I have a friend who says he can’t cry — are there medical conditions that stop people from crying?

- asks Rose Kelly

April 16, 2007

From a badly stubbed toe to teenage angst, there are many instances that make people cry. Yet for some – no matter how charged the situation – shedding tears is impossible.

Strong emotions cause our brains to release chemicals that indirectly lead to teary eyes. A flow of tears not only shoots up the level of endorphins, natural chemicals within the body, providing a sense of well-being and relieving stress, but also they release toxins — making us healthier, according to Dr. William Frey II, a neurologist at the University of Minnesota.

Since the physical act of crying is rooted in the psychological, depression – usually a disease associated with tears – can prevent them. According to a review article published this year in the journal Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, severe cases of depression flatten emotions, leaving a person without the trigger that starts the crying circuit. Max Hamilton, who created a depression scale in 1960, commented in a 1967 paper that severely depressed patients “go beyond weeping” and settle into a cry-proof state.

The battle against depression can itself snatch away the urge to let it out. In a 2002 study, Adam Opbroek discovered that many patients with sexual dysfunction associated with prescribed anti-depressants also experienced a “diminution in emotional responsiveness.” Medication intended to reduce a sense of sadness, Opbroek found, did so but at the cost of “emotional blunting,” or the same flattening of emotion felt by some depressed patients.

Aside from a numbing form of depression, the inability to cry may be caused by a rare affliction called Familial Dysautonomia (FD), or Riley-Day Syndrome. While someone with FD experiences emotions like anyone else, they’re born without the reflex necessary to produce tears: crying becomes a dry display, according to the foundation’s website.

The inability to feel physical pain is another genetic anomaly that can make a person less likely to cry. With an underdeveloped system of nerves for sensing injury, people with Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis (CIPA) have a pain threshold high enough to make a bike accident feel more like a pillow fight, and so tears flow less often.

Crying is a uniquely human trait. The situations that make us cry are often the ones we remember most. It shows we are sensitive to things we encounter in our lives and, in that way, it is important for survival. Spilling tears is something we all need to stay healthy.

About the Author



Just A Guy says:

Hello Stephanie.
Super sorry the respond too late. I hope you won’t need this anymore and wish the problem solved. But if you are, I’m here !!!! So listen to this a while.
Here’s my real experience. So I will never ever give solution base on “ideal” theories.
First, don’t force yourself to cry instantly. I tried. For whole 1 months now. Every single day. Zero. A big big zero. You just need to believe someday, I can’t predict the day, but someday, my friend. The word might be sound cheesy. But someday, I promise you. Always believe somebody still there for you.
Second, like drugs and medicine law. Even the best medicine there is, can’t heal everybody in this world. So, you need to find the right “place” and the right “people” to trust, cause your heart started to neglect every single careness around you. It’s sound dramatic. But, it can happen!! Maybe there’s only one person or place who can make you cry again. Maybe millions. We don’t know it yet.
Just never quit to live. Even you feel like walking robot.
Last, it really cut my heart so deep that you experience this for 7 months. I really wish that you don’t need this anymore. See!!! Imagine that. Even a stranger who never talk and see you like me, care for you!!! Just never quit to live. I only experience that for a month, and it is very scary. So, take care , my friend

Yvette Parsons says:

I think I may have melancholy depression. I haven’t been able to sob or cry effectively for 5 years. I try to invoke emotion through drinking wine. This helps bring on some tears but it is induced by a substance and doesn t feel real. My father died 5 years ago and I never really cried or grieved properly. I feel numb.

any advice?

Aurea says:

I really wanted to cry so I will feel good inside. My heart is full of sadness bitterness and rejection. My husband cheated on me , I didn’t know about the affair until one day . Crying me feel better. But I cannot shed s test,

Ian McClellan says:

I’m extremely confused, because I can produce tears, whenever I yawn, I get super teary eyed, or when I’m watching something really happy, I cry, but not when I’m sad. When I’m sad, I’ll just sit there, face dry, and chest aching. Last night, I was given some very bad news, and I sobbed and gasped, but they were dry, no tears whatsoever. I need to know why this is, and if I can fix it, because I’ve been depressed, and it won’t go away.

James says:

I am 16 years old. I have not cried for about 4 years now. My grandma died just last year. I didn’t feel any crying even wanting to come although we were close. All I feel now are happiness, anger, or nervousness (especially around girls :J). But I was just wondering if there is anything I can do that might help me feel something. I just need some guidance.

Shelly L McGoldrick says:

I haven’t been able to cry for at least 4 years now. I shed 1 tear when I found out I had stage 4 cancer, but misty eyed is as far as it gos. When my sister died,being weeks from loosing my home to unpaid property taxes, not even ahaving my breast removed. I just didn’t see any point in crying about anything anymore. Just to be judged as feeling sorry for myself or being a baby, even just for attention. These judgement s only made me feel worse, or helpless and unloved. After a while I felt the need to cry but found I couldn’t even if I tried. A social worker threw my from the hospital following my heart failure told me it wasn’t healthy not to cry. . What started as a personal choice seems to be out of my control now. It also seems to be more unhealthy than I had ever imagined.

Patricia Boulet says:

My father couldn’t cry and I can’t either. We have never been told we had depression or any psychological problems. We both were diagnosed with Sjögren’s syndrome. I hardly have any saliva either. During a sad time, I have the ugly crying face but not one tear. When my daughter passed away, my right eye got a thick feeling but no tear. The next day, the corner of my eye looked like it had been burned. I’m 70 and my dad passed away at 93. I hope this helps someone understand about this condition. People who can’t cry because of Sjogren’s Syndrome are not heartless. Just can’t cry.

anwar zeb says:

last month my father died. i did all the funeral and burial activities. i was very closed to him too. but not a single tear dropout of my eyes. i am very good mentally. but i am very sad about my this condition

Wanda Atkison says:

I cannot remember the last time I shed tears. It is horrible and the older I get the worse it hurts. I would like to know is there a medicine I could take.

Manuel Correia says:

I also feel sad that I also know someone who does not cry. I think it might be a condition also prone to be depression. However, this person has other behaviour disfunctions too, is a workaholic and it seems the value of any human being to her is very low including family members!

Bonnie Cutts says:

I’ve got multiple ailments and have lived with depression for most of my life. But I used to be able to cry at the drop of a hat. But when my niece died at the age of 5 months to the exact day back in 1984 my family all broke down in weeping and sorrow. Except for me. I buried it holding it in As some one needed to keep the businesses running. it wasn’t something I planned but just did. By the time they all were over it and could return it was about 2 weeks. By then I couldn’t do it. Then only once a few years later I had a brief shedding of tears. But it dried up again. That was until my father died. I was so close to him. A daddy’s girl. I had a very close bond because we both held health issues. Because of a doctor’s mistake his life was cut short, He died 2 weeks before his 56th birthday. I cried for weeks after that. Till i couldn’t do it again That was back in 1997. When my mother got sick and was dying I was there hold her like she held me when I was sick as a child. While siblings did some underhanded scheming to throw me away and steal everything. They told me I hated her because I couldn’t cry when she died. BUT I was rocking her in my arms/ holding onto her singing and stroking her hair like a mother does for her young children.I talked to her a lot and told her it was alright to let go and rest. So when she took her last breath in my arms it was a sweet kind of relief. It didn’t mean I didn’t love her any less or would pray for her to live longer knowing she was suffering from radical lung cancer. Only lung transplants would of saved her..So since 1997 that emotional release for crying is not in me but i release them through my poetry and stories.

Robin TOURNU says:

Hello friendly helpers.
My name is Robin and I am 17. I used to have many problems in my life, with my family, my social relationship with the others, some “psychological disorders” that I’m trying my best to fight, and of course the hormonal disorder of puberty.
I’ve been a great crying child, during all my life. But near 15 years old, I started to fight all my problems, try to make things better about the others and myself. Of course, I can’t cure everything. But I think that I’m on the way…
Since I started to make things right, I need sometimes to cry. But (it’s a problem that happened really recently, like several months), I realized that I couldn’t cry. Sometimes, my minds are just blowing up in my head, I’ve got emotional shock, sadness because of problems … And I remember how crying made me feel really better, before… But I can try to stimulate in every way (confront the problems, sad music or remembrance), the tears and the feelings just won’t go out. I feel sometimes that pain that needs to go out, but it just won’t …
I thought that it might be because my life problems keep increasing, and I don’t know how to face them all and so I can’t express myself by crying, or something like this. Does somebody have an advice for me ? I would be really grateful for that.
(I’m sorry if I made writing mistakes, I’m french and I’m still learning).

Gina says:

I have not been able to cry since my child left home. She was a Very difficult child to raise and my husband chose to be her friend instead of her father. When I grounded her he would let her do what she wanted , saying “well, she was good the last two days”. I never cried so hard or so much. Since I told her she must leave home if she could not abide for rules we set out for her at 17 , I have not been able to cry. I was so frustrated when she’d stay out all night or go with older friends for days… was just very hard.

Sophie says:

hi! my name is sophie. i’m 18 and i can’t cry for serious things. i only cry for stupid things like when i get frustrated about school or for a movie, but in this cases it’s just a few tears. When i was 12 my best friend pass away from cancer and i didn’t cry. It’s so frustrating, i want to cry because i’m feeling sad but i just can’t do it!. Also, sometimes it’s very difficult to me to know how im feeling, like i can’t differentiate the feelings.
(srry if i wrote something wrong. english is not my first language.)

Freda Tribble says:

I seem to somehow block my emotions so I don’t cry. This is not something I control. I cried some at my sons funeral service. I get emotion almost everyday without shedding a tear. I can tell when I am falling into a depressed mood. But tears are not part of it. I want to but I don’t. I don’t force it or struggle not to. Do I need to see a doctor?

Barbara says:

This is the worst most horrible symptom I have. I cannot cry at all. The worst thing in the world could happen and I wouldn’t be able to cry. I remember when I used to sob during movies . Now I can’t. Not a wet spot. Not slightly. Not at all. I would cry about it but I can’t.

Nagesh setti says:

Hi , I had a problem from the past 8 years. I didn’t get tears almost 8 years. I had lot of family problems from my childhood onwards. Due to my personal reasons I left my girl friend 8 years back, on that I cried a lot, after that I got bit of tears for few days and it stopped one day. It’s been 15 years that I smiled. I am having deep pain inside my heart. Lot of worse incidents happened in the five years, every time I want to cry the tears won’t come. I don’t understand what to do. Every day I feel like I lost my life. If there is any solution please help me. iwant my tears back.

Chris says:

I haven’t cried for over 20 years. My x partner used to say I had no emotions and she’s part right I just don’t feel like I see others I have been through a lot throughout my life. Even when friends and family did I do not feel anything. I just feel like I’m a zombie

Diana Kash says:

Thank you to Patricia Boulet who finally brought up Sjogren’s, an autoimmune disease that affects the tear ducts. Hundreds of thousands of people have this condition and yet no one brings it up when discussing the inability to cry. I feel like people are looking at me at funerals and thinking “what is wrong with her that she isn’t crying.” I physically cannot produce tears and yet grief and sadness leave me aching and bereft. I’ve never found anyone who shares this problem.

Kayden says:

I am unable to cry. I want to when I’m sad and feel like i will, but then I just dont. My eyes can tear up, but I can never actually cry. I want to know some reasons why I cant.

Rahul Dhawan says:

I have inability to cry please please some one help me what treatment is best for me .

Mikela says:

I was always a sensetive kid growing up, I always used to cry. I still cry at sad movies or bad news but I can’t cry from pain. I’ve tried to cry but nothing comes out of my eyes, no matter how hard I try.

V.W. says:

I want this message to reach those that struggle with this. I’m someone who was unable to cry since the age of 6 (I’m 21 as of now). I experienced childhood trauma, got shamed for crying because of said trauma, which led to me bottling up my problems and my tears, not letting any spill. I developed a severe case of depression, and by the time I realised it, I was already unable to help myself and cry. No matter how hard I tried, no matter how much I wanted to, I couldn’t.

It’s a terrible, dooming feeling, you feel so helpless and desperate, so I can understand you if you feel that. But it can be better. I re-learned to cry. And I’m sure you can too.

What helped me was seeking help. I sought out help when I first thought about ending it all, and that was probably the best decision I’ve ever made. With the help of my therapist, I was able to dig deep. Turns out I buried all my hurt, my emotions and my problems so deep, I couldn’t find them on my own. My therapist helped me find them. She helped me discover them step by step. And the more I found out – about myself, about the things that hurt me, all the sadness and anger I felt, the more I was able to cry. I have to resort to imagery – it was literally like digging up an ancient vase that has been broken to pieces. With each fragment I discovered, with each fragment I could place properly, the more I was able to cry. And then one day I was able to shed a single tear. I got so happy from it that I immediately stopped being sad, and I couldn’t cry more. And let me tell you – that feeling, that hope you experience in that moment makes all the sessions worth it. It wasn’t easy after that either, but it was uphill from there. I still can’t cry properly, but it gets the job done, and I can’t wait for the day I’ll be able to really cry – as strange as that sounds. But I’m sure you understand if you also struggle with this.

In the end, the reason why I couldn’t cry was because I didn’t face my emotions. Facing them would mean facing my trauma. My brain, in an attempt to protect me, forbid me from facing my trauma, therefore forbidding me to cry. But once I actually faced my issues and started working on them, there was no longer a reason for me not to cry. I could do it because I had someone, who spent her life learning this, hold my hand a guide me through the whole thing.

So please, please – seek professional help. And don’t settle with the first therapist you meet – only settle with the best, who you feel really cares about your issues and really wants to help you. They’re out there; you just have to find them. Please, put in all the effort needed to find them. It’s so worth it.

Athena says:

hi I’m Athena I’m 12 years old, It’s been a months ago and I want to cry but I can’t it’s like there’s a wall or something that preventing my tears to fall down even there’s a time that everyone is crying but I was only the one who isn’t and sometimes I prefer to be alone and always in the dark coz it’s my comfort zone. I just want to know if it is normal or what thankyou.

gggg says:

try to cut onion then you will get tears

Patricia Silver says:

This is the 2nd time in my life that I cannot cry. I feel all the sadness inside me and feel like I am going to cry, but I just can’t. I can’t remember how long this time. One other time I couldn’t cry for years, and them I saw the name of my old counselor online and burst out crying. What a relief. My friend had a number of strokes last year, and It was very traumatizing to me, and still is. I think that I hadn’t cried then, so it must be maybe 2 yrs. now.
I think it makes me feel sick, and desperate that I can’t cry. I think that other people see me being “flat” emotion wise and think that I have no heart. I need help. I have a counselor who seems like this is new to her.

Gloria says:

I read all the comments, some mentioned psychological issues, others childhood traumas, others depression…..well I don’t agree, this is why. My husband of 35 yrs can’t cry, our son when he was a baby can cry tears either, not life traumas, or depression for the baby or my husband…
They just have no tears ever…. It’s just the way they are.
Sometimes there are things in life we have to accept: not everything needs therapy, medication, not everything is the result of trauma. My husband and my son ,he’s now 25 don’t focus their lives on their inability to create tears. They’re just people with differences living the best way they can. It took me a lifetime to realize everyone has differences, honestly everyone!!! We are all imperfect in some way.
That doesn’t mean you’re defective.
Only because there are no tears in your eyes or my son’s eyes doesn’t mean he can’t love, laugh and have fun. There are things in life we have to accept.
We’re blessed with so many other body functions like using the bathroom, chew, walk, think, talk…..tears yes it would be nice, but there are things in life we have to accept as they come.
We all struggle with something. Don’t give all your power to be a happy, productive
a beautiful human to the lack of tears, you’re more than tears.

Curtis Francisco says:

So…. does this mean I’m depressed? I don’t really feel depressed, but I can see why I might be… idk….

Patricia Silver says:

April 2021, I thought maybe this was a neurological condition. I had an appt. with my neurologist today and asked him, and he said no it was not. He told me that if it was it would be continual not years without and then on, etc. I feel desperate about this. I really need to find a way to cry…

anon - female 50's says:

I stopped crying between deaths, dog dying.menopause, then combo of “fires” evacuations,being on “high alert for months’ into 2 yrs.
temper is increased. my nervous system said STOP!!! I think its ok for people, as long as you have good relations,work is good,overall health is fine. I have higher blood pressure, so i need to allow all feelings a place to be heard. right now..i am enjoying gym punching bags,and being assertive..its new chapter..

Alex says:

For those of you that just started feeling this way at least a bit get help as quickly as possible. Because if you don’t well forget about living, the best way to describe this to someone that’s begging to experience it, is well like a void, nothing is all there is and will always be, nothing to look forward to, nothing to enjoy, nothing to wake up for, nothing to keep driving you forward, just nothing. After a while you get more open to the idea of suicide that killing yourself is the only thing there actually is

Sherrie Sorrells says:

I haven’t cried or had sex in over 6 years, could these somehow be related. I feel empathy and compassion but I never show those emotions thru crying. I do take an antidepressant and
Have for about 10 years. I use to cry about the least little thing but not anymore.

Christine says:

I haven’t cried in 3 years and I don’t even feel the urge to cry I’m very sad and depressed, all I want to do is sleep , I have no appetite and I take 2 antidepressants but I just want to cry I used to cry easily and over the littlest thing but I can’t even shed a tear

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


The Scienceline Newsletter

Sign up for regular updates.