I was always pretty cooperative growing up, but the one order I rarely followed was “don’t cry.” Even as a little kid, I knew I got too much out of crying to give it up. Tears were my way of getting in touch with how I felt, processing it, and releasing it. And many people feel the same way, psychiatrist Emily Steinberg, MD tells Bustle.
“Crying can be a good way to release emotions on an individual level, often leading to a feeling of relief afterwards,” she explains. “On a more evolutionary/interpersonal level, crying may also serve to communicate to others how you are feeling, promote social bonding, as well as be used for survival (especially in infancy), as a means of conveying vulnerability.” Crying generally isn’t bad for you unless it’s interfering with your life, which only happens in rare cases like when it’s used for manipulation. It’s holding emotions in that can be bad for you, in fact. “In general, it is better to express emotion,” says Steinberg.
Despite this, people who cry a lot get a bad reputation. If we’re women, we get called hysterical or basketcases. If we’re men, we get called weak or feminine. So, we learn to choke back tears — and that’s to our detriment. Here are some reasons why crying is actually great for you — and only says good things about what kind of person you are.
1It’s A Release
There’s a reason you feel better after you cry, says Steinberg. The sympathetic nervous system is activated beforehand, and then once you cry, your heart rate and breathing slow, your digestion resumes, and your body relaxes. If we don’t let our tears out, the feelings that led to them also have a way of getting stuck inside us. Plus, when we don’t feel our feelings, we don’t learn from them and we don’t move on.
2It Shows Vulnerability
Many people feel pressure to project a perfect image of themselves, one of someone who can handle every situation and never gets upset. But that’s not actually the kind of person people want to be friends with, date, or work with. People are attracted to people they can relate to, who are humble enough to admit they’re not always picture-perfect.
Vulnerability isn’t just attractive — it’s also adaptive, says Steinberg. One possible reason crying evolved is so that people know to help us when we’re in trouble.
Because it releases stress hormones, crying can actually help your immune system, says Steinberg. Tears even contain natural pain relievers, relaxation aids, and bonding hormones that aren’t in the moisture your eyes normally produce.
4It Shows Bravery
If anything, crying is a sign of strength. It means you’ve rejected the societal notion that crying is wrong or weak. It also means you’re willing to face difficult emotions. That’s something to be commended.
5It Makes Others More Comfortable Showing Emotions
When people see that you think it’s OK to cry, they’ll feel like it’s OK for them to cry as well. They’ll probably feel more comfortable opening up to you than they would with others. This mutual openness can lead to some of the most profound conversations and relationships.
6It’s Sticking It To The Patriarchy
Our society’s ideas about people who cry are gendered: Women who cry a lot (which, stereotype would have it, is all women) are considered weak and irrational and therefore incapable of making good decisions. Men who cry are considered feminine and therefore inadequate. Either way, looking down on people who cry devalues femininity. So, openly crying is affirming the feminine and, if you’re not a woman, declaring that anyone gets to be “feminine.”
7. It’s Not A Sign Of Incompetence
We have this idea that if someone cries, they don’t have it together — that whatever they’re dealing with is too much for them to handle. But people deal with awful situations, cry, then get back on their feet all the time. How much you cry doesn’t reflect how competent you are.
Look, I’m not telling you to cry through a business meeting. But crying during a movie or at a bar with a friend? Why not? Tears aren’t toxic. They’re water — and water makes things grow.