Why are you crying?

By Rukayya Zamroon


Where do you think your tears come from? For decades, crying has been a mystery to us; does it come from the heart?

The first clue goes all the way back to the year 1662. Danish scientist Niels Stensen discovered that something called the lacrimal gland was the precise point of the origin of tears. Today, we recognise that its function is moistening the eye by constantly releasing fluid to cleanse and protect it. 

From that discovery onwards, scientists began to unravel the anatomy of crying by referring to this mysterious fluid. Stensen’s theory stated that tears were simply a way to keep the eye moist. Many theories followed this one, such as biochemist William Frey’s in 1985, which was that crying removes toxic substances from our blood that build up during episodes of stress. 

Many theories later, one plausible theory notes that tears trigger social bonding and human connection. Humans come into the world vulnerable and unprepared for what’s about to hit them, and crying is a way to let oneself as well as others know that certain issues are beyond our ability to cope. 

Scientists have found that there are different ‘types’ of tears; emotional tears and the tears we randomly shed when chopping onions. Scientists also stated that emotional tears are chemically different from the random ones. This can explain why crying sends such an emotional signal to others witnessing it. 

Chemically, emotional tears contain more protein than normal tears. This higher protein content makes emotional tears more viscous, which is why they stick to the skin for longer and run down one’s face much slower than normal tears. These characteristics allow others to notice when someone is in distress, so others’ instincts to help can manifest quicker. 

Even though the anatomy of crying still requires much more thorough research, it is safe to say that sadness is a chemical response, and crying is a way for our brain to remove the stress hormones produced when we are sad and produce chemicals that make us feel better when we are done weeping. With that said, why is it that some people cannot cry? 

Researchers have so far been unable to conclude why some people are unable to cry, but many believe it can be due to medical as well as psychological conditions. But clearly it cannot apply to everyone; what if someone wasn’t medically or psychologically disturbed, but they simply can’t cry when a movie’s protagonist dies? Unfortunately, scientists are yet to find out the cause. Really, no one knows why. 

However, not being able to cry does not mean you are made of stone on the inside. If you are unable to cry as much as others despite feeling just as emotional, you are in no way numb or unfeeling. If you do feel that you do have an underlying condition preventing you from crying, it is recommended you discuss it with a doctor or a mental health professional. Here’s to crying and to being healthy.