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How and Why We Cry

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How and Why We Cry

By Allison Ford, DivineCaroline

Crying is an emotional reaction that’s completely unique to humans. Our capacity for complex thoughts and feelings means that we can cry whether we’re overwhelmed with any emotion–happiness, despair, or fear–but not everyone cries the same way or for the same reasons. Some people break into tears at the drop of a hat; others remain stony-faced even when confronted with great tragedy or pain. Understanding the impulse to cry isn’t always easy, but understanding the psychological and evolutionary reasons we do it is even more complicated.

Sad or Hurt, Same Response
All tears are comprised mainly of water, oil, and mucous and are produced in the lachrymal glands near the eyes. Made of the same stuff, we actually have three different kinds of tears: basal, which protect and moisten our eyes; reflex, which flush irritants and foreign objects from our eyes; and emotional tears, which are produced in response to strong emotions or pain. The body automatically produces basal and reflex tears, but emotional tears are only ones produced by the process we think of as crying. Emotional tears have been shown to contain higher levels of certain hormones like prolactin, which is associated with breastfeeding and milk production, and manganese, which helps regulate our moods.

Emotion and pain are both processed in the limbic system, the area of the brain that also processes memories, our senses, and behavior. Humans can cry whether we’re in emotional pain or physical pain, and regardless of the stimulus, the tears are the same. Because of this lack of differentiation, some researchers believe that the body can’t really distinguish between emotional and physical pain at all. Even though the mind knows the difference between a broken heart and a stubbed toe, the body generates the same response to both.

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At DivineCaroline.com, women come together to learn from experts in the fields, of health, sustainability, and culture; to reflect on shared experiences; and to express themselves by writing and publishing stories about anything that matters to them. Here, real women publish like real pros. Together, with our staff writers, they’re discussing all facets of women’s lives from relationships and careers, to travel and healthy living. So come discover, read, learn, laugh and connect at DivineCaroline.com.

195 comments

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8:16PM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

Interesting, ty.

8:15PM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

Interesting, ty.

6:13PM PDT on May 6, 2013

This article made me weep.:(

8:12AM PDT on Jun 20, 2011

Sometimes we try so hard to 'go on with life' that crying is pushed aside.

If you need help crying, read/sign/share my petition http://www.thepetitionsite.com/769/petition-to-deny-parole/

ALL petitions must be received BEFORE the hearing JUNE 29th!

I'm trying so hard to keep this man imprisoned, tears CANNOT interrupt my work!

12:58PM PDT on Apr 3, 2011

Interesting article.

2:36PM PST on Jan 24, 2011

Very interesting article! And I can most certainly agree with the section about people who cry too often - I know a few cry-babies and it's true that after a while, whether you mean to or not, you become a little less sympathetic to the tears - sometimes good, sometimes bad I guess.

12:31PM PST on Jan 24, 2011

Upset hormones also cause the crying response. For the past 2 years, perhaps longer, I have been experiencing perimenopause, and am amazed at, and a trifle ungrateful for, the screwy and unpredictable hormonal shiftings, as well as the inconvienient physical effects and their accompanying social discomfort. At the slightest suggestion, I dissolve into tears. Sometimes I can regain my composure quickly, other times I cannot stop. It is also shocking that so many people are of the opinion that a person cries to be annoying or to manipulate others. These folks probably haven't considered that having tears is frustrating, annoying, and embarrassing to the person who is crying, and express impatience, intolerance, disdain and contempt, thus spurring the tears into dispair. The more information that can be given in K-12 school biology classes, the better equipped our children and theirs will be in accepting, and expecting, that tears happen. Here's to the graceful validation of the human condition.

9:47PM PST on Jan 23, 2011

Thanks for sharing!

8:21AM PST on Jan 22, 2011

I think I'm a normal crier. I only cry when the situation breaks my heart, or over loss of a loved one, or pet, or frustration in an argument. I always said "If you feel like crying, go ahead and cry, it cleans out your eyes and you can see things more clearly."

8:35PM PST on Jan 24, 2010

Interesting facts

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