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A Crying Shame: Why is it so Hard to Cry?

Some articles are the product of months of work and research. Some are based on current news. And sometimes they come from nowhere…

Like my crying…

At 1.13am on Friday 15th February, after a very bad twenty-four hours. I sent this tweet:

One of the most embarrassing aspects of my current dip is random, uncontrollable crying. So, I'd just like to say if you're a man (or anyone) it's okay to do this. Don't be embarrassed. My trigger is emotional saturation. But whatever yours is; It's okay... It really is okay.

It was more out of frustration and acceptance than anything else. I wasn’t really bothered about, or expecting, responses. Sometimes, as was the case then, Twitter was just a way to vent, to release the pressure.

I certainly wasn’t prepared for the number of lovely, supportive responses I received. For which I was, and still am, so grateful.

I’d struck a chord… Something clearly resonates with people…

Crying in society as a result or pain? If you’re outside, in front of people? They’ll look the other way, walk faster or cross the road… But cry at the Oscars during your politically-loaded acceptance speech? Everyone is all over you… Wow, that’s just totally the wrong way around. And says so much about the world we live in. And if I’m honest, so much of it is negative. Superficial. At arms-length. Like those fake air-kisses I’ve seen people give to each-other.

The first time I every properly cried in public was when I lived in France. It was following a painful break-up. But I deliberately went somewhere I could drink alone without being judged. And cry without being heard. So, I’d feel no shame about doing either. And I did both, for three days solid. It was emotionally brutal.

Then for the next decade I continued to do this. Cry and drink on my own. Not continually, but in chunks of weeks or sometimes months at a time. Through emotional problems, gambling addiction and repeated relationship breakdowns.

'But this crying wasn’t random, or uncontrollable. I was in pain, on my own, and knew it was going to happen.'

The first time I properly cried in public? I still vividly remember it. Even though it must’ve been sixteen years ago, maybe more. Although I can remember details well. I’m shit with dates and timescales…

I was in one of my favourite boozers. Well not now, but back then, through my teens and twenties. It was a sports bar, and a damned good one too.

At the time I was in an unhappy marriage. When I got married, I was nowhere near ready, and not emotionally mature enough. Looking back? I probably knew it. But I was so sick of feeling and looking like, a total failure… I wanted to prove I could be a success – to show people I could do something properly.

It was lunchtime - me and one of my best mates were watching the game and playing pool. We’d had the first couple of pints of the day… We started talking, and I just went. God knows how many months or years of pent up emotion that was. All I know is that I was in floods - pool cue in one hand, pint in the other. My mate was brilliant. Didn’t bat an eye-lid. He just talked to me.

I think I shocked large parts of the rest of the pub into silence. There stood a bloke, a big bloke. Twenty stones at the time, six foot two. Unshaved and wearing a Liverpool shirt…


But this crying wasn’t random, or uncontrollable. I was in pain, on my own, and knew it was going to happen.

I remember thinking that I didn’t give a shit. Although I was so embarrassed and ashamed; I could not stop. It took me a few minutes, and most of a pint to calm down and stop. And then we talked. Well, my mate listened while I talked, then attempted to offer me advice. It was all I could have asked from him, and so much more.

But I’m not special - we’ve all been through pain and loss. And some of us also physical and mental illness and addictions. The full spectrum of life’s negatives. And we’ve cried enough to fill swimming pools. But we’ve been ready, we’ve been in (relative) control. And we know that even when the pain is horrendous, having just the smallest amount of control over your emotions, or anything, makes a massive difference.

But for me, four years ago. Things changed… I changed...

I lost control…

I’ve mentioned about my breakdown in other writing. But never this aspect. Maybe because I was ashamed? Maybe I didn’t think it was important? Maybe I thought nobody cared?

'Crying should be seen as a sign of strength'

All I know is the fundamental nature of my crying changed. Suddenly, I became ultra-sensitive and hyper-emotional. And went through long periods where I’d cry every day. If I started at home, I’d just nip into the toilet, and say to my wife I’d been caught short. At work, if I felt a tear rolling down my cheek, I’d just make a controlled, fast walk to the toilet. Rubbing my eyes as I went, to indicate I had something in my eyes. At my desk, I’d just look down so nobody would be able to see what was happening… But it was spontaneous, for no apparent reason.

At home, at work, socially… So much shame. It’s just not seen as acceptable for us to cry, especially in public, and definitely-not in front of other men.

It’s 2019, and this must change. We have no choice but to try and do this together. How can people be well, and be able to function, if they feel unable to express one of the most basic human emotions and expressions?

Crying should not be frowned upon. Crying should not make other people uncomfortable. Crying should not be viewed as a sign of weakness. Crying should not be seen as a sign of vulnerability. Crying should not make people feel ashamed. Crying should not make people feel embarrassed.

Crying should be seen as a sign of strength

Crying should be met with acceptance

Crying should be met with happiness

That last sentence… It might sound strange. But it makes perfect sense. If someone is upset and cries in front of us. Whether they’re in control of it or not; they feel comfortable sharing their pain and feelings with us. And don’t feel they have to bottle things up. This also means that by talking about it, we can listen and try to help. And that, should make us happy - that someone is no longer suffering in silence. That we can just be there for them.

Now imagine if you are that person. How long have you felt ashamed? How long have you bottled things up? How long have you wrestled with life in silence, on your own? How long have you just randomly and uncontrollably cried? And how good does it finally feel to cry? To release the pressure? To share? To get things out in the open? Well from experience; I can tell you how I’ve smiled through tears, just out of pure relief.

Crying should be met with happiness

Now here’s the bigger picture. Trying to remove the connotations and associations of guilt, weakness and shame from crying. To try and start building an affirmation of positivity around crying. To promote its benefits; and understand why it’s both right, and necessary, to do it.

Now is the time. Suffering and shame must stop.

Don't be embarrassed. My trigger is emotional saturation. But whatever yours is; It's okay...

It really is okay.

Author's Bio


Stephen Gillatt is the author of Mad, sad, dysfunctional dad. A memoir about fatherhood and mental health due to be published in March. It will be available in bookshops, on Amazon, and via For writing or other enquiries he can be contacted via email or you can connect with Stephen on Twitter

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