying has a number of health benefits. Research suggests crying can soothe you, lift your mood, and even reduce pain.

On the other hand, suppressing your emotions can have negative physical, emotional, and social effects.

If you have difficulty crying, or if you tend to repress your emotions, therapy can help. You can take a look at our guide to finding a therapist, including low cost and free mental health support.

Masculinity resources

Books like “Boys Don’t Cry: Why I Hid My Depression and Why Men Need to Talk About Their Mental Health” by Tim Grayburn and “Man Enough: Undefining My Masculinity” by Justin Baldoni can be great resources to help you learn more about men, masculinity, and mental health.

Plus, you can check out these podcasts on men’s mental health:

  • “Detoxicity: By Men, About Men, for Everyone” — listen on Spotify and iTunes
  • “ManUp! UK Men’s Mental Health Podcast” — listen on Spotify and iTunes
  • “Ten Percent Happier with Dan Harris” — listen on Spotify and iTunes
  • “Brobriety: Sobriety, Mental Health, and Wellness for Men” — listen on Spotify and iTunes