If you feel like you need to cry, but the tears aren’t flowing, you’re not alone. According to behavioral health statistics from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one in five adults in the United States experiences a diagnosable mental illness each year. Mental health issues such as trauma, anxiety disorders, depression, and stress can make it more challenging to manage your emotions.
While physical conditions can also contribute to the inability to cry, feeling unable to cry usually involves your mental health, emotional state, beliefs surrounding vulnerability, or past trauma. From the stigma related to crying to mental health conditions that make it more difficult to regulate emotions, here are some psychological reasons why you may be unable to cry.
Why do people avoid crying?
When you believe crying is healthy, it’s easier to let tears flow when you’re feeling sad or frustrated. In contrast, if you think that crying or showing vulnerability is a sign of weakness, you’re more likely to avoid crying. Many people develop these concepts during childhood and adolescence—often introduced by their parents or other family members—and carry them into adulthood.
Additionally, trauma survivors often experience internalized shame surrounding crying and expressing emotion. If you had a role model who rarely cried or were shamed when you cried, this might inhibit your ability to cry in adulthood.
Sometimes, cultural beliefs can create stigmas toward mental health problems. For example, if you come from a culture where talking openly about mental health is not considered acceptable, you’re less likely to express negative emotions through crying. Social taboos around men crying can also make men hesitant to express vulnerability by crying.
Crying and Mental Health
In addition to beliefs and stigmas about crying, several mental health conditions can influence an individual’s ability to cry. Some mental health disorders that make it more difficult to regulate emotions include:
Anxiety disorders: Anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), can make it more challenging to regulate your emotions effectively. Some people who develop PTSD following a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster or car accident, tend to bottle up their feelings or experience feelings of numbness.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): Although ADHD is typically characterized by impulsivity in children and young adults, individuals with ADHD may experience emotional disruptions or internalize emotional pain at any stage of life.
Mood disorders: It might sound contradictory, but many people with depression and bipolar disorder struggle to cry. Mood disorders can manifest themselves in different ways—some people may feel overwhelming numbness or “flatness,” while others express difficult emotions, such as loneliness or hopelessness, through crying.
Schizophrenia: According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), individuals with schizophrenia may experience “diminished emotional expression,” making it difficult to cry or express emotions.
There’s no right or wrong amount to cry, and everyone expresses their emotions differently. However, if you’re bottling up your feelings or struggling to connect with your feelings, it’s important to take the time to explore your mental health. Some helpful ways to jumpstart your journey toward mental wellness include:
Go to therapy. If your ability to cry is stressing you out or interfering with your daily life, therapy can help you navigate your mental health. Now, with relaxed HIPAA regulations under the United States Department of Health and Human Services, it’s possible to access therapy from the comfort of your own home. Depending on your mental state and the severity of your symptoms, your psychologist may provide a referral to a psychiatrist for medication.
Visit your primary care physician. There are often complex issues behind the inability to cry, and scheduling an appointment with your clinician can help rule out any physical health issues.
Join a support group. Joining a support group can help combat stigma and provide a valuable source of support, especially if you don’t feel comfortable opening up to friends and family members. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), support groups can be particularly beneficial for individuals with PTSD and substance use problems. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers helpful support group resources, including NAMI Family and NAMI Basics.
Reach out for support. Although it might feel intimidating, opening up to loved ones can help you get in touch with your emotions. Your friends and family members may share similar thoughts, validate your feelings, or offer a shoulder to cry on.
Take care of yourself. Taking care of your physical health is just as important as your mental health. According to the United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC), getting enough sleep, eating a balanced diet, and incorporating regular physical activity into your schedule can help you work toward positive mental health.
Sometimes, we get so used to hiding our emotions that we forget how to let go and express ourselves. If you’re feeling numb, struggling with poor mental health, or navigating a difficult stage of life, therapy can help you start feeling better. To find a therapist, reach out to a mental health provider through WithTherapy. We’ll connect you to an experienced therapist you feel comfortable with, regardless of your personal preferences and requirements. Even if you’re not experiencing any symptoms of mental health conditions, one of the compassionate therapists on the WithTherapy platform can help you work toward good mental health, discuss your treatment options, and develop healthy ways to cope with stressful situations.