In some households, tears are taboo.
Jill is one of six children. An adult now, she recalls her father being a harsh disciplinarian “who frequently beat us.” When the beatings produced wails and tears, he shamed and belittled them, demanding that they stop. Having to endure horrid, abusive treatment was bad enough, but then they were forbidden and chastised for expressing the very pain his abusive hand produced.
Sadly, Jill and her siblings were shamed for something that is as natural as breathing—shedding tears. Emotional repression—being restricted from crying—isn’t all that unusual. Children are frequently told things like: “Stop being a baby,” “Get over it,” “Tough it out.”
The effects of having our emotions hushed are far-reaching. For example, when parents disapprove of their children’s tears or sad feelings, it’s easy for the children to assume that their emotions are wrong. Even worse, children can form a negative opinion about themselves. They can begin to believe that something is bad or unacceptable about them at their very core. Why is that? Because our emotions are part of who we are. We quite naturally conclude:
“If my emotions aren’t acceptable, then neither am I.”
This early programming has a way of clinging to us into our adult years. And so today, Jill has difficulty shedding tears. The shaming and belittling continues, but now it takes place in her own head.
Jill is not alone. When Ken was a child and cried, his mother would say, “You’re just feeling sorry for yourself!” Instead of receiving comfort, he was criticized.
Neither Jill nor Ken were consoled for the emotional pain they suffered. As children, it wasn’t okay to talk about their pain. In fact, it wasn’t okay to have pain. The irony is that we feel emotion of some kind every second of every day.
Children who conclude that their feelings are not acceptable grow up to be adults who are unfamiliar with their own emotions, and therefore ill-equipped to handle them or the emotions of others.
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, says people who weren’t raised to know, appreciate, and acknowledge their own emotions have a hard time reading and accepting emotions in others. Consequently, he points out, they lack the ability to respond with foresight and sensitivity. This deficiency frequently results in bungled relationships, whether in the home, the workplace, or among various social acquaintances.
Buried or unexpressed pain doesn’t go anywhere. It just sits there and festers, producing a silent poison that attacks our joy and well-being. Many symptoms of stifled emotions include depression, sleeping difficulties, a constant knot in the stomach, or sudden angry outbursts.
Crying is nature’s technique for nurturing internal wounds and disappointments, both past and present.
Tears aid in the healing process, allowing us to move on. And far from indicating weakness, tears are a sign of maturity and strength. Think about it:
It takes toughness and courage to feel deeply, to hurt deeply, to grieve deeply. Only the courageous among us dare to do that. Tears are for the very gutsy, not the fainthearted.
So I asked Ken, “Is feeling sorry for yourself really all that bad? Who started that nasty rumor anyway?”
Sometimes compassion is forthcoming only from ourselves. And who’s better suited for the job? Who’s more understanding of our distresses? I would much rather see tears than self-belittling and unforgiveness toward oneself.
Here’s the advice I gave Jill: “Overcome the mark your dad left on your spirit by treating yourself better than he treated you. Cry as often as possible. It’s the loving thing to do for yourself!”
Good advice for all of us. 🙂
Names are changed to honor client confidentiality..
(c) Salee Reese 2018