Although science insists that crying is natural, culture still sends messages that strong men don’t cry.

Many parents raise their sons to cry privately, if at all. It is ingrained in many men that masculine identity means holding back the tears except during times of extreme grief. Although women have also accepted this view, more women are voicing their belief that men and boys should be encouraged to express sensitive emotions.

One thing seems certain, though: History and biology side with tears.

Tears of Champions

Until recently, many cultures believed that tears were a sign of manliness. World history and literature are filled with male leaders who cried publicly. Tears meant that a man lived by a code of values and cared enough to show emotion when things went wrong. Medieval warriors and Japanese samurai cried during times of epic tragedy. In Western culture, a man’s capacity to cry indicated his honesty and integrity. Abraham Lincoln used strategic tears during his speeches, and modern presidents have followed suit. Despite all this, until recently, men shedding tears have been viewed as less than masculine.

After decades of berating men for their tears, culture seems to be returning to the idea that crying is a male strength. A recent Penn State study found that participants considered a man’s tears to be a sign of honesty while a woman’s tears showed emotional weakness. In both sexes, a delicate misting of the eye was more acceptable than crying.

Tears and Health

Health research has found many benefits to crying. When people suppress the urge to cry, emotions that would have been expressed through tears are bottled up instead. The underlying biochemistry affects the body differently than if the feelings had found a physical release. Over time, repressed emotions can trigger physiological changes that manifest in clinical symptoms such as high blood pressure.

Social scientists have found correlations between men’s crying and their mental health. A study published in the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity found that football players who cried about game outcomes reported higher levels of self-esteem. They felt secure enough to shed tears in front of their teammates and seemed less concerned about peer pressure.

When to Hold the Tears

With so much feel-good press about embracing feelings, it’s easy to forget that sometimes stoicism is the better course. Emergencies usually mean postponing tears in order to accomplish vital tasks. Combat soldiers can’t stop in the middle of battle to have a good cry. In fact, since most combat soldiers have been men, warfare throughout the centuries may have contributed to the cultural rise of the tough, tearless hero.

Crisis personnel need to maintain calm in the field just as soldiers d. Men dominate law enforcement, the military and most public safety fields. These men have a professional mandate to keep emotionally steady, which sets a model for overall behavior.

Even in daily life, feelings alone rarely solve problems. Men may be healthier for allowing themselves to cry, but they often have personal reasons for keeping cool. Family hardships, for example, often require postponing tears in order to be strong for others who are in more pain. A calm demeanor doesn’t mean a man is in denial any more than tears mean he is emotionally unstable.

As cultural winds shift back toward acceptance of the emotional man, men and women will continue to adjust their personal lives around the idea. Some men maintain that raising a strong boy means discouraging tears. Others feel that the women in their lives only want to see male vulnerability when it’s convenient. As with most behaviors, crying is more appropriate in some situations than others. The real task is not only to show good judgment, but to refrain from judging men simply for shedding tears like any other human being.