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 forget 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?”
As one example of allowing ourselves to feel and process negative emotions, do we need to cry in order to access positive emotions like peace and joy?
I decided to do a little research.
The Benefits of Crying
My first findings confirmed what I suspected. It turns out that crying from time to time, contrary to popular chauvinistic belief, is a pretty f*cking 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.
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 makes sense. Years of depression were a direct result of repressing my emotions.
After facing those demons during months of therapy, I finally allowed myself to break down (or ‘break open’ as my therapist referred to it).
It was such an enormous relief to finally let go of what I’d been fighting for so many years. Afterward 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, 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 because I simply allowed myself to cry. Still, I believe I’d never have been able to process that pain without doing so.
Recently I’ve been allowing myself to cry more often. I can tell you that it’s not easy for a man who has been conditioned to keep his 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 realized 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 makes 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 my friends and family as I read 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 to allow myself to cry. As it turns out – newsflash everyone – men can cry after all!
Not only can men cry, but I also found out that it doesn’t result in your life falling apart or your penis falling off.
Unbelievable news, I know, but entirely true! I can confirm this, you see, because last I checked, it was still there. Just to be extra sure, I’ll double-check… 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! Evolution wouldn’t have up with crying pointlessly. Think about it.
Why are we the only species on the planet to deny our nature? I believe this is what turns all of us into a bunch of lunatics.
Anyway, I’ve gotten sidetracked. Let me come back to some research.
A Hard Truth About Male Resilience
When I dug a little deeper for this post, an extremely bizarre statistic stuck out 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 higher rates of depression by a factor of nearly two. There are several reasons for this, including gender inequality, but studies suggest biological factors to be the primary determinant.
At any rate, without getting sidetracked into another important debate, that wasn’t the bit I found weird. What I found particularly bizarre was that men are three to four times more likely to take their own lives 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 6 to 8 times more likely to kill himself than a woman who develops depression does.
Of course, you have to take that with a large pinch of salt, but even so.
Talk about being a man, hey? Or, “manning the f*ck up,” as some of my friends might say. Talk about the tough, 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?
That Time I Cried
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 woman, by the way, in case you thought it must be a man. She 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 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 let him 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.
I suspect many of our distraction techniques aren’t about helping the child so much as a strategy by adults to avoid issues they have about how crying makes them feel.
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. On occasion, when he’d cry for long periods, I would get very angry with him (not historically an emotion I’ve had a lot of trouble with). I would get so mad 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.
Whenever I gave up by leaving him in another room, what quickly followed was intense feelings of remorse. “How could I treat him like that? How could I abandon him in his cot when he’s crying? Why am I taking an infant crying so personally? What the f*ck is wrong with me?”
Clearly, I had some serious stuff 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 saw my son playing on the living room floor after I got home from work. At 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 really myself cry. When I finished, I remember seeing with such clarity. There was no doubt about what it was I needed to do. I reached for the phone and spoke to someone. I finally asked for the professional help I knew I’d needed for years.
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.
Some Closing Thoughts
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 feelings. 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 to “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 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.
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
HELPLINES, SUICIDE HOTLINES, AND CRISIS-LINES FROM AROUND THE WORLD