- Tears help you express feelings and manage pain, but they also protect and lubricate your eyes.
- Difficulty crying may relate to medication, attachment style, or mental or physical health concerns.
- To get more comfortable crying, try talking to a therapist to practice expressing your emotions.
Crying is a natural response to emotion and pain — but it's also a necessary function. Tears contain antibodies to help fight potential eye infections and bacteria, but they also:
- Protect your eyes from potential allergens like dust and pollen
- Remove toxins and irritants like smoke and onion fumes
- Provide essential lubrication and nutrients to your eyes
- Help you regulate pain and communicate emotions
- Prompt endorphin release in the brain to ease pain and emotional distress
However, one 2017 study of 2,000 households found that 8.6% of men and 6.5% of women couldn't cry at all — and some experts believe not crying stresses both the mind and body.
"In my experience, clients who can't cry also experience physical symptoms like chronic muscle tension, fatigue, insomnia, headaches, and digestive issues," says Connie Habash, a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice.
Below, you'll find 10 reasons why you can't cry, plus what you can do to get those tears flowing.
Your tear glands begin to function less effectively as you age, so you might have trouble crying because your body has a harder time creating tears. Many people over 65, particularly women, struggle with tear production.
Other signs of a tear gland issue related to aging include:
- A gritty sensation in your eyes
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
How to treat it: An optometrist can provide a comprehensive eye exam and might recommend artificial tears, over-the-counter eye drops, or prescription drops to help keep your eyes lubricated.
Some medications cause trouble with tear production. You may notice this side effect listed on the medication's label as "dry eye."
Medications that might be responsible include:
- Allergy medications, like antihistamines and decongestants
- Medication for depression or anxiety, like SSRIs
- High blood pressure medication, like beta-blockers
- Hormone replacement therapy for menopause
- Hormonal birth control, like the pill
- Prescription acne medication such as retinoids and antibiotics
How to treat it: Depending on symptom severity, your doctor might recommend trying eye drops or different medications that don't cause this side effect.
3. Attachment style
If you have a dismissive, aka avoidant, attachment style, you might have a harder time crying than people with other attachment styles.
According to 2012 research, avoidantly attached people cried less and were more likely to suppress their emotions than people with other attachment styles.
This type of suppression may cause more pain in the long run.
"If you suppress or don't allow emotional release through crying, you're more likely to feel sad, hopeless, or isolate yourself completely," says Dr. Nereida Gonzalez-Berrios, a psychiatrist in private practice.
How to treat it: A therapist can help you explore your beliefs around crying while helping you develop skills to cope with uncomfortable feelings. Talking with a trusted friend about how you feel can also make a difference.
The term melancholia, also called melancholic depression, is a mental health condition that causes feelings of emotional numbness.
Other symptoms of melancholic depression include:
- Difficulty feeling pleasure or joy
- A low or depressed mood, especially in the morning
- Waking up earlier than intended
- Losing weight without trying
- Overwhelming feelings of guilt
- Lack of mood reactivity, which means your mood doesn't lift when something good happens
If your emotions feel dulled or numbed, you'll have a harder time shedding tears. "Many people with mood disorders struggle to cry because of this emotional blunting," Gonzalez-Berrios says.
How to treat it: The right therapist or psychologist can diagnose mental health reasons for difficulty crying and recommend treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy or mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.
Anhedonia is the reduced ability to enjoy things you once loved, like spending time with friends, playing sports, or enjoying hobbies. This foundational symptom of major depressive disorder can make it tough to feel any pleasure at all.
Anhedonia can also affect your ability to cry: According to a 2011 survey of 1,050 people with anhedonic depression, one in five people couldn't cry.
How to treat it: If you have symptoms of depression, connecting with a therapist is a good next step.
Talking about your experience with a trusted friend can also have benefits — even if you have a hard time sharing your feelings.
Your support system can offer compassion and validation, plus help you challenge potential feelings of worthlessness or low self-esteem.
If you have schizophrenia, a serious mental health condition that affects your perception of reality, you could have trouble crying due to an impaired ability to express emotions.
Unlike melancholia, schizophrenia doesn't necessarily leave you feeling numb. You can still feel emotions deeply — you may just have fewer visible displays of those emotions.
The main symptoms of schizophrenia include:
3. Derailed or incoherent speech
4. Catatonic behavior, which can look like grimacing, staring, or sitting in a seemingly uncomfortable position for long periods of time, regardless of how you're feeling physically or emotionally
5. Flat or blunted affect, which others may say look like an emotionally neutral or unexpressive face or tone of voice, despite how you're feeling emotionally
6. Difficulty with work, school, relationships, or self-care
How to treat it: A therapist or psychologist can diagnose schizophrenia and suggest treatment options like antipsychotic medication, individual therapy, or social skills training.
6. Sjögren's syndrome
With this autoimmune condition, your body attacks its healthy tissues, particularly those affecting your eyes and saliva. This makes it harder for your eyes to produce tears.
Symptoms of Sjögren's syndrome include:
- Dry eyes that may feel itchy or gritty
- Dry mouth
- Trouble chewing or swallowing from lack of saliva
- Joint pain
How to treat it: Prescription eye drops can help treat dry eyes associated with this condition.
Your doctor might also recommend medications like pilocarpine or cevimeline to increase your body's production of tears and saliva.
Diabetes (types 1 and 2) is one of the most common causes of dry eyes, which can make it harder to cry. As many as 54% of people with diabetes have trouble producing tears.
Other signs of diabetes include:
- Frequent or excessive thirst or hunger
- Vision changes, like blurred or double vision
- Losing weight without trying
- Numbness or tingling in your hands and feet
- Dry skin
- Slowly healing sores
- Frequent need to urinate, especially before bed
How to treat it: Different types of diabetes involve different treatments, but lifestyle adjustments like monitoring your blood sugar and eating a balanced diet may help improve your symptoms. Your clinician might also recommend insulin injections or a pancreas transplant.
9. Environmental issues
You may have a harder time crying if you live in a dry, which can dry out your eyes so you can't cry. Allergies to pollen or dust, along with the medications used to treat them, can also leave your eyes dry.
Staring at a phone or laptop screen too long and forgetting to blink can also cause dry eyes and limit your ability to shed tears.
How to treat it: While antihistamines can improve allergies, you might want to talk to your doctor about whether your dry eyes relate to allergies — or your current allergy medication. If it's the latter or staring at screens, over-the-counter eye drops can help alleviate symptoms.
10. Cultural factors
"There can be a cultural stigma associated with crying, especially in a society where it's seen as a sign of weakness," Gonzalez-Berrios says.
One 2017 study found that crying people were perceived as warmer and more agreeable — but also as less competent. In some cases, then, you might end up suppressing your tears to avoid being perceived as helpless by others.
Habash says you could find yourself unable to cry when you don't have a safe space to explore your feelings, especially if you live in a culture or household that tends to frown on crying.
For instance, some cultures believe crying is inherently feminine. But gendered stereotypes like these often result in adults telling boys not to cry, which can make it harder for them to feel comfortable shedding tears as adults.
How to treat it: Habash says if you're worried about someone else hearing your cry, finding a safe and secure place to let your feelings out can help. This might be a therapist's office or even your car — anywhere you can spend some time alone.
Crying plays a key role in physical and emotional health, so bottling up your tears could lead to physical symptoms, not to mention a pattern of numbness and suppression.
If over-the-counter eye drops don't make it any easier to cry, talking to your doctor or a therapist could be a good next step toward determining why you can't cry and getting the right treatment.
"One of the reasons that people don't allow themselves to cry is the belief that if they start crying, they'll never stop. It's important to understand there's help available and that emotions can move through and out of you if you allow them to be felt," Habash says.