What’s it about men crying that gets the society’s goat? Every man may have at least one memory of being ridiculed by their elders or peers for shedding tears. Crying is considered a sign of weakness. Men are expected to be stoic by the society, which makes examples out of those who aren’t. No matter how heart-breaking the incident, men can’t go beyond the customary two-three drop of tears. But the trouble with the norm is that harms men in ways the society doesn’t understand. On International Men’s Health Week 2019, let’s make a case for allowing men to cry without the fear of ridicule.
“We speak of gender equality on one hand, and on the other, we don’t bat an eyelid before emasculating a man for crying. Even women are guilty of doing this,” says Dr Era Dutta, neuropsychiatrist and therapist at Mind Wellness.
It’s difficult to pinpoint when the ban against male tears took place. But history is proof that even the great heroes cried. In Homer’s Iliad, the Greek epic, Odysseus cries for his home. Even in King James Version of the Bible, the verse “Jesus wept” describes Christ’s sorrow after the death of Lazarus. International Men’s Health Week 2019: Why Men Die Earlier than Women Do.
But something changed in the course of time. In recent years, famous men like Barack Obama have shed tears in public during poignant moments. But his moments of vulnerability are treated like they are an aberration. From Impotence to Pot Belly, 8 Symptoms Men Should NEVER Ignore.
According to a Reader’s Digest article, the change took place after urbanisation where men and women were asked to reserve emotions for personal interactions and not for work. Emotions hamper productivity; it’s as simple as that.
Dr Dutta says: “It’s a social factor. Men who were traditionally huntsmen clamped down on their emotions to kill the beast. The norm is passed down generation after generation. So boys grow up watching their dads being stoic and emotional.” Men feel the pressure to keep the show going since they are the head of the household.
Some may argue that there are biological reasons why men can’t cry and it’s hardly a social construct. They say that it has to do with your prolactin and testosterone levels. Men who have lesser prolactin and more testosterone are biologically programmed to shed fewer tears.
A study in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology said that women with their shorter tear ducts (due to their shorter size) may seem more emotional since tears appear outside faster. So it’s essentially a design problem.
But is it healthy to hold back tears?
Short or long, the answer is no. Crying is therapeutic. Even Greek philosopher Aristotle said that catharsis through crying can be emotionally cleansing. And men holding their tears back may be harming their health.
Although depression is reported more in women, men are more likely to end their lives because of it. “And the numbers may be skewed. Because men won’t open up about the depression as women do,” adds Dr Dutta.
Suppressing tears and pent up unhappiness can lead to other problems like eating disorders, alcoholism, drug abuse, depression and anxiety in men.
“Crying releases the chemical encephalin, which works as a painkiller. The chemical is the reason why we feel so much better after crying,” she says.
Crying has a soothing effect, helping the release of feel-good hormones like oxytocin and endorphins.
According to a 2016 review in the journal Motivation and Emotion, crying has a social impact. Showing emotional vulnerability can trigger helping behaviour in others. It helps build a sturdy emotional support system for men who are encouraged not to talk about feelings. As we know, a lack of emotional support can also drive more and more men into drug abuse.
Men are more vulnerable to heart diseases like coronary artery disease and are 50 percent more likely than women to die of them. Men often joke that it’s because women don’t have hearts. But the truth lies elsewhere. Stress which puts pressure on the cardiovascular system can be allayed to an extent if men get to emotionally vent. Understanding 5 Shocking Facts About Depression and Suicides in Men.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, crying can be good for men’s health. So this International Men’s Health Week, let’s do our bit as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters to change toxic social norms that hurt our men.
If they wish to talk or express their frustration about work, lend them an ear. Dr Dutta says, “Men are more likely to cry about things that question their skills or hurt their ego. Whatever the case, engage in a conversation and take interest in what they have to say instead of rebuking their vulnerability.”