Tears. Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: There will always be times in an individual’s life when they are reduced to tears. This is true of both men and women.

Losing a child, dealing with a divorce, a family crisis, losing a job — these are all moments that can make a person shed tears regardless of gender or age.

Experts believe crying allows us to fully connect with how we perceive ourselves, others, as well as experience life. In ‘merging’ with these emotions through crying, it is possible to experience a release on the one hand, as well as engage with life’s challenges in a calm and balanced manner.

However, there are socio-cultural reasons that make it seem that crying is more of a female proclivity, restricting men from expressing their emotions. ‘Big boys don’t cry’, and all such social constructs that we are all used to.

Crying is a human impulse as opposed to a gender-restricted instinct. It communicates distress, pain, sadness and a range of other feelings.

- Juan Korkie, clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia

But is not crying a basic human instinct? Should it not be acceptable for men to also cry without being viewed as weak? Interestingly, the rules of the crying game change when it comes to celebrities and circumstances. Politicians, movie stars, sports legends, all male, all crying on many occasions, is OK. But if your male colleague two desks down from where you sit has tears in his eyes, he is not being a man.

So, what are really the conditions and circumstances that make crying appropriate for both men and women and why do cultures still insist that big boys don’t cry?

According to Juan Korkie, clinical psychologist at Lighthouse Arabia, crying, like laughter and all other emotional behaviour, is essential for emotional and mental well-being.

Former US president Barack Obama wipes a tear from his eye. Image Credit: AFP/Getty Images

“Crying is a human impulse as opposed to a gender-restricted instinct. It communicates distress, pain, sadness and a range of other feelings,” he explained. “Acknowledging, expressing and tolerating a range of emotions and feelings are essential parts of mental health.”

Korkie pointed out that expressing emotion, which may include crying, is one of the components of the psychotherapeutic process, “irrespective of gender or culture.”

“Never showing or acknowledging emotion, which may include crying, is generally seen as unhealthy.” And that is true of both men and women, who want to seem strong and invincible at all times and therefore never want to be seen shedding a tear or two.

“Crying and emotional expression is influenced by the extent to which a particular society and culture allows freedom of expression,” he said. “In almost all cultures, sensitivity, caring, nurturing, feelings and understanding are associated more with women than men, even though this has increasingly been challenged.”

5 times


more is the frequency with which women cry compared to men.

Korkie said that when masculinity and femininity are seen as opposing and mutually exclusive forces, it is more likely that emotional expression and crying will be seen as sign of weakness that is in direct conflict with the view that men being strong, confident and controlled, must not cry. So, although crying is a human impulse and process, the gender differences and the beliefs get impacted by physiological, chemical, developmental, cultural and environmental components.

Also, adult crying is perceived differently to baby crying, and the reaction to adult tears depends on several factors, both cultural and individual. In the West, it is encouraged to mainly cry in private.

Dr Sarah Johns, a lecturer in evolutionary anthropology at the University of Kent, said: “There is embarrassment associated with crying in public. Adults can perceive infant crying as a form of emotional blackmail and when that is applied to adults, there is then an emotional burden placed on it. It can be seen as manipulative.

“People who see someone crying also feel an expectation to do something. So, if you need to cry but perceive there will be a cost to others, you seek privacy.”

Cristiano Ronaldo cries after injury against France in the 2016 Euro Cup final.

There is also a physiological factor at work: “Studies also suggests that testosterone, which is higher in men, inhibits crying, whereas prolactin, which is higher in women, may promote crying. This means the difference in crying between men and women are not only cultural but also chemical and psychological,” Korkie said.

The most important socio-cultural aspect of crying that needs to be understood, said Korkie, is that in cultures where both men and women are allowed to express their feelings through crying, children grow up with a more healthy psychology as opposed to cultures where crying is a repressed sentiment.

For all its healthy connotations, crying can turn into a negative emotional response. Too much crying may suggest that a person is depressed or unable to process life’s experiences including the person’s inability to “read” the unspoken social rules, explained Korkie.

“Crying creates the need for a nurturing and understanding response. When someone therefore starts crying in an argument, it makes it increasingly difficult to continue with oppositional or challenging interactions. The way in which crying can therefore “force” a change in interaction can easily be misunderstood as emotional coercion or blackmail.”

Etiquette of crying

There is no clear right or wrong formula when it comes holding it in or crying it out, a Dubai-based etiquette expert said.

Crying is a natural reaction to many of life’s circumstances and can be difficult to be controlled under a customary code.

While it may be generally assumed that in certain social settings a person need to be more in control of their feelings than in other more personal settings, Kaveeta Punjabi, managing director, KGP Etiquette Enhancers, believes “crying is a very strong and extremely genuine and sincere emotion”.

Be it celebrities, actors or singers shedding tears in front of their audience or politicians who can be deeply moved at the sight of people suffering in their country, crying, she said, has no gender or age-barrier and no one should be ever ashamed of tears.

“Crying can be joyous, or sad in moments of grief — it has various emotions. It can sometimes come out of anger and frustration in public, but this can be seen as a sign of weakness,” she said.

In the workplace, the emotion is usually frowned upon the most, she added.

“Crying in the workplace is usually unacceptable as it is seen as a negative emotion, and also as a sign that one cannot handle the stress of day to day business. However, it is a natural reaction for many if they comes someone with a fatal illness or involved in a terrible accident, then, crying as a display of human reaction is more forgiving than when you are reprimanded or critiqued by an employer,” she said.

Water works in the office

Punjabi provides examples of workplace situations where a person might feel hurt, but should try to hold back the tears, irrespective of their gender:

■  Not getting due respect or acknowledgement for a job well done.

■ Being taken for granted by one’s boss at an important board meeting.

■ Not getting invited to a colleague’s party.

Did you know there are three types of tears?

Continuous: Tears that stop eyes drying up

Reflex: Tears caused by irritants such as smoke

Emotional: Tears triggered by feelings and stimuli such as sadness, frustration, anger, relief and beauty.

Women cry five times more often that men in any given period and tend to cry two to three times longer.

Until the age of 12, boys and girls tend to be similar in their crying, whereas by the age of 18, girls cry 4 times more than men.

Crying and laughter are linked. Both originate in the same area of the brain, and both offer some form of rudimentary release.

Scientists have found evidence that emotional tears are chemically different from other types. In addition to the enzymes, lipids, metabolites and electrolytes that make up all tear types, emotional tears contain more protein. One hypothesis is that this makes them more viscous, so they stick to the skin and run down cheeks slowly, making them more visible to others.

Teary anecdote

Japan’s Rui-katsu: In Tokyo’s crying clubs, grown men and women watch tear-jerking videos, listen to sad songs and blub together.

The first crying club was held in Tokyo in 2013 and was organised by businessman Hiroki Terai, who had previously conducted emotional non-legal divorce ceremonies. After watching his clients shed tears and then leave on better terms, he got the idea to start rui-katsu events.

“There are many stressed-out men and women who come. They can’t cry at work and they can’t cry at home,” Terai explained.

Acceptable reasons to cry

■  Death of a loved one, or beloved pet

■ Birth of a child

■ In places of worship

■ When the love of your life accepts your proposal

■ When you are getting married

■ Visiting sites that pay tribute to those who laid down their lives for others.

■ Describing a really spiritual experience

■ After the final game you will ever play in.

■ Watching something emotionally heart wrenching such as a movie of a war hero who perhaps never makes it home.

■ When honoured for an achievement.