How do I cry?
May 31, 2019 10:47 PM   Subscribe

So I haven't wept since I was 9 or 10. I've teared up. I've shed a single tear or two. I've gotten misty. But sobbing? The kind that makes you feel better after? Haven't done that since Reagan was president. And I know I need to. But...well I can't seem to start it. I've watched sad you tube videos. Remembered sad parts of my life. Nothing. Physically has it just turned off? And if so how do you turn on the waterworks again?
posted by rileyray3000 to Grab Bag (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Do you by any chance take antidepressants? I stopped being able to cry once I started taking Abilify. It sucks. I am really hoping that if it ever leaves my system I'll be able to have that kind of catharsis again.
posted by Hermione Granger at 10:54 PM on May 31, 2019

Have you tried physically faking it? Acting wise, this can sometimes trigger the real thing better than accessing a memory. There are fictional scenarios that can lead to crying too. Maybe imagining a scene from a movie or a characters journey?
posted by xammerboy at 11:05 PM on May 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

Is there something specific you're trying to cry about? Crying is when something hurts so bad that it's pressing your physical distress switch and your brains instinct to summon other humans kicks in. I assume you have something like that? Have you sat down and told someone the whole thing and really dig into why it hurts? Like really jam that fork in there. Maybe a video of people crying would help. Eat something super spicy.
posted by bleep at 11:16 PM on May 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

Physically has it just turned off?

My guess is that it has, and I'd also guess it turned off for the same underlying reason (whatever it is) that you experienced numbness when you sneezed, as you mentioned in a question some years ago now.

Because sobbing, like sneezing, generates a lot of pressure in your head, and I'd bet you experienced some kind of untoward reaction after sobbing when you were a kid, and your body learned not to do that anymore.

Do you still have the numbness when you sneeze? If not, you might be able to turn crying back on, but if you do and have a bad reaction of some kind should you succeed in sobbing, it might raise the barrier even higher
posted by jamjam at 12:08 AM on June 1, 2019

I barely ever can either. I managed to break the dam by putting together songs and bits of films and texts that I had always found grippingly, personally wrenching, or nostalgic, going back to childhood. At the same time writing down in an uncontrolled, overdramatic way how shitty I was feeling, and reading emotionally loaded bits of old diaries. Like plan a full-on immersive session.

If you don't mind drinking, getting safely shitfaced might help lower the threshhold too.

Thinking of youtube vids, maybe, counterintuitively, really really sentimentally HAPPY ones might turn the taps on? I find the ones of US soldiers returning home to their DOGS get me really unexpectedly hard.
posted by runincircles at 12:55 AM on June 1, 2019 [3 favorites]

There's crying where you feel better afterwards and there's crying where afterwards you feel wrung out in the worst way, and it doesn't settle anything or make you more able to move on or provide any sense of catharsis - it does exactly one thing, which is make you feel like shit. I bring this up because I also went through a period where I couldn't cry and, like you, wished I could. Having since regained with interest the ability to cry, but only the bad kind of crying, I would say you should do what you need to do to care for yourself and address the issues that make you feel like you need to cry - rather than focus on crying itself as a goal, because it might not give you what you're looking for.
posted by trig at 1:53 AM on June 1, 2019 [9 favorites]

Max Valerio, former lesbian and now a transman (author of The Testosterone Files) has written about how rarely he now cries as a man, and mentions that most of his male friends also only cry maybe once or twice a year, for five or ten minutes ("unless there is some major heartbreaking or stressful circumstance. Then, possibly, they'll cry four times a year"). So very infrequent -- compared to the frequency women experience -- crying would seem to go along with maleness in most cases (at least in this culture).

He writes, "Transsexual women have perplexed tales of how their feelings change once they are on estrogen. Stories of sudden emotional volatility -- of feelings being closer to the surface, more accessible to tears." He quotes transwomen questioning others on bulletin boards, "Is this normal? Does anyone else cry now when watching a TV movie of the week, or to sad songs, or even when watching some sappy commercial about long-distance calling to rarely seen loved ones?"

He continues:

"I'd believed that men could cry as much as women if they'd just let themselves go. Men were victims of a masculine ethos that forbade tears, that made them into unfeeling, seething septic tanks of repressed pain ready to lash out.

I was wrong."

So, go easy on yourself. Maybe your system just has an unusually low level of estrogen (or did at developmentally crucial periods). But if you really want the tears, maybe look into increasing your estrogen level. Maybe doing the opposite of what this page suggests would be helpful:

Anti-estrogen diet for men: What to eat and avoid
posted by tenderly at 2:01 AM on June 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

The kind that makes you feel better after?

Following on what trig said, sobbing never makes me feel better; it usually begins a period of depression of one degree or another. I have tools to deal with depression, but sobbing isn't one of them. It would please me if I knew I would never feel like crying again.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:06 AM on June 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

If you are willing, and can do it safely with a trusting friend... Try drudging up some old memories or feelings while on psychedelics. It triggers the cathartic waterworks.
posted by Gordafarin at 3:10 AM on June 1, 2019

Have you watched YouTube videos of military parents coming home and surprising their kids? That always makes me cry.
posted by katypickle at 4:43 AM on June 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well, is it an emotional thing you want, or a physical thing?

I mean, I cry all the time. My eyes are just constantly tearing up. I cry at sentimental commercials, I cry when I laugh, I cry when its slightly windy, I cry when I wear eye make up... My eyes are just dripping water all the goddam time... It's often pretty embarrassing because it's rarely a response to strong emotions. All of which is to say: I'm pretty sure it's just a physical thing in my case. My tear ducts are just waaay over active. Perhaps yours are the other way around? Especially if it's been that way most of your life. For instance, do you also have dry mouth, for instance, that might suggest it's about hydration?

Not to say that the physical and emotional are not interconnected... But if you're actually concerned about not connecting with your emotions, then focussing so much on the physical reaction may be a red herring. There are ways to get better at recognizing, talking about, and working through your emotions. Do you feel like that's actually what you want? You can do that without tears. Can you feel strong emotions and express them in a way that's comfortable for you?
posted by EllaEm at 4:59 AM on June 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

Listsen to Benjamin Britten's War Requiem. Or Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.
posted by james33 at 5:31 AM on June 1, 2019

While Max Wolf Valerio is often prone to overgeneralizing about the effects of testosterone, I was coming to mention that sometimes people lose the ability to cry (or find it severely curtailed) during a testosterone-driven puberty. However it's not some universal property of being a man or being testosterone-dominant. I actually didn't believe it was a thing until I dated someone who couldn't cry for the sort of emotional release you're talking about. (My brother, who is my reference for many things about cis men, cries when upset. Immediately crying when I was angry stopped when I started testosterone, but I still can have a good cry.) The guy I dated hadn't found a solution and found it quite frustrating (we were like 21, 22, so it wasn't like he had a lifetime of trying to figure this out).

I have successfully used YouTube videos that I know make me sad or misty-eyed to tip me over from "I want to cry about this but it isn't quite happening" to actually crying.
posted by hoyland at 5:44 AM on June 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

So I am a 43-year-old man, and I was able to sob like this about six weeks ago - yes, the kind of sobbing that makes you feel better after, and in my case I instantly felt COMPLETELY better - so I first of all want to reassure you that this kind of healing crying is a real thing.

I do think there were some necessary ingredients that allowed me to cry like this. First, I had something I was truly and completely heartbroken over - in my case, having to lose someone who I love very much. Second, I needed someone I could talk to in person about it, someone who I trusted to really get it and understand and support me. I reached out to a good friend and specifically said I was having a crisis and could use a chat. It felt scary to ask for that, but they were happy to listen and they did an amazing job of it. And the final ingredient that allowed me to sob was that I asked my friend for a hug - another scary thing, because I had never explicitly asked someone for a hug before in my adult life. Actually, both my friend and his girlfriend were present, and they both gave me a hug, which is relevant to my being able to cry, because the final necessary ingredient was that her hug in particular helped me feel safe enough that the sobs instantly came out when I felt her arms around me. What I found perhaps most surprising is that after less than 20 seconds of full-on heaving sobbing, I was already done and felt amazingly better.

It does seem to me that this sort of crying is almost a sort of biological reflex, sort of like vomiting in a way, in that we might dread or fear the intensity and scariness of the act itself, but once it's over we instantly feel a huge wave of relief. And like vomiting, it may be hard to force yourself to do it without a strong enough trigger (maybe being just "kind of" sad is like being just "kind of" nauseated - you can't make yourself cry just like you can't make yourself vomit). And just like it can feel scary in those moments right before you vomit when you truly are sick enough to do it, this sort of intense crying can also seem too scary to let yourself to do, for a variety of reasons. So to summarize, I think you need something that makes you feel sad enough to actually cry, and you need to feel safe enough to let yourself do it - I find it safer to cry when I'm alone for all the usual social stigma reasons, but it's less intense crying, because the safety I feel in being alone is less powerful than the safety I was able to feel when I got the right kind of hug from a friend.
posted by Dixon Ticonderoga at 5:56 AM on June 1, 2019 [14 favorites]

Very tentative: Sobbing involves a lot of movement of the face and chest.

It's possible that you've got habitual tension which is blocking the necessary movement.

Maybe a therapist who also does massage?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 10:28 AM on June 1, 2019

If it feels at all like you're keeping yourself from crying, I've been training myself to cry more readily bit by bit. Any time I would get misty eyed or have a couple tears run down or feel my face scrunch up in a Sob, it used to be that I would automatically calm myself down (regular breathing, closing my eyes, soothing thoughts). And when I wanted to be able to really cry, I wouldn't be able to stop myself from that automatic reaction of shutting it down.

So whenever I started feeling a little cry coming on, I tried to just let it happen and sit with it, even if it only lasted a tear or two or didn't even get as far as that. I would ride out the physical sensations and try not to feel embarrassed or guilty or stupid about them. At the same time, relatedly but also not, I was practicing naming my emotions and letting myself feel them, so I'd say, OK, I'm sad, this thing makes me want to cry, and naming it sometimes helped push the process along a few more tears or sometimes didn't. I couldn't force it to happen at all.

But the more I've become comfortable with the emotions and physical sensations going on, the more I can kind of release my body and let real crying happen. Right now, I'm tearing up at basically everything and sometimes breaking down in sobs over a hair trigger, but it's been extremely emotionally cathartic. Turns out I've had a lot of tension bottled up that's letting out.

As far as specific things that reliably make me start crying, getting down in the weeds of logistics for putting down my elderly dogs does it every time. Not thinking about me or family dying, or even abstractly about the dogs, only planning it does it.
posted by gaybobbie at 11:41 AM on June 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

I rarely cry like that unless I've just experienced an emotional shock, like when someone significant to me or a beloved pet has died, or when I was given a scary diagnosis. And it almost always has happened in conjunction with having a spoken (not typed) conversation with someone close to me about that thing.
posted by wondermouse at 3:15 PM on June 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

I am an estrogen-dominant person who has had long periods of my life where I couldn't cry, even when I wanted to. But I managed to revive the ability a few years back, and now I sometimes water at unexpected times, just cuz. If I were you, first I'd set an intention to cry. You know how when you want to remember your dreams, it helps to set a dream journal near your bed and flip it to an open page? Well, every night and morning when you wake up, say to yourself, "Today is a day I could cry. I wonder what I'll cry about?" Maybe jot down a list of worthy topics. Really set that crying window open.

It's easier for me to cry when I'm in touch with all my feelings, not just sad ones. Try to pick out feelings as you go about your day and match them to your physical affect. Maybe scroll through a list of feels and try to evoke them, one by one, in yourself.

Everyone has strange triggers. I can watch a car crash or natural disaster and stay dry as a stick. But show me a butterfly with a crushed wing? Talk about a personal hero of mine? Insta-glistening. Barring a crisis of some kind... experiment. Watch other people cry. Act it out. Sometimes shame about crying isn't held in the mind, but in the body. You may think you're okay being vulnerable but part of you is holding back. Brené Brown has good videos on these things.
posted by aw jeez at 7:24 PM on June 1, 2019 [1 favorite]

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