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At a community hospital in Chicago suburb, an eight-year-old girl asks, "May I cry or should I be brave?" It’s a question she poses moments before being taken to surgery for a leg amputation.
We share conflicting feelings about crying. On the one hand, shedding tears can show deep concern. On the other hand, might not tears convey a lack of courage?
At one time or another, everybody cries. The Old Testament tells us that King David wept on several occasions. And the New Testament reports that Jesus cried when He learned his good friend Lazarus had died. With great compassion, Christ also wept over the city of Jerusalem and its many inhabitants.
And recent statistics show that we’re a lot like Jesus in this respect: a majority of both me n and women say they cry. Yet there is, perhaps, no other element of living that carries so much confusion with it as the human tear.
Poets and novelists for years have known intuitively that crying is somehow good for us. William Shakespeare, for example, wrote, "To weep is to make less the dept of grief."
And poet Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote about a woman who learned her husband had been killed. "She must weep," the writer said, "or she will die."
Scientists are beginning to confirm the accuracy of such statements. Why is crying good for us? Tears, it seems, reduce tensions, remove toxins, and increase the body’s ability to heal itself. In short, scientists are concluding that people who cry enjoy better health.
Here are a few more things scientists are discovering about people, tears, and the benefits of crying.
Why do people often feel better after crying?
Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Colorado Medical School, works primarily with people who are mourning loved ones. "In my experience," he says, "I have observed changes in the physical expressions following the expression of tears. Not only do people feel better after crying, they also look better."
How often and why do people cry?
Most people shed tears more often than we would think. Thanks to William Frey, who had subjects keep "tear diaries" during a study conducted at the Dry Eye and Tear Research Center, a pattern emerges:
What if you can’t cry?
Since more and more research is giving credibility to the idea that good health is strongly connected to the shedding of tears, those who are unable to cry should try to get in touch with their deepest emotions.
Should tears be controlled?
The simple answer is no. Very few people cry for the wrong reasons. Consider the man who rushed his daughter to a local hospital after she experienced a severe fall. Because tears were pouring down his cheeks, the emergency room doctor ordered the young father to stop crying.
Can we cry too often?
There is, in fact, only one word of caution about crying. Says one psychotherapist, "People who cry easily should feel glad they’re in touch with their feelings. But if they’re crying a lot in response to criticism, they should try to get some counseling. This kind of crying is an alarm bell of a far deeper hurt; it could signify a loss of self-esteem that is triggered whenever anyone says anything negative."