Crying is a healthy way to release emotions and cleanse the soul. However, many men are hesitant to let the tears flow during an emotional time. Life Coach Nina Rubin said some men generally go for long periods of time without crying even though they desire otherwise. “It’s so common to meet men who haven’t cried in years or decades, and as a life coach to many men, I hear many say that they wish they could cry,” Rubin told The Cheat Sheet.
One man who says he isn’t afraid to let his tears flow freely is comedian Dan Nainan. “I admit, I cry. I joke around and tell people I don’t just cry at movies, I cry at the previews. With me, it’s usually tears of joy, and I’m exceptionally happy about something or see something beautiful. Even yesterday, I saw the baby panda at the National Zoo in Washington DC and was driven to tears. As a comedian I perform at a lot of Indian weddings and sometimes I am overcome because it’s such a beautiful occasion,” Nainan told The Cheat Sheet. Unfortunately, not all men feel as comfortable as Nainan when it comes to openly sharing sorrow or tears of joy.
Feeling the pressure
Phillip Petree, author of The Man Puzzle: A Guide to Understanding Men (Heart, Mind and Soul), told the Cheat Sheet that sometimes when a man sheds tears, he feels his masculinity is being called into question. Petree said for those men to whom displaying a masculine demeanor is important, letting one’s emotional guard down can be extremely difficult. “What you’re asking is really about a male’s definition of masculinity. Each individual male has incorporated or built his own definition of masculinity and that definition includes how/when he’s allowed to cry. Some men have no problem crying, some men never, ever cry and most men are in the middle,” said Petree.
Chris Armstrong, certified relationship coach and emotional intelligence facilitator, agrees that the fear of looking weak has many men bound by the pressure to look and act strong at all times. Armstrong told The Cheat Sheet this pressure is largely the reason men refrain from crying even when it would be understandable in an emotionally charged situation like the death of a loved one. “As much as society has evolved with regard to empowerment and equal rights for women and the LGBT community, for instance, very little has changed when it comes to gender expectations and men. Several studies have linked emotionally available men who are not afraid to cry to men who grew up with single mothers, but aside from that subgroup, the expectations of everyday men have not changed, at least not from a broad culture perspective. In this, men still believe they must live up to the standard of being a man, a standard that includes toughness and even [bad]-temperedness over emotional expression,” observed Armstrong.
Not all of the experts are on the same page when it comes to men and their comfort level with crying. Self-improvement expert Kyle McMahon believes millennial men are less inhibited with emotional displays. “I think five years ago men were afraid to cry due to masculinity and a need to feel macho. Today, particularly with millennials, you don’t find that nearly as much. There was a stigma about men crying which made them feel “less than a man.” That stigma is dying a quick death. If a man today is afraid of how others view him if he cries, it seems his problem isn’t crying at all, but self-value,” asserts McMahon.
Why you need to cry
Armstrong said crying can help an individual move past the strong feeling that triggered the impulse to cry. Furthermore, yielding to the urge to cry could facilitate the emotional healing process. “Crying is an outlet that has less casualties than isolation, anger or passive aggression. Crying is an instant release mechanism that allows the healing process to begin quicker. When men want to cry but don’t, they are simply trading in that outlet for something else. As a result, moving on from whatever wrought the emotion becomes that much harder,” said Armstrong.
Added McMahon, “crying isn’t a female trait, it is a human trait. As a species we cry. Research shows that stress hormones are actually present in tears when we are crying due to emotion. We literally release stress when we cry, which is hugely beneficial.”
Moving past the fear
If you desire to cry but feel like you can’t, psychotherapist Lisa Bahar recommends listening to music that makes you feel emotional, or looking at old pictures. The key is to allow yourself to relax and give yourself permission to let go and experience emotions that may be painful. “Sometimes mood enhancement can be with music, film, or old pictures. All these options are to be considered, however, there are variables. It depends if you have support if needed and if the crying is not going to lead to an obsessive or destructive act. If you are not used to or able to cry, you may need support from an objective person such as a therapist or [religious mentor],” advised Bahar.
Armstrong asserts that helping men move past the fear of crying begins with society embracing men as emotional beings and shunning the message that strength can only exist in the absence of feelings. Said Armstrong:
We are so eager to share advice about being all that we can be and standing up to every bully and never letting one failure define us and yet a natural emotion that can help us move forward mentally still has a stigma. Can men break that stigma the same way they break down and ask that girl to prom, or ask that boss for one more try at making the quarterly numbers? If they cannot, the strength that they demand of their sons and nephews and friends is a facade. Healthy emotional expression is a much harder nut to crack than trying to make the varsity football team or catch an 18-pound bass. Men just don’t see it that way because they’re expected to play football. A real man does not let gender expectations prevent him from opening up emotionally and freeing himself from anger, resentment or fear.
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