Why is it always said, he cried like a little girl?
We never say, she cried like a little boy, do we?
For that matter, we never say she cried like a little girl either.
Of course I’m forgetting that’s because it’s acceptable for girls to cry! Silly me. It’s just boys who don’t cry!
Except that’s not true, is it?
Last I checked, little boys cry too.
In fact I know it’s not true, because my two year old boy cries every single day.
And let me tell you something, he’s the happiest person I know.
The. Happiest. Person. I. Know.
It’s odd don’t you think?
How happy and peaceful children can be, yet we adults have such a hard time accessing those same emotions?
It got me thinking as to why that might be. I wondered, ‘it couldn’t be related… could it?’
Could crying, as one example of allowing ourselves to feel and process negative emotions, be exactly what we need to do in order to access positive emotions like peace and joy?
I decided to do a little research.
My first findings confirmed what I suspected – that crying from time to time, contrary to popular chauvinistic belief, is actually a pretty fucking good thing for you to do.
This article from Medical News Today on the benefits of crying noted,
“Research has found that in addition to being self-soothing, shedding emotional tears releases oxytocin and endorphins. These chemicals make people feel good and may also ease both physical and emotional pain. In this way, crying can help reduce pain and promote a sense of well-being.”
In addition the article also noted that crying reduces stress, boosts your mood, aids sleep, fights bacteria and even improves your vision (remind me to tell some of my older pilot co-workers of this fact).
I figured it must help, but I had no idea it helped this much.
I wonder then, does this account for why we adults (and men in particular) have a much harder time accessing feelings of peace and happiness?
Do we not allow ourselves to cry enough?
Thinking about my own life it certainly makes sense.
Years of depression was a result of not allowing myself to feel exactly what I needed. After uncovering some hard truths and facing those demons head on, following months of therapy, I finally allowed myself to break down (or ‘break open’ as my therapist referred to it, which I much prefer).
It was such an enormous relief to finally let go of what I’d been fighting for so many years. Afterwards I’d felt an inner peace I’d not felt for years. I remember sleeping like a baby that night.
Now I understand the science behind why that was.
More importantly though the harmful narrative I’d clung onto for years finally began to shift. My life has been immeasurably better ever since.
Of course this wasn’t purely because I allowed myself to cry, but I do believe I’d never have been able to properly process and let go of those difficult emotions without doing so.
Recently I’ve been allowing myself to cry more often. I can tell you that’s not easy for a man who has been conditioned by society to keep him emotions under lock and key. Yet in doing so, my life is now filled with far more beauty and meaning.
I cried the other day when holding my son simply because I became aware of how precious it was while he hugged me during a quiet moment. I let myself cry in front of him. I wanted him to know that this is both a normal and healthy thing to do.
I wonder if any of you thinks this make me less of a man?
Did crying when my son was born make me less of a man? When I first held him in my arms?
Did crying on my wedding day make me less of a man? When I stood in front of all my friends and family as I read out my vows to my wife?
These were some of the happiest, most meaningful days and moments of my life.
If the answer is yes then I formally request to be a female because allowing yourself to cry, allowing yourself to feel your emotions, is what makes life beautiful. It’s what allows your difficult emotions to pass. It’s what allows you to find greater peace.
Luckily I don’t have to go through a sex change operation to allow myself to cry.
As it turns out – newsflash everyone – men can cry after all!
Not only can men cry, I found out that it doesn’t result in your life falling apart or your penis falling off.
Unbelievable news I know but completely true! I can confirm this, you see, because last I checked it’s still there.
In fact, I’ll double check now for you… Yep, still there.
Do you want to know why men cry?
Because it’s not a female thing to cry. Shock, horror… It’s actually a human thing to cry. It’s in our nature to cry.
I mean of course it is! Evolution wouldn’t have up with crying pointlessly. Think about it.
Why are we the only species on the planet to deny our nature?
This is exactly what makes us all a bunch of lunatics.
Anyway I’ve gotten away from the research that backs all these opinions up, so let me get back to it.
When I dug a little deeper for this post an extremely bizarre statistic stuck out for me like a sore thumb.
I assumed that men, being more prone to bottle up their emotions and ‘do it alone,’ would almost certainly have higher rates of depression.
Women have been found to have higher rates of depression by a factor of nearly two.
There are a number of reasons for this including gender inequality but studies suggest biological factors to be the major determinant.
At any rate, without getting sidetracked into another very important debate, that wasn’t the bit I found weird.
What I found particularly bizarre was the finding that men are three to four times more likely to take their own life than women.
Why would men be three to four times as likely to die from suicide if they are half as likely to become depressed in the first place?
Assuming my very rough maths is correct and assuming that those who commit suicide have first developed depression, then a man with depression is actually 6 to 8 times more likely to kill himself than a women who develops depression does.
Of course you have to take that with a huge amount of salt, but even so…
Talk about being a man hey? Or ‘manning the fuck up’ as some my friends might say.
Talk about the strong emotionally resilient men we have built as a society.
Clearly we’ve done a great job at giving men the tools they need to process their own emotions right?
Or maybe not.
Maybe, instead, we ought to rethink our narrative.
Maybe, just maybe, telling our boys not to cry isn’t such a smart move.
Maybe, just maybe, telling our young boys to ‘man up,’ or ‘grow a pair,’ or ‘stop being such a pussy,’ actually hurts both sexes, especially men.
Maybe, just maybe, we need to redefine what it means to be a man in the first instance.
What do you think?
I’ll tell you why I decided to bring this subject up.
I overheard someone we had hired to babysit our son tell him not to cry. It was a women, by the way, it case you were thinking it must be a man. She clearly didn’t mean any harm but I had to say something.
I asked her if she’d have said the same thing to a girl, or whether she would, in fact, have picked her up and comforted her?
(FYI Research shows that mothers talk more on average with their girl children, including sharing and identifying emotions, as opposed to their boy children.)
I let her know how damaging I believe telling children not to cry is.
I told her that I hope my son always allows himself to cry if he feels the need and that I will never allow him to be shamed for doing so in my household.
After going away and giving it some more thought, I realised something else.
A deeper problem that many of us might have with other people crying. And how this problem can likely be attributed to telling our boys not to cry.
I suspect many of our distraction techniques aren’t about helping the child so much as a strategy by adults to avoid issues they themselves have about how crying makes them feel.
I believe it’s the adult who often has the problem, whether they are conscious of it or not.
I know whenever my child cried, early on in the weeks shortly after he was born, it brought up intense feelings for me. I felt like a failure every time I was unable to settle him. I would say, “why doesn’t he like my breastmilk as much as my wife’s?”
Sorry, I couldn’t help myself with that joke.
Seriously though, on occasions he’d cry for long periods, without successfully calming him down, I would get very angry with him (not historically an emotion I’ve had a lot of trouble with). I would get so angry that I had to leave the room. Now I was never going to hurt him, but that anger was new to me.
It felt very intense.
What quickly followed, whenever I gave up by leaving him in another room, was intense feelings of remorse.
How could I treat him like that?
How could I just abandon him in his cot when he’s crying?
Why am I taking an infant crying so personally?
What the fuck is wrong with me?
Clearly I had some serious shit to work through. Yet in a typically male way, I didn’t seek any help, didn’t talk about it, nor did I let myself cry.
I just beat myself up.
(FYI – All of these can be explained as reasons why men have a harder time dealing with depression and why they are more likely to commit suicide – see this article for more details)
It wasn’t until one day when I got home from work that I saw my son playing on the living room floor. In that moment I felt nothing but an overwhelming repulsion to get away from him. I didn’t want to be with him. I didn’t want to father my son. My gorgeous boy.
This time the remorse that came flooding up was too much. I went to the bedroom closed the door and started to cry.
I cried like a little girl.
I cried like a man.
I let myself really cry. When I was finished I remember seeing with such clarity, there was no doubt about what it was I needed to do next. I reached for the phone and spoke to someone. I finally asked for the professional help I knew I’d needed for a long time.
Crying was the final straw that broke the camel’s back.
It gave me the clarity to see what I needed.
It gave me the courage to ask for help.
I can’t emphasise that last statement enough.
Crying gave me courage.
To all men who feel conflicted about their need to cry, it’s important to understand that crying doesn’t mean you’re not capable of dealing with your emotion. It means you are dealing with your emotions. Please understand it’s perfectly ok to do so.
Equally don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it. There is no shame in this. There is nothing unmanly about asking for help or showing emotions. We all need help from time to time. That’s part of the human experience.
Don’t think you need to ‘man the fuck up,’ or stop ‘crying like a little girl.’
If it helps consider the phrase, ‘man the fuck up and cry.’
In doing so you might just shatter the bullshit stereotype of what it actually means to be a man.
In doing so you might just have a greater understanding of what it is to be human.
In doing so you might give this world something it needs more than another macho man incapable of accessing his own emotions.
(Thank you to all for taking the time to read. I’m very curious to know your thoughts and get a proper debate going. To challenge my views so I can grow. Please help me cry by leaving your comments below. I welcome ALL opinions.)
ADDITIONAL SOURCES/FURTHER READING
BBC Article: Why more men than women die by suicide
Medical News Today Article: Eight benefits of crying: Why it’s good to shed a few tears
Happiness is here blog post: 10 things for parents to say instead of ‘stop crying.’
Janet Lansbury’s blog post: No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame (9 Guidelines)
This study examined gender differences in emotion word use during mother–child and father–child conversations.
This study explores why depression is more prevalent in women
For those who might be dealing with depression and/or struggling with thoughts of suicide it goes without saying I hope you can find the strength to reach out and talk to someone. Coming back from the brink isn’t easy, but it’s never too late. Never. Below is a list of various hotlines and websites in which you can seek help.
HELPLINES, SUICIDE HOTLINES, AND CRISIS-LINES FROM AROUND THE WORLD
Local Websites And Emergency Contact Numbers