Don’t Hate on Obama — It's Great (and Healthy) to Cry


President Barack Obama cried on national television Tuesday.

In his speech outlining new gun control measures — including more robust background checks and funding to improve access to mental health treatment — the president openly wept as he spoke of the young children killed in the 2012 Newtown massacre.

"Every time I think about those kids it gets me mad," he said, wiping tears from his eyes.

Right-wing detractors were quick to pick apart the president's display of emotion, with many accusing him of faking the tears. At Fox News, a panel of commentators argued that if Obama was truly shaken up about gun violence, he'd be campaigning in Chicago — not targeting "God-fearing Americans who just want to protect themselves when ISIS is coming to their hometown and shooting up 14 people," in the words of Meghan McCain. 

"I would check that podium for a raw onion or some No More Tears," contributor Andrea Tantaro said. "I mean, it's not really believable." 

"It just didn't seem horribly authentic," McCain added.

For some, it was easier to believe the president was fake-crying for political gain than showing genuine emotion about young, innocent victims of gun violence.

Our society tends to negatively stereotype people who cry. And those stereotypes are gendered: Men who cry might be perceived as physically and mentally weak, whereas women who cry might be perceived as overemotional, incapable of rational decision-making. No matter which way you spin it, cryers have traditionally been looked down upon. The result? Many of us, when we feel emotional, try desperately to resist.

But neither we nor the president should hold back our tears. As it turns out, crying is good for your health.

"Crying is one of the body's ways of emotional expression and releasing stress," Shannon McFarlin, a licensed marriage and family therapist who works with the therapy app Talkspace, told Mic in an email.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

"It has the emotional benefit of processing sadness, grief, joy or other emotions," McFarlin said. "Holding back tears keeps us from processing the feelings that are coming up, which doesn't allow us to integrate the experience into our reality and experience and the full range of emotions in life."

On a chemical level, an emotional bout of crying also releases a number of harmful stress hormones — enabling stress to quite literally leave our bodies. 

"Additionally, crying is said to increase the production of endorphins, the body's natural painkiller," McFarlin said. 

But that's not all. On the flip side, holding in your emotions has long been known to harm your health — not just mentally, but physically too. This 2013 study found that emotion suppression "may convey risk for earlier death, including death from cancer."  

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Of course, reaping those benefits means we have to get past our resistance to crying. There are a few reasons people are embarrassed to be seen crying, McFarlin said.

"One is the perception of weakness, which has been assigned by our culture," she said. "Another is the way that person's family dealt with crying growing up. If the person was punished or shamed for crying, they learned that it is more acceptable to keep feelings in and not show them through crying."

Learning to love your tears takes practice. But by being around people who accept you, and who don't mock or ignore your tears, it's possible to become more comfortable crying, McFarlin said.

Let's all take after Obama and let the tears flow — for the sake of our health.