Do you sometimes want to cry but just can’t? You feel that prickly sensation behind your eyes but tears still won’t fall.
Maybe you never feel like crying at all, even when facing extremely unpleasant or distressing circumstances. Others around you cry, but for you, the tears just don’t come.
If you can’t shed any tears, you might wonder why you have trouble crying.
Keep reading to learn more about the medical and emotional reasons behind an inability to cry and how you can deal with it.
Certain medical conditions can affect your ability to produce tears, including:
This condition, more commonly called dry eye syndrome, involves a decrease in tear production.
It can appear more frequently with:
- pregnancy or menopause-related hormone changes
- age, as dry eyes are fairly common in older adulthood
- thyroid problems
- rheumatoid arthritis
- contact lens use
- eyelid inflammation or disorders
This autoimmune condition, which often develops with a viral or bacterial infection, tends to appear most often in women over age 40.
Sjögren’s syndrome causes the white blood cells in your body to attack the glands that produce moisture, such as your tear ducts and mucous membranes.
This can cause dry eyes and a dry mouth.
If you live in a dry climate or one that’s very windy, you might notice that you don’t produce as many tears. This happens because the dryness of the air causes your tears to evaporate quickly.
This can also occur if the air becomes smoky due to wildfires or other causes.
Certain medications can also lead to decreased tear production.
You might notice difficulty crying when taking:
- birth control pills, especially if you
also wear contact lenses
- selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
- antihistamines or decongestants
- blood pressure medications
LASIK can also affect tear production, so it’s not uncommon to have dry eyes after having this surgery.
If you don’t have a medical condition that affects tear production, your dry eyes could potentially relate to emotional or mental factors.
Depression with melancholia
Different subtypes of depression can involve a range of symptoms that vary in severity, so people living with depression won’t necessarily experience depression in the exact same way.
Melancholic depression is a type of major depressive disorder that generally involves severe symptoms.
With melancholic depression, you might feel:
- unemotional or “flat”
- slowed down
- hopeless, bleak, or despairing
- disinterested in the world around you
You might not react to events, especially positive ones, in the way you usually would. In fact, you might feel as if you have little or no emotion at all, and this can result in the inability to cry.
It makes sense if you think about it. If you feel as if your emotions have been disconnected or turned off, you probably can’t produce much of an emotional response.
While anhedonia often occurs as a symptom of depression, it can also develop as a symptom of other mental health conditions or on its own.
Anhedonia describes a loss of interest and pleasure in social activities or physical sensations.
You don’t just experience diminished pleasure. You might also notice a decreased capacity to express your emotions. Some people with anhedonia, especially anhedonic depression,
Some people have a hard time managing emotions, so they push them aside or bury them in order to cope.
This suppression might happen intentionally at first, but over time it becomes more automatic.
Eventually, you might experience most of your emotions mildly, if at all. Even if something deeply upsetting happens, you might not display much of a reaction.
There’s nothing affecting your physical ability to cry, but the tears just don’t come.
Personal beliefs about crying
If you believe crying exposes your vulnerability or suggests weakness, you might hold back your tears intentionally. Eventually, you may not even have to make an effort to keep yourself from crying — it just doesn’t happen.
People often start to see crying as a sign of weakness when other people, including parents, siblings, and peers, shame them for crying in childhood.
An inability to cry can also develop as a learned behavior. If family members and loved ones never cry, you may never learn to see crying as a natural form of emotional expression.
It might surprise you to learn that crying is actually pretty important.
Tears have several different functions. They benefit your body, but they also provide a sense of relief and emotional catharsis.
- At the most basic level, crying helps keep your eyes clean and healthy by washing away dust and debris.
- Tears also help relieve pain through endorphin release, so crying after a painful injury can help you feel better.
- It’s thought that emotional tears help wash toxins, such as stress hormones, out of your body.
- Crying also serves as a way to express your emotions, so it can relieve stress and tension and lead to an improved mood when you’re upset.
- Your tears also tell other people when you’re sad, which lets them know you might welcome some comfort and support. So crying can, in a way, help strengthen your bonds with the people around you.
If you have other symptoms that suggest your inability to cry might relate to a physical or mental health condition, you may want to start by talking to your primary care provider or mental health professional.
Once a healthcare provider has ruled out any serious conditions, you can try a few things to make it easier to get release through tears.
Take time to explore your reactions
If you’ve grown accustomed to suppressing or avoiding intense feelings, you might not notice much of a reaction when faced with a deeply emotional situation, such as losing someone you love or missing out on a dream opportunity.
You might have a habit of shrugging off distress instead.
Generally speaking, sitting with unpleasant or unwanted feelings doesn’t feel great, but it’s still an important thing to do.
Denying them disconnects you from your experiences and blocks natural ways of emotional expression, like crying.
Get more comfortable with your emotions
It’s hard to express emotions when you feel afraid of them or confused by them since this generally leads you to block them off instead.
To practice acknowledging and accepting your emotions, don’t deny them. Instead, try:
- Saying how you feel out loud. Even if it’s just to yourself, you can say “I feel angry,” “I feel sad,” or “I feel hurt.”
- Writing your feelings down. Keeping a journal can help you connect with emotions in the moment, but it also allows you to practice describing them to yourself before you share them with others.
- Remembering it’s normal. Remind yourself it’s OK to have emotions, even intense ones.
Find a safe space to let your feelings out
You might not feel comfortable expressing emotions in public, and that’s totally OK. It can take time before sharing emotions with anyone else becomes possible, much less natural.
Avoiding your emotions entirely isn’t the answer, either. Try to find a private place where you can sort through feelings and express intense emotions and tears.
This might be your bedroom, a quiet spot in nature where you’re always alone, or anywhere else you know you won’t be bothered.
Talk to people you trust
Once you get more comfortable with your emotions on your own, you can try sharing these feelings with loved ones.
There’s nothing wrong with starting small. You might, for example, open up to your partner or best friend before anyone else.
Talking to others about how you feel can help normalize your emotions, since chances are good they can offer some validation around those feelings or share similar experiences of their own.
When it feels easier to talk about feelings, you might notice it becomes easier to express them in other ways, too — including crying.
Let yourself be moved
This might not always work, but watching a tearjerker or listening to moving or sad music can sometimes bring on the tears.
If you want to practice crying, watching or hearing another person’s emotional experience can foster comfort with shedding some tears of your own.
Bonus: Watching deeply emotional movies can also increase your empathy and compassion for others.
If you struggle to cry because you’re out of touch with your feelings, you might have trouble expressing emotions in other ways, too. Professional support from a therapist can have many benefits if this is the case.
Getting more comfortable with your emotions is important for not only your intimate relationships but also your overall emotional health.
If you aren’t certain why you can’t cry or express emotions easily, a therapist can offer compassionate guidance and support as you begin exploring this issue.
If you’ve tried getting more comfortable with intense emotions on your own, but you haven’t had much success, talking to a therapist might be a helpful next step.
Some people cry more easily than others, and that’s normal. People are different, so it stands to reason that emotional expression varies from person to person.
If you can’t cry at all, you might have a hard time working through your own emotions, and you could also find it tough to connect with others.
In the end, crying is normal, so don’t worry about trying to hold those tears back — they’re completely natural.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.