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Tears and Crying—It's OK to Cry

Susette has a lifelong interest and practice with good physical and mental health, including the environment that sustains us all.

Children openly cry when upset. For most of us, our hearts go out to those who cry, but as we age, we start hiding or displacing our own tears.

Children openly cry when upset. For most of us, our hearts go out to those who cry, but as we age, we start hiding or displacing our own tears.

Every second of every day, somewhere in the world, under circumstances dire or mundane, someone is sobbing their heart out. People of all ages, nationalities, and genders cry for multiple reasons, some of which we can relate to, some of which seem utterly foreign. And some are writing songs about the same.

Although some say that tears are primarily physical moisteners and cleansers for the eyes, we who cry know better. Tears also clean out the heart and the spirit. They can be used to manipulate or divert, and they link in some mysterious way to rivers, raindrops, and dew—the tears of the earth.

Where Tears Come From and Why

Our eyes are mucous membranes that have to be kept moist in order to move around to see. They are fitted with tear ducts in the inside corners that store tears and release tiny or large amounts of moisture as needed. We refill the ducts primarily by the water we drink.

Our eyes also need to be kept clean so the surface is not scratched. A scratched eyeball distracts sight in the same way that scratched eyeglasses do. Any irritant in the eye (including aerosols from onions) automatically triggers a release of tears to wash it out. This fluid is made up of water, antioxidants, and traces of lipids, antibodies, and other elements that keep eyes healthy.

Providing lubrication, nutrition, and a wash for irritants are three ways that tears serve us physically, but there are non-physical ways they serve us, too.

What Tears Mean—Crocodile Tears

Tears can be used to manipulate too. The term "crocodile tears" comes from an ancient anecdote that crocodiles weep in order to lure their prey. Just so, children manipulate adults all the time with tears, and women manipulate men. Some men manipulate women with tears.

My father once told me he could not resist a woman who cried in his arms. Women know this and often use it to soften a man up. Here are several other manipulative ways in which people use tears:

  • When a man is angry or abusive, many women cry as a form of apology. Sometimes it works and sometimes it increases the anger.
  • Some women cry to get men to buy them things.
  • Some women cry (or complain) to get attention or sympathy from friends. Occasionally men do too, but men normally manipulate with anger, not tears.
  • Some mothers cry to make their children feel guilty when they are ultra naughty.
  • Young children learn to cry to get stuff or to get out of doing something they don't want to do.
  • Some kids go further, and throw tantrums to get what they want. If it works, they continue to do it as adults.

Crying to cleanse versus crying to manipulate are two different things, and normally both the manipulator and the receiver know it in the end. The one being manipulated resents it over time, which spoils the pleasure of the win. The one manipulating feels guilty deep down, which also spoils the pleasure. Sometimes they harden themselves, and the manipulation or response to it becomes cold and calculated, which only makes it worse. Meanwhile, crying to cleanse the heart is a whole different thing.


Manipulators change emotions at will, but their voices often sound shallow when they speak. There's a disconnect between feelings and voice.

Manipulators change emotions at will, but their voices often sound shallow when they speak. There's a disconnect between feelings and voice.

Real Tears—Feelings From the Heart

Songwriters and singers know the difference between fake tears and real ones. They also know how hard real tears can be to express, so they write songs with words and music that can help their listeners cry. Even non-musicians sometimes write songs about crying, especially at times when tears won't go away. I used to have several favorites, some of which are below.

Just now I looked at all of the things I've cried about during the last 50 years and they seem to fall into five major categories: Rejection or the fear of it, regret, frustration and anger, loss, and universal love. Of all of these, for me the biggest by far has been rejection or the fear of it.

Tears From Being Rejected

Being left out, left behind, or cast away all make us want to cry. Rejection is saying, "You're not good enough for me or this or us. I don't want you around." It hurts in whatever form it comes, whether personal or impersonal—being mocked or being turned down for a job. Some people, rather than crying, turn cold and indifferent, but they're doing it in reaction to the same kind of hurt.

When I was in fourth grade, a popular girl took cuts in the recess line and gave everyone else cuts in front of her, until I was the only one left. Then she moved back to the front, leaving me at the end. I'd been in second place before. It hurt so much I couldn't play my violin after school, until I'd cried it out with my teacher.

My sister, when she was four years old, was accidentally left behind at the beach and she still carries that pain. When our family broke up and she didn't get to live with Dad, she felt rejected all over again.

Even as adults we fear rejection and sometimes cry at the thought of it—a partner kicking us out, someone chosen to perform over us, a child screaming at us in a fit of anger, loving someone who doesn't love you back, being told you're too controlling and no one wants to work with you. Crying always helps to relieve the pain and open the way for acceptance. After acceptance, action of some kind can follow.

Crying Out of Regret

"I don't know what happened, but it didn't turn out the way I wanted." "Oh, God, it hurt her, why did I say that?" "I should have done this, but it's too late now." "Why can't I be the person I want to be?" All of these are questions and statements of regret, and each of them can trigger tears, especially if they happen over and over again.

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I know someone who just left a warm lover in another state. His lifestyle and hers didn't fit, and she couldn't find work there. She knew that he alone could not fulfill her, so she moved back here and cried and cried afterwards. I'm sure he did, too . . . or maybe he drank, which is often a substitute for tears.

I learned a lesson one day about the way I communicate—like I knew better than anyone else. When I looked back in my life and saw how often that hurt people, I cried. I was ashamed and filled with regret that I couldn't go back and fix it.

The past can't be changed, though. We can only move forward being better. Tears helped clear the way.

Cry Me a River: Payback

Tears of Frustration and Anger

Frustration is usually accompanied by anger. It comes from trying and trying, but nothing works. It comes from knowing that something's going to happen and doing everything you can to stop it, but still it comes. A sense of failure often accompanies it, as does an attempt to place blame.

This is a situation where women usually cry more than men do. Women are not "supposed" to show anger, men are not "supposed" to cry. So women express their anger through tears, and men express their hurt through anger.

I once had a job that I found out later was a scam offer. They had hired me, a stranger with a degree, in lieu of someone who'd been filling in, but whom they didn't want to promote. It was a challenging job and I was working hard at it and succeeding. Then she found a job in another district.

The week after she left, my boss called me into his office. It wasn't working out after all, he told me, and he'd found me a transfer elsewhere (lower position, same pay). Until then he'd been telling me I was doing fine. I was so angry at the duplicity I wanted to spit, but couldn't express it. I burst into tears instead.

Tears: Sadness

Tears of Sadness and Loss

A state of emptiness follows the loss of a person or thing that was important to us. That emptiness we fill with tears. The tears contain love, nostalgia, fear of the future, sometimes inadequacy. We cry when our children leave home, when a parent dies, or a good friend moves away. We cry for the pets we lose, and for the homes we've left, and sometimes for a job we liked. We cry for neighbors killed by bombs or suicide or accidents, and for village babies dying of starvation.

We all have stories of loss. This is the easiest, most common state of tears to identify with. This is the one that is most glorified by movies, books, and songs. You can hear Loretta Lynn starting to cry at the end of her song, "The Telephone," when Conway Twitty tells her he's leaving. Novels and movies depict tears followed sometimes by suicide, sometimes by a new love after a loss. Numerous heroines collapse to the ground, sobbing, when the hero of the opera sings his dramatic goodbye.

Raindrops Keep Fallin' On My Head: Optimism

Tears for Others, the Earth, and the Soul

When I was young I had lots of operations. I was also the oldest child of eight, so my father encouraged me repeatedly to be a good example for the younger children. I learned not to cry for myself and was proud of it. I cried for others, instead. I read a lot, watched movies, and cried my heart out whenever I found something sad in them.

Even as a young adult other people's pains would trigger me to easy tears, where mine would leave me tall and proud . . . and dry. Until I went into therapy, I didn't know how to describe how I was feeling. But once there I found my tears and learned to shed them. Now I see tears as one of the greatest gifts we have.

I've also discovered that nature can help us cry. She has thousands of little nooks and crannies and trees and caves where we can be alone to cry. She has animals and birds that we can cry with. She has trees we can hug. She has flowing and still waters and raindrops that can match the tears we shed.

Knowing also that our tears and even negative feelings are vitally nurturing for nature, providing raw materials to grow by, helps me feel good about dumping them out. There's this soothing energy she flows through us that calms us afterward and makes us feel loved.

Beautiful nature, busy as bees. She reminds us that life goes on, even when our hearts are breaking.

Beautiful nature, busy as bees. She reminds us that life goes on, even when our hearts are breaking.

The mystery of night and life opens up private places within us.

The mystery of night and life opens up private places within us.

Loneliness, nostalgia for what was before can hit us, as one season leaves and the next begins.

Loneliness, nostalgia for what was before can hit us, as one season leaves and the next begins.

Tears for Beauty

Even if we don't cry with nature in this way, there's the power of universal beauty to bring tears forth. From the beauty of our immediate surroundings or of the mountains in the distance, to the beauty of wild animals, babies, and humanity itself, our hearts swell and push out whatever unshed tears dwell therein.

That's why photography is so popular these days. It serves to remind us of all the beauty that surrounds us in all of its different forms, and any of it can make us cry at any time. Whatever makes us cry in this way we want to share. So almost all of my friends' entries on Facebook these days have photos or posters made from photos.

Are tears worth it? You bet. With all of the reasons we cry, whether alone or with others, one thing stands out in the end: We always feel better afterwards. Our eyes feel better for washing out the irritant, our relationships are temporarily warmer for the manipulation, our hearts feel cleaner and more open after a good solitary or group cry, and we open up to the warmth of compassion when we cry for others and for the earth. In all of these ways, tears help open us up and make us strong.

Adiemus—Cantus Song of Tears: Pure Beauty

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on March 06, 2015:

A great hub about tears and why we cry. Beautiful done. Voted up!

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on December 22, 2014:

LOL. I traced down the photographer of that first picture. He said he'd told his kid it was time to stop playing and it devastated the poor guy. Thanks for reading, y'all. Feel free to share it with friends too.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 21, 2014:

ah, you should have seen my son's crocodile tears, he can join in the acting scene

manatita44 from london on October 29, 2014:

What a beautiful and interesting Hub. Innovative and creative approach.

Sheila Craan from Florida on October 29, 2014:

I'll try that @WaterGeek, thanks!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 29, 2014:

Just like him, that upward pitiful look -- Oh boy!

Susette Horspool (author) from Pasadena CA on October 29, 2014:

lol @Craan - If you want onions to help you cry, make sure you lean over them while cutting, so the fumes rise into your eyes. Otherwise, rinsing your eyes in filtered water or actually drinking more filtered water should work. Then, of course, you could watch a good tearjerker movie with a cuddly blanket.

@Eric - Thank you. I have had a lot of pain in my life, and manipulation, but a lot of joy too. I think the juxtaposition may have contributed. It's great that you can tear up easily. You're a lot healthier than most men in that regard. Did the photo remind you of your four year old? My heart opens up every time I see it.

Sheila Craan from Florida on October 29, 2014:

you @WaterGeek! When I wasn't a Christian I would cry "Crocodile Tears." I felt better after a good cry, however, I knew I was in trouble! Now, I am exceeding happy and suffer with dry eyes from working on my computer. Do you suppose onions will help me to cry, so I may naturally wash my eyes?

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 29, 2014:

Very well done on a great subject. I tear up quite easily. My four year old can turn them on and off like a faucet. Sometimes it even works. Perhaps it is your watergeek perspective that made this such a fine piece.

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