I don’t know what’s harder: crying alone or crying around those dismissive of this “weak” behavior.
I’ve done a lot of both over the past years, and I can tell you, they are distinctly different. As anecdotal evidence mounts, I would say that crying alone is simpler because when we are crying around people dismissive of tears, we are at once in pain and fighting yet another battle against judgements and emotional suppression when we are already so vulnerable.
I speak for the crier that I often am, that what is most needed is a hug/comfort, validation of pain, and a reassurance that things will be okay. Somehow, these three things are difficult to come by, particularly among family members, who are more likely to diminish and dismiss than to affirm us where we are, be attentive to our vulnerabilities, or ask deep questions.
What is most often received are statements like, “It’s not so bad,” “Things could be worse,” “It was much harder in my days, you’re already so lucky.” And questions like, “Why are you crying again?,” “Why are you always so emotional?,” “Haven’t I done enough?” And demands such as, “Stop crying already,” or, “Grow up already.”
I will be the first to say that since entering the workforce at age 14 with multiple side jobs and school full-time, I grew up way too quickly way too soon. In a household that shunned crying, I didn’t do much of it, and I, too, found it off-putting and weak.
Not crying didn’t make me the strong person I appeared to be. It made me an incomplete person, where the emotions that had been suppressed from not crying ended up becoming something else, most often anger, sharpness, impatience, and a certain degree of volatility, all of which, when expressed, are often misplaced, so things only get worse.
Not crying made me an emotionally vacuous person who felt strongly but couldn’t place her emotions. I was numbing myself so much; I couldn’t tell you what I really felt. Not crying made me dissociate—a mechanism that surely would develop if the emotional tracks can’t end up in the land of tears. Over the years, this dissociative behavior became stronger, and those who were close enough to be aware of it took advantage of and abused this trait.
Dissociative people can be dangerous people or the perfect prey because dissociation stops, negates, and often reverses most rational thinking and projections of where emotions could go. Do you want to know who else is dissociative? Ted Bundy. That thought terrifies me. The more I read about psychology, the more thankful I was that I stopped dissociating because of how terrifying the outcomes of life could be. But still, I paid a heavy price for being the other. There seems to be no way around the feelings that we feel. Suppression doesn’t really remove anything. We always end up paying somehow.
If I could do over the decade that was my 18-28th years, I would, and I would cry more.
Judging and suppressing tears are universal in almost every culture, yet it’s the first natural thing we do upon entering this world. It’s how we get our first breath.
Today, in a world that seems to be more attuned to the importance of our breathing and breathwork, we still shun crying and turn to vices and distractions as our mental health crisis grows to be larger than ever before.
Crying is but a symptom of something deeper going on. Suppressing the crying does nothing to address what’s at the root of things. And when we don’t look at, listen to, or care for the roots, things will grow in other ways—emotional energy is a powerful energy, and as with all energy, it cannot be created or destroyed, only transferred and transformed. So what will suppressed tears transfer onto and transform into?
Perhaps if we were allowed to cry, then the pain wouldn’t have warped into other more damaging emotions and behavior. I dare think that crying more when we need to and when the emotions need a release is the key to a more balanced, healthy, and emotional life.
And for those around us—we get it. It’s hard watching someone cry. But just because it’s hard to watch, that’s on you, not on us. Let me phrase it this way: to ask someone in pain to stop expressing their pain, only to ease our own discomfort? Does that sound healthy?
Our bodies do incredible, miraculous things around the clock, and when it produces tears, it’s not an accident. So who are we to use our judgement to suppress something that is so natural? Who are we to say, “Hey, I know better than your own body who is producing tears right now, so stop it.” Yes, tears are messy, emotions are a lot to deal with, and most of us are ill-equipped to advise someone in deep pain. But it’s not about us and, fortunately, the things we most need to make things better don’t require much training: comfort, validation, and assurance that things will be okay.
If you’ve made it thus far, thank you for staying with me. And if you need to cry, do it. Let out what your body has deemed to not belong in your body anymore. We go through so much in life, the last thing we need is to have others’ biases and judgements misalign what is naturally happening within us.
If it’s toxic, let it out, because if it doesn’t get released in the form of tears, the alternative is more damaging. I’ve been there.