What is the use of crying? Two experts explain its physical importance and its functions

"I will not tell you do not cry, because not all tears are bitter ", the magician enunciated Gandalf to the 'brave hobbits' at the end of the immortal movie 'The Lord of the Rings'. And, indeed it is, because as this wise medieval fictional character said, the drops of saline water that fall down the face as a result of emotion they don't always 'know' sad. Surely you remember a time when you felt a sensation so full and intense that it was impossible to hold back the tears. Even, in the middle of a fit of laughter, in which the hilarity was so strong that irrepressible droplets began to fall from your eyes.

Be that as it may, the fact of crying is one of the most natural ways to release all the emotion that overwhelms us at any given moment. But there are also others. Actually, the behavior of humans is mainly based on that: a continuous affectation by the situations that we live in our day to day that, converted into emotions, leave their mark on our being and consciousness. Later, as if it were a water dam, they need to break free. This year, in addition, we have all lived it in a particularly intense way on an emotional level due to the pandemic. Many families have had to deal with the tragedy of losing a loved one and, luckily, faced isolation from not being able to spend time with family or friends.

"Not everyone cries for the same reasons or with the same frequency. This is the basis of what we learn as children about this mechanism"

Now, it is worth asking: have we cried enough to heal all those wounds caused by the pain experienced, whatever type it is? Is it true that, in some way, tears have the power to alleviate the emotional damage caused? "Crying is a discharge of hormones from our brain that provoke our responses to lived situations", ensures Monica Pereira Dávila, psychologist of the Official College of Psychologists of Madrid (COP) to this newspaper. "This hormonal discharge is gradually eliminated through urine or sweat. But when it is very large and the intensity of the emotion is above what the person is capable of handling, we have the crying mechanism that helps us to eliminate all those excess hormones from the body, so we feel better after crying for a long time. "

In this sense, Can we also cry for a positive emotion? "This is also valid for moments of euphoria or extreme well-being, since the hormonal level is above what our body is capable of managing", asserts Pereira. "For this reason, some people can cry with happiness, because it is a mechanism of the body to reach an emotional balance."

Still from the movie 'Call me by your name', in which the actor Timothée Chalamet makes an excellent performance of crying.

But obviously, we don't just cry out of emotions. Also to purify and hydrate the eyeball: what is known as basal tears. "This at a physiological level, but from the emotional point of view it also has a communicative function," he says. Rafael San Roman, psychologist of the online psychological care platform iFeel, to El Confidencial. "Tears serve to indicate that the person in front of us is suffering for some reason, Hence, young children, unable to express verbally what happens to them, resort to crying. Of course, not everyone cries alike or for the same reasons or frequency, and what we learn as children about this mechanism plays a very important role in this. "

The importance of hugs

Is about one of the gestures that we have missed the most throughout this year. And that, as a precaution, many people still do not dare to offer their loved ones. We did not understand the importance of a good hug in difficult times until the pandemic hit and ruined our family and social life.

"Sometimes people do not know how to listen to their mind, they do not understand the language of emotions and they think they are fine with the events they experience"

Like tears, it is also a form of communication that serves to heal or balance our emotional state. But unlike them, which are still their own and individual mechanism, the hug serves to compensate precisely the influx of them in another person, as Pereira corroborates: "if when we cry, a loved one gives us a hug, is sending signals to our brain of tranquility, protection or security ", ensures. "When he perceives it, it automatically decreases the hormonal discharge that made us feel overwhelmed and this contributes to emotional regulation."

And crying for no reason?

"I have the theory that when you cry, you never cry for what you cry, but for all the things you did not cry for in due time," wrote the Uruguayan poet Mario Benedetti. Can you just cry, for everything and nothing, or in an existential sense, for all the sad things in this whole world? Pereira believes that it is due to a mere accumulation of unmanaged emotions. "Sometimes people do not know how to listen to their mind, they do not understand the language of emotions and they think they are fine with the events they experience," he says. "Maintains a barrier of emotional control as a 'dam' that keeps tears from flowing. When they lower their guard and relax that control, crying may occur and they may be confused by not understanding what it is due to. "

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San Roman fully agrees with her. "It's like when someone is scolded a little and breaks down crying: obviously he is doing it for another cause," he asserts. "Not always the cause of crying is the stimulus that triggers it." In this sense, returning to Pereira, "It is as if we have opened the doors of the dam and all the 'contained discomforts' have come out."

When emotions have no way to flow

Many people, for different reasons, whether cultural or psychosocial, feel unable to cry. This can make them think that they do not have feelings, when in truth what happens to them is that they do not know how to manage or display that emotion that invades them and needs to go outside. "Many people come to my office who have temperament problems, they get the least bit angry or feel that their life is empty, "says Pereira." Beyond the character of each one, many of them they do not know how to unleash the emotion that invades them, and since they feel that they cannot cry, either because they have been educated like that or because nobody has ever taught them to manage their feelings well, they end up resorting to violence against themselves or others "

"Historically, crying has been understood as a sign of weakness because it indicated the need for support from the other to deal with emotions"

"What it is about here is to have a good knowledge of what my emotions are," emphasizes the psychologist. "Be able to recognize them, understand how they affect my way of acting and the way I understand the world. A person with a healthy emotional intelligence does not need to cry often to regulate his emotions, but he will use it and that strategy will be very useful for him when his life reaches very high levels of intensity that make it difficult for him to manage ".

Do tears have gender?

"This is why you never see your father cry", sing the British band Idles in 'Colossus' (which could be translated as "this is why you never see your father cry"). Expressions such as "life is a valley of tears", which start from the religious tradition by associating the peremptory pain that life implies in comparison with "eternal life" seem to be directed to the human race as a whole, but also and more exclusively to women. "Obviously this bias exists and is ancestral ", confirms San Román. "Not for religious reasons either, but for psychological reasons, since the cry of men is punished and in women it is reinforced or seen as something natural. Then, in people it is applied in a different way, of course everyone cries, men and women, old and young, rich and poor, handsome and ugly. Despite being a generalization, in women it occurs more naturally or spontanely than in men. "

"If a warrior cried, he showed the enemy that he was not prepared to face combat"

Pereira goes further. "Historically, crying has been understood as a sign of weakness because it indicated the need for support from the other to deal with emotions," he says. "If a warrior cried, he showed the enemy that he was not prepared to face the challenge of combat, hence, for hundreds of years men have been taught that crying is a weakness. Women, on the other hand, were assigned other functions, those of taking care of the offspring and collecting. The social functions that both genders have assumed throughout history are those that have favored or impeded the expression of emotions through crying ".

One of the most curious historical and cultural figures that reaffirms this tendency to associate crying with the feminine is that of the mourners. From time immemorial, a group of women was rewarded to go to funerals to mourn the dead with whom they had no emotional ties. Somehow, they used these people to fake enormous pain "with the aim of building an image of the social status of the deceased and a story about the grief", assures San Román. In this sense, it is not only striking that women were in charge of generating tears on purpose at funerals, but it also served to reaffirm the capacity of tears asor maximum justification for the existence (or survival) of suffering.

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Regarding this idea, Pereira says that "if a person is overwhelmed by the sadness of losing a loved one and finds that the others present at the funeral have a poker face, they will feel very lonely, and perhaps even angry with others for not sharing her pain. " So, "Seeing other people cry legitimizes their pain and makes them feel understood, so you can accept the emotion and move forward in your grieving process. "

In conclusion, managing emotions through crying is a very important part of the care we can offer ourselves misms, as hugs in turn serve others when it is the neighbor who cries. The health crisis caused by the pandemic has put health at the center of our lives, not only the physical, but also the psychological. That is why we must learn to know how to manage and take care of the affections that run through us and not let them necrotize out of shame or not wanting to show signs of weakness. It is not that we have to cry more, but rather ask ourselves if we have cried enough, and in that case, have the strength and energy to get out of all the emotional potholes in which we can find ourselves in these difficult times.