Holding Back the Tears
"I sometimes feel we have linked crying to being a weakness, and holding back the tears demonstrates strength, particularly for males. I hear it quite a lot when people say, “I need to be the strong one”, “I need to show strength here"
Dear Little Owl,
Nearly 2 months have passed now. I am the youngest child and the youngest of 13 cousins - you were also the youngest of 5 children. Although I have the precarious position of unlucky 13 I am sure some people would argue there are perks of being the youngest. That said I earned the unfortunate reputation of being the “squinny” which as you always reminded me was “the cry baby”. In fact any picture before the age 8 is hard proof of this. Much of this I put down to my Dan (number 12) and cousin Rob (number 10) who growing up used me as some kind of real life Action Man that they could throw into any situation before attempting it themselves, whether this was testing their latest judo moves, spinning me around a broom stick whilst I held onto my ankles or putting me in goal and kicking the ball as hard as they could. We you aware of this? If you ask them though they would say it was to toughen me up and help me become more resilient in preparation for what life has to throw at me.
My ability to switch on the water works seems to have followed me passed the age of 8 though, when I graduated from college I muddled my way through I thank you speech in front of you and a packed theatre, during my wedding I didn’t make it past Amy walking down the aisle let alone make it through my speech at dinner, so I have some form. So why is this important to me, well believe it of not I don’t consider myself emotionally unstable, just human. When I feel connected to something I just let go, I can’t help it, even more so since I’ve had children.
I remember a few years ago someone very close in Amy's family passed away in her early 40’s and I became curious as to why we cry and thanks again with my side kick Google I started to explore. I have an opinion on the emotional release, but crying? What’s the point? Why can’t we just choose when to cry, maybe in private? Why does it have to be such an externally, obvious thing? There in might lie my answer. It appears that thanks to Darwin we believe nothing that happens to us humans happens purely by chance. I found some interesting articles that said crying could be the physical sign to show others we are in need of a bit of help. A sign showing we’re going through a rough patch and might need some form of support, someone to listen, someone to care. So why do we try to stop it? Even when we see others cry it can be really uncomfortable and we do what we can to try to stop it or take it away from them. We try to cover up something that needs addressing. I sometimes feel we have linked crying to being a weakness, and holding back the tears demonstrates strength, particularly for males. I hear it quite a lot when people say, “I need to be the strong one”, “I need to show strength here”.
If you shake the bottle it needs to be opened at some point
Everyone deals with grief differently and I have been so lucky that the people around me let me cry and didn’t judge or try to stop me. They didn’t try to take it away from me, they didn’t try to ignore it, they didn’t try to make light of it or try and change the subject. They acknowledged it, they empathised as best they could, they provided a place where it was ok and acceptable. Something so small yet so difficult to do when it stares you in the face, again I feel males struggle with this more. Being able to cry without fear of judgement is such an important part of this journey and yet so difficult to master. If you shake the bottle it needs to be opened at some point. Holding it back only made it worse for me.
In the early days it was strange what triggered this response too, someone giving me a sympathy card, watching Ivy in her ballet class, someone touching or hugging me with complete compassion. I soon realised though it was important for me not too keep tightening the bottle and try to suppress it, it was all part of accepting what had happened. It always amazed me that after a few seconds of crying I felt like I’d let something go and could take another step forward. Even if my crying triggered someone else after a few seconds when it passed for me, I’d look at them and think, “wow I’m ok but they are really upset”.
I feel that being strong doesn’t have to mean putting on your best poker face and tightening the bottle, it doesn’t have to mean that crying is a sign of weakness. Sooner or later the bottle will pop, our body’s are pretty smart machines and going against something that is so hard wired in us isn’t helpful. Maybe number 13 isn’t unlucky at all, maybe being the youngest gives me the freedom to open the water works, maybe my past track record makes it easier and more acceptable for me, and just maybe my resilience training from Dan and Rob has paid off.
I cried myself through the early parts of this journey and there will be some days ahead when it will hit me again. For me it’s not about how much resistance you put up, or how heavy an emotional load you can carry. Sometimes you need to know when to drop the load to progress. In fact it takes strength to look at your pain face on and say, “it’s time to move on”. And anyone who has faced the pain of loss is a superhero in my eyes! Even Action Men can cry! x
Take care, speak again soon, miss you,