Several years ago, I was sitting in a family therapy session with my teenage daughter.
The therapist was pushing her to open up and show some semblance of emotion, to tell us or show us how she felt.
My daughter had been to hell and back in the months prior, fighting persistent demons that seldom gave her a respite. She looked at the therapist straight in her eyes, and said the words that, unbeknownst to me, would forever change my life:
“I can’t cry. I don’t cry. My mom never cries, so I don’t cry.”
I sat in silence as I struggled to come to terms with the reality of what my daughter had said. I was completely caught off guard. I questioned how I could have messed this up so badly. I had always thought that by not crying and not showing my daughter any emotions, that I would somehow teach her to be strong.
I believed that she would never have any reason to worry if I pretended that everything was okay, at all costs. I believed that not crying was my superpower, and eventually it became my identity. I was the girl who was “strong” despite what life threw at me.
I grew up in a very dysfunctional household. I learned at a young age that crying was useless, it did not help me get my needs met. I learned that the only person I could count on was myself, and, because of that, I would need to be strong. And strong women don’t cry, right?
Wrong. I was so wrong.
Something beautiful happened in the years that followed that session. I began to realize how beautiful crying was. I began to see how truly therapeutic it was. I started paying attention to parts of me that I had repressed for so long. I started listening to my pain and trying to understand it and then releasing it, through my tears.
Every tear was personified in my mind, every tear was a little piece of my pain that I was finally feeling and saying goodbye to as it rolled down my cheek. I began to feel lighter, I began to feel free.
I learned that by being “strong” and not crying, I was a prisoner to my own pain. My pain held me captive, threatening to expose me, time and time again.
But I had turned the tables; I was now in control.
Each crying session felt like hundreds of dollars worth of therapy. Each session felt like an invitation to get to know myself better. I no longer felt afraid to cry. I welcomed the tears, I even hoped for them.
Suddenly, my superpower became that I was no longer afraid to cry. I could dig up these painful memories without fear, work through them, and then release them. I realized that the real strength was in the messy moments when I found myself sobbing on the shower floor, excavating parts of myself that I had buried for so long.
There is plenty of research floating around that suggests that crying is beneficial to maintaining mental health. In Japan, they have started “crying clubs” in some cities, called rui-katsu, which translates to “tear seeking” and is a method to relieve stress through crying.
While I don’t personally have any science to back up my own personal journey in “tear seeking,” I can say without hesitation that my tears have been the greatest gift and that without them, I would have never truly known who I am or what I am capable of.
Without my tears, I would have never understood the true meaning of strength.
I guess Fergie was wrong—big girls do, in fact, cry.