When Men Cry

I now understand that crying is nothing to be ashamed of, but rather a natural part of being human. However, it was not always the case. Crying gives us an opportunity to process difficult emotions and emerge stronger than before. When we allow ourselves to freely express our feelings, we become kinder and more compassionate both towards others and ourselves. #InLakech


Dr. Bryan Rojas-Araúz


We live in an era where men are expected to be tough, indifferent, and emotionally numb. But with sadness comes resilience, with emotions, courage. It's time to bring down the barriers that limit men from freely expressing themselves. From the classroom, field, boardroom, to the bedroom, it's time to challenge the stigma around crying as a form of weakness. To access our inner strength and humanity, we need not lock away our emotions, but rather embrace them. Men do cry - and it's time we acknowledge it without shame or judgment. It is easy for me to take this stance now; however, it was not always the case.

Society trains men not to feel. We are taught that emotions make us “less strong,” a sign of vulnerability and weakness. But the truth is, ignoring our feelings can do far more harm than good. Repressing emotions can lead to mental health issues like depression and anxiety, rendering men unable to cope with everyday issues, ask for help, or express ourselves. As a psychologist, I see this in my work every single day. Even though crying is a perfectly normal human expression and can be liberating, allowing us to process and release tension, giving us the space we need to heal, it is not something that comes naturally to many men. We have learned to mask our emotions and at times, we might believe we have lost the capacity or were never given the tools to express what we feel.

I recognize that even after becoming a mental health provider, expressing emotions was something I struggled with. I literally went to therapy for the first time to learn how to cry. The first time I entered a counseling session as a client, it was filled with an overwhelming mix of emotions. I felt apprehensive and anxious about what to expect, uncertain of how the session would unfold or how revealing my thoughts or even worse, my emotions might be. I worried I would show a complete stranger parts of me I was not ready to bear witness to myself. I went to my first counseling session after being a therapist for five years. It was ironic that I believed in my product, had seen first-hand how it could change lives, improve relationships, and heal past and present wounds, yet in my mind, it was not meant for me. Maybe it was that I didn't think my problems were bad, important, or worthy enough to take up space in a therapy session. Thinking back on it, I wish I had given myself the opportunity sooner.

When I finally decided to go, I came in with an agenda and clear plan of attack:

1. I knew I had ADHD. I had never been officially diagnosed but was a walking poster board for all the challenging and wonderful characteristics of an ADHD soul.

2. I felt like an impostor in one of the top counseling psychology programs in the United States. I was struggling to keep up with all the requirements and expectations and in some ways, it felt trivial to write papers when I knew my community was under xenophobic attacks. I felt like I needed to do more and academia just moved to slow for me. After all I was an activist before I ever was a scholar.

3. I was unable to cry even when I recognized something was breaking my heart; therefore, I felt like there was something wrong with me. I'll share more about ADHD and my academic experiences on later blogs. For this one I will focus on the latter, learning how to cry.

I remember starting counseling services and having my therapist tear up as I told them my migration and life-story. In my mind, it was the ultimate sign I had given them too much. I viewed it as a testament to my broken state; after all, even other people could cry to my story while I couldn't feel hard or long enough to shed a tear. My therapist processed with me what was going on, helped me debrief what was coming up for me, and helped me normalize and validate my experience. She also helped me understand the ways in which my inability to cry had become a defense mechanism and survival strategy. It's not an easy thing, to learn how to cry as a man, especially not when we can almost count the number of times we remember doing it in our hands.

We are taught from a young age that it is not something to be done in public, or to be taken lightly. But the truth is, tears are powerful; they are the manifestation of our inner turmoil and hidden emotions. Letting ourselves feel, however difficult, can bring us clarity and peace. However, how do we do something we were not given permission to do? As boys we were taught to be tough and resilient, discouraged from displaying vulnerability or sensitivity. This programming establishes an inflexible barrier that conceals the complexity of emotions that are what it means to be human. As a result, men often find themselves trapped in a cycle of repression, unable to fully process and express their feelings.

In my undergraduate years at San Jose State University, I help create an organization called Men Creating Change. It was an organization for men to serve as allies to others and to help with men's mental health. We had learned early on that men were only given permission to feel a limited number of emotions that were deemed acceptable in our society. The emotions were: anger, hunger, happiness (until a certain point), and sexual desire. Feeling anything else would make us less of a man. The consequences of this emotional confinement can be severe, leading to increased stress, anxiety, depression, and even suicide. It's okay to be vulnerable and open about our struggles; in fact, it's absolutely essential. Men should embrace their emotions and have the courage to be authentic in every aspect of life. However, most of us live trapped in a box that tells us what we are allowed or not allowed to feel.

In my work as a psychologist, speaker, and healer I've focused part of my practice on masculinity and men's issues in part because I never felt I could find a space that could hold that part of me. I've had other men come up to me after keynotes or workshops to accuse me of making men weaker by trying to get them to "step away from what it means to be a real man" or "taking away their power to be men in all the ways they need to" to which I have responded that having a full range of emotions only helps us be more authentic and real. Contrary to popular belief, vulnerability is not a sign of weakness but a testament to strength. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable requires immense courage, and self-awareness. By redefining masculinity to include emotional openness, we can create a more compassionate and inclusive definition of what it means to be a man. Men deserve to be seen and heard, without the burden of conforming to outdated expectations that only serve to stifle their emotional growth and ability to show up fully in their lives and relationships.

Thanks to that first counseling experience and the love and acceptance from many loved ones since, especially my wife, I have learned to embrace the softer and more gentle parts of me. I’ve learned to see the beauty in expressing emotions and sharing what I feel. It has not been and easy or a quick fix. I continue to work and grow in this area of my life and I have to commit to it for the rest of my life. I hope we can do better for the next generation of men. I hope to do better for my future kids, the kids of the people I love, and our descendants. They deserve better than we got, and we will only change this by taking an active part in changing the way things are.

A Call to Action: Empowering Men to Seek Help

It's time for society to rally together and support men in their journey towards emotional well-being. By normalizing the expression of emotions and providing accessible mental health resources, we can empower men to seek help when needed. Let us create a world where men no longer feel the need to hide their tears but, instead, find strength in embracing their emotions and supporting one another.

Finally, it is imperative that we challenge the societal expectations that force men to suppress their emotions. By dismantling the stigma and fostering emotional authenticity, we can pave the way for healthier and more fulfilling lives for men. It's time to stand together, acknowledge the power of vulnerability, and create a culture where men are free to express their emotions without shame or judgment. With that said check in on the men in your life behind being okay might be a hidden set of emotions or if you are a man struggling with your mental health please reach out to a mental health professional that can support you in your journey.

man lying on bench wearing blue denim jacket
man lying on bench wearing blue denim jacket