Home Life What Does It Mean When You Can’t Cry?

What Does It Mean When You Can’t Cry?


Being unable to cry can be a frustrating experience. Many people are worried about the opposite problem. They fear crying in front of other people and allowing their true feelings to show. In reality, it seems like the opposite problem may be just as difficult to deal with. When you are filled with emotions, you naturally want to express those feelings and enjoy a sense of relief. When you are unable to cry, it can make your life feel even more frustrating. What does it mean when I am unable to shed tears?

Most likely, this is not a sign of any major issue. While it is frustrating, it does not mean that there is anything wrong with you. Everyone processes their emotions in different ways. For example, when my father had a heart attack, I did not cry. I spent the entire day manically cleaning the entire house from top to bottom until I was so exhausted that I fell asleep on the couch. For me, processing emotions is easiest to do by using that energy and keeping my mind busy. Once I knew that he would be okay, I was finally able to cry.

Other people take time to process their emotions. If you find out that your uncle was attacked, your mind is uncertain about how to process the news at first. You were not expecting to hear this bad news, so you initially feel shock. Being unable to cry does not mean that you are not horrified, upset or sad. It only means that your mind needs a little longer to process things.

Break ups are one clear case where you can see the difference in how people process their feelings. Some people can break up and move on the next day. Weeks later, they break down in tears because they realized (too late) what they lost. It took them those few days or weeks to really accept that the person was gone and understand their own feelings. Other people immediately start crying after a break up because they process their emotions faster than average.

There is no right or wrong way to process your emotions. If you are unable to cry because you are not quite sure what you are feeling, then relax. It is completely normal. It does not mean that you care any less about your loved ones, partner or friends. Most likely, it is just a sign that you need to process things a little more. Everyone comes to terms with difficult moments in a unique way, so the way you process a tragedy might be different.

Why do I feel like crying but can't?

Depression and an Inability to Cry

This actually seems quite counter-intuitive. Everyone thinks that depression is all about seeming sad and blue all the time. While that might be the stereotype, it is often not true. For many people, depression brings a sense of numbness. It robs you of your happiness, motivation and ability to be expressive. For some individuals, this can mean that you can’t really feel sadness as clearly anymore. It’s like there is a barrier of numbness and apathy that keeps you from truly experiencing any feeling. You want to cry because you have problems at work or lost a loved one, but depression is keeping you from experiencing your emotions.

If depression is the reason that you are unable to cry, there is good news. Help is available through a therapist or a counselor. There are options you can take to change your lifestyle or medication choices to help boost your mood. If you can’t cry because of severe depression, it is important that you seek out help and work on finding the right treatment plan.

You Are Not Letting Yourself Be Sad

For some people, the bigger problem is that you are not sad enough. You logically know how devastated you feel, but you have some cognitive strategy in place that keeps you from feeling sadness completely. Some people use thinking instead of feeling, suppressing their emotions or compartmentalizing their emotions to deal with sudden, severe distress. Other people (like myself) try to distract themselves or avoid the distressing thoughts through behavioral strategies like obsessively cleaning.

It is also possible that you could be feeling more than just sadness. For example, your little brother was severely injured by dashing in front of a car. Even though you know you were not home at the time, a part of you feels guilty because you could have been home and could have helped. Because of this, the sadness you feel when you think of your brother is tinged with guilt as well. One emotion quickly becomes a trigger for another emotion.

If you are unintentionally stopping your sadness through cognitive and behavioral strategies, there are options that you can use to get more in touch with your feelings. It takes time, but journaling can help you learn how to label your feelings and their intensity. It can help you process your emotions that you know what you are feeling, why and how to process it.


  1. This! Hubby undiagnosed for 2 years with what may be MS. Haven’t seen my family in more than a year. Our elderly kitty died recently. I feel on the verge of tears and feel I need a good old fashioned ugly cry but the tears won’t come.

    I got out alone for a while today. One tear. One.

    Your blog helped me understand that the tears will come when I allow myself to feel what I’m feeling. I’ve warned hubby. Thanks.

    • I am glad that we could help you out. I personally have a problem crying until weeks after a tragedy. I think it just takes time for my mind to absorb what happens, and I go into autopilot while I immediately deal with it. Having or not having tears doesn’t mean you experience anything more or less than anyone else–and I would definitely stay aware of the fact that all of this could hit you a bit down the road. Good luck!


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