“There’s no need to get emotional” and “Crying won’t solve anything” are both things that have been said to me on various occasions, almost as if “being emotional” is a crime, but, what’s so criminal about being emotional? Why is “being emotional” a bad thing?
In some cultures when there is a grief situation or when somebody dies, people cry openly, in fact there are professional mourners brought in as “wailers”. We western people find this very disturbing. In fact we find open displays of emotion hard to deal with. When we go to something like a funeral where people are upset, the sight of upset people makes us upset.
I have attended, in a professional capacity, where I have played the organ, the funerals of many people that I don’t know, or that I don’t know very well. I have often been quite touched by the emotions displayed by such people that I may not personally know, yet I’ve picked up on the feelings of that person for their mother, for their husband – and sometimes when the grieving person has been overwhelmed, when they have been making a speech or a eulogy and their voice cracks, or they tear up, and everybody is very uncomfortable, but I and many others are sitting in the pews of the church and just willing them to continue on. And you are not wanting them to cry because you do not want them to be upset, but here is the question. Do you not want them to be upset for them, or do you not want them to be upset for you? Because we don’t like to see that, because we don’t deal with it very easily in the Western world. Despite our discomfort, however, crying is actually good for you! Actually, crying releases endorphins. Crying does actually make you feel better.
Little children – babies – have very few ways of reacting. It is said that when you have a small baby and you are a new parent and your baby cries, it is their only way of communicating and you need to go through a list, as a frustrated new parent, of six possible things.
Is the baby wet, is the baby cold, is the baby hot, is the baby hungry, or is the baby tired? Once you have gone about trouble-shooting all those issues, and you’ve tried to fix them all and the baby is still unhappy, you just simply go through all of them again. Sooner or later, you fix one of those things and eventually the baby will calm down and stop crying. (For the sharp eyed who noticed my “list” only had 5 things, from memory Number 6 to offer Baby was simply “Comfort”).
A small child falls over – they will immediately cry. As a child gets a little older, they tend to learn guile. I remember some years ago sitting with a friend in the Botanic Gardens in Adelaide enjoying a beautiful sunny day, and there was a young boy of about three who was dawdling along not that far behind his parents.
The child tripped over a rough piece of ground and fell over flat on his face, and I just naturally got up, ready to rescue the child if he was hurt. The boy just actually lay there, on his tummy for a moment, and I was waiting for the wail to come up of the possibly injured child. There was this moment’s hesitation. The kid actually put his head up, looked around for an audience, then saw that his mother had just realised he had fallen a few steps behind, and turned around to look. Only when he saw he had her attention, then did he let out a theatrical yell. And it was nearly comical that it was almost as if, had there not been an audience, he wouldn’t have bothered crying.
When I’m overwhelmed, very unhappy or depressed, I have a number of things that I do to try and keep myself going. Some would call it “self-medicating” I guess. None of them are overly dangerous, but I realise there’s a list of things that I tend to commonly do when I’m in a difficult stage. That I do to try and buck myself up, or assist me to cope, and perhaps they have some medicinal effect, perhaps they just have some psychological effect. But I find that in a period of real stress I tend to do these things:
- I eat high sugar foods such as doughnuts and frozen coke
- I drink more coffee – the caffeine hit keeps me going
- I succumb to “Fast Food” such as Hungry Jacks
More positively (or what may possibly win approval from my ever-patient GP)
- I take myself out to nice places, such as sitting by the beach, importantly in isolation, so I am alone with my thoughts. And so I can reflect, so I can think. If need be, so I can display emotion, so I can cry and nobody can be concerned or can criticise.
- I spend time with people who are important to me and I feel I can confide in, that I feel will listen including, as the quiz show used to say: “Phone a friend”.
- I have been known to just go off to a quiet place, even sit in my car, and have a good, old fashioned howl.
And simply the release of emotion is something which I have found extremely therapeutic and I wonder, if more people did that, if we might have fewer people that are actually resorting to ultimately much more harmful drugs and alcohol overuse.
Yet we are afraid of emotion and, strangely, people are valued and praised for “not being emotional”. Women, especially in the business world, or in positions of power, are almost expected to be aloof, such as Meryl Streep’s character Miranda Priestly in “the Devil Wears Prada “ (2006) Forty years earlier, 1964’s “My Fair Lady” asked “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
Yet those people are the very people who I find, not so much that they don’t have emotion, but that the emotions I see are coldness, cruelty, lack of feeling, lack of empathy, narcissism, wanting to have their own way, not being interested in other people and valuing right, might and power over the feelings of others. And not seeming to allow themselves to feel passion or joy – if they actually do have those things within them. Not valuing good.
Because emotion isn’t all negative emotion.
If you can’t allow yourself to feel, if you can’t allow yourself to feel at all, yes, you may avoid somewhat the danger of the depths of despair, but you also dull the exhilaration of passion and joy.
Around five years ago, we needed Passports for our children. I attempted to take their photographs myself. They were used to the “say cheese” variety of look, but this time I exhorted them not to smile. My daughter immediately assumed a very glum expression. “Too much” I exclaimed. She tried to look slightly happier, but to still not smile. This proved quite difficult and soon she was giggling, then laughing out loud. Before too long I had the perfect, most natural, happy photograph – although totally unsuitable for the passport regulations.
As we discovered, it is not easy to turn on and off one’s emotion or even expression like the proverbial “performing seal”.
Did the song have it right, with the advice “Don’t cry out loud”? As a younger person it was one of my favourite songs and I guess because as a kid and as a consumer and an owner of 100 books by Enid Blyton (inherited from my Mother and my Aunts) I was a bit of a fan of the “run away to the circus” concept, and the notion of “dancing high upon the wire” was something that I always aspired to.
Having the dream, living the dream. And if you failed, you hadn’t failed to try.
And have I failed in my life? Sure. I’ve failed plenty of times. But have I failed to try?
No, I still try, try again. There are plenty of things that I haven’t achieved, and there are plenty of things which I would still like to achieve. But have I completely let go of the possibility of the dream? No. Because the day that I completely let go of “The Dream”, I may as well let go altogether.
And maybe the things that I haven’t achieved…and I don’t want to be a horrible “stage mother” here…what I haven’t achieved for myself, perhaps I can achieve as a parent, by having my kids achieve their potential. But not in some wish-fulfilling “My Dreams” or “My Unfulfilled things” on them, but by helping them achieve their own dreams, and their passions.
So, despite being one of the least sporting people on the planet, but having a skilled son, having him achieve his sporting dreams, as a cricketer,as a hockey player – even if this means I become (much to my amusement) a “Hockey Mum”, that is something which I can work towards.
Having a creative daughter who authors wonderful stories? Who sings delightfully? Who revels in Fandom? Who adores books? These things are her passions. If I can help her follow her passions, I have succeeded as a parent.
But these things are passions, they are dreams, they are emotions. They are not “nothing”. They are not squashing people from being people. They are not having no passion. And we are certainly not celebrating people that do not display emotion.
Does someone who does not display emotion actually not have emotion? It’s actually a very interesting question. I would say that someone who does not display emotion doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have emotion, it more means they have suppressed it that far that it is actually quite unhealthy.
And again: we are scared of emotion, we are scared of people who wear their hearts on their sleeves, because we see them as uncontrollable – we like to control things. And certain people who I’ve had friction with are people who want to control me, and I’m not someone who wants to be controlled. And I admit to reacting to people who want to control me, and I guess I do not show my best side in those instances, and they may not see the best in me.
People who bring out the best in me are those who give me some room to wriggle and some room to grow, and encourage and support me, not people who try to kick me when I’m down, and try and put me in a box and try and stifle any essence which is me.
And the person that is me is the person that has emotion and passion.
You kill that, and you kill me.
So, “Don’t cry out loud?”? That’s not me.
“Don’t cry out loud” Is that something we should aspire to do? No. I don’t believe that is so.
I think we should all recognise that “scratch I and I’ll bleed” but also “build me up, and I will soar”.
Do not be afraid to cry. Sometimes crying is necessary. Crying is honest.
When I need to cry – let me cry.
When you need to cry, let me be your shoulder.
But also – Stand with me and we’ll be joyful. I will celebrate life with you.
There is always darkness before the dawn.
But the dawn will come.