Tearing up!


We all have cried at some time or the other, though women are considered more susceptible to tears than men. A. Radhakrishnan debunks some myths, and explains the science behind tears.

From the iconic digalogue in the Bollywood film Amar Prem, where Rajesh Khanna delivers the line effortlessly “Pushpa, mujhse ye aansu nahi dekhe jaate, I hate tears”, to the recent debate over an Indian judge who claimed that peacocks do not mate, but sire their offspring through tears, there is a lot of hype around tears!

While Wikipedia defines tears as ‘a tearing, lacrimation, or lachrymation is the secretion of tears, which often serves to clean and lubricate the eyes in response to an irritation of the eyes’, crying is scientifically defined as ‘the shedding of your tears in response to an emotional state; very different from ‘lacrimation’, which is the non-emotional shedding of tears’.

Why do we cry?
Tear drops, though small, carry the weight of a thousand hardships in them. When reading or watching a touching scene, tears come to the eyes because the author has smoothly slid into your mind and is tugging at the strings of emotion that make us human. Your tear drops enter the pages of a world you yourself have created.

Sometimes, the simplest sentence moves us into deep-seated emotions. Movie scenes often melt my heart, and I shed tears unknowingly in the dark! Sometimes, songs or background music cause me to break into tears. Stories, also make me emotional when it reminds me of my departed loved ones, and soon a tear joins the ink!

In nearly all cultures, crying is seen as a specific act associated with tears trickling down the cheeks, accompanied by characteristic sobbing sounds. Crying can, apart from being triggered by sadness and grief, can also be triggered by anger, happiness, fear, laughter or humour, frustration, remorse, or other strong, intense emotions.

Crying mainly is associated with babies, children and women, but considered undignified and infantile in those who cry publicly, except if it is due to the death of a close friend or relative. Some modern therapy movements such as Re-evaluation Counselling however, teach that crying is beneficial to health and mental well-being, encouraging it positively.

I am generally bad at controlling tears, like when I lost my mother, though it was justifiable. The realisation that it was not the solution, as it wouldn’t bring my mother back, made me more stable and strong. Tears sometimes gush out even for small reasons, even when I don’t want to cry. Is it too emotional and wrong, and do I have to blame myself? No, as sensitive people, we are priceless and beautiful in our own ways. There’s no need to change it, and we just have to be proud about it.

Coping with tears

  • Try to divert your mood by thinking and focusing on another topic or just engage yourself in some work.
  • Converse with someone about a completely different topic that won’t add up to the emotions that you are trying to control.
  • Call up friends with a really appreciable sense of humour so that merely initiating a conversation with them can help in boosting the mood.
  • Motivate and encourage yourself silently with phrases like ‘I am a strong person’, ‘Calm down’ and ‘Don’t cry’.
  • Exercise for at least 45 minutes. The aim is to tire yourself out. Exercise also helps release endorphins, the ‘feel-good’ hormones.
  • Pen down what’s bothering you. Pursue a hobby. Divert yourself with books.
  • Music and dance help!
  • When moments make us so happy that they drive us to tears, let it overtake you. I shed tears of undefined happiness, when I held my friend’s child the first time, after she underwent many miscarriages and the sufferings/ blames she bore and the taunts she heard.

    A moment of nostalgia can also move a person to tears. With powerful emotions attached to it, your brain remembers how you felt. What triggered the nostalgia? Did you smell something? Did a colour reignite the memory? The hippocampus is a part of the brain that stores objective memories. The amygdola stores the emotional aspect of these memories. You remember that at the same restaurant, you spoke to a new friend for hours, creating a strong bond between you two. The fact that you can never relieve that exact memory gives you a twinge of sadness. Crying is not an indication of being weak, but a sign of a person with true emotions.

    Tears also arise when you raise your voice especially when the truth will make you lose someone you are close to. It makes one feel weak. Usually, when a person is in a sorrowful condition or in an extremely happy mental state, the blood pressure increases, causing various detrimental effects on the human body. Our body immediately sheds tears, giving us relief from strong emotional stress. So, it is an involuntary action which cannot be controlled completely. But you should not let it stress you.

    We must not forget however, that if we are reluctant to spend our money in useless expenditures, then we shouldn’t also waste our tears, because they’re way more precious. Before you drop tears for someone, check if they are even worth your tears.

    When men tear up
    When is it okay for a man to cry? Men are known as the less emotional sex; they are supposed to be bastions of stability; the rock in the middle of a storm; unflappably cool, no matter what the circumstance. Crying: A Natural and Cultural History of Tears, explains that men have always cried. In Homer’s The Iliad, while Odysseus’ heroic qualities also include many episodes of his weeping for home, loved ones, and fallen comrades, he never yields to loneliness or frustration.

    The ancient Jews wept as part of their supplications to God and before going to battle. Medieval Japanese and European epics are chock full of male crying. Popular culture in the Romantic Era featured men and women falling into each other’s arms and bathing one another with their tears. Tears were seen as proof of a man’s sincerity, honesty, and integrity.

    During the Victorian Era, those virtues thought to be exclusively feminine in nature were celebrated. With a vulnerable and submissive quality to them, tears began to be seen as more befitting a woman than a man. As the 20th century emerged, the ideal of the tearless male emerged with it. Of course, it’s not wrong for men to get emotional. It’s unhealthy to keep one’s feelings bottled up. A man need not be perpetually stoic.

    Interestingly, we humans shed tears when we feel emotional or to moisturise our eyes and clear the debris, one of those few species who produce two types of tears. But dogs don’t fall under this bracket. They produce tears only to clear debris and moisturise their eyes. So they cannot cry tears when they are sad or when emotional.

    We have a choice.

    “When someone is crying, of course, the noble thing to do is to comfort them. But if someone is trying to hide their tears, it may also be noble to pretend you do not notice them.”

    – Lemony Snicket


    A. Radhakrishnan

    A. Radhakrishnan is a Pune-based freelance journalist, poet, short story writer, social media fan, young at heart and loves to make people happy.