Permission to cry

If there was a time when it felt safe and reasonable to cry when hurt, I do not remember it. The further back I go, the patchier memory becomes, but I’ve no sense of crying ever being ok. I learned early to mute how I was feeling, to hide the tears of pain and frustration at school when I was teased, hit, humiliated. Sometimes I lost it, but I managed more stoicism than not.

Crying has too often just made things worse, and over the years I’ve added new reasons why I am not to do it. I might hurt or embarrass someone else by revealing that I’m in pain. It might feel like emotional blackmail. People might think I was faking it to get attention. Last year I broke down in panic when a group of kids charged at me and I was already in a lot of pain and couldn’t bear to be touched. Their first reaction to my tears was to tell me I was faking it. Better not to be seen than to be put through that, I have felt. Better not to make someone uncomfortable, not to implicitly demand care, attention, or something different by being so inconsiderate as to cry. Other people’s convenience has always seemed more important than whether I am in pain. Add to that the telling off for crying, the accusations of melodrama, and manipulation, and I don’t express if I can help it.

I’ve gone dry eyed through many a funeral. I can spot when the urge to weep is rising and I will lock it down, turning everything on the inside into stone if I can, so that nothing of what I’m feeling gets out. Sometimes the body pain, the fear, and panic attacks, the distress is too much and the tears get out, but the urge to hide it remains, and I’ll be silent, and I will keep my body still so that the motion of sobbing does not give me away. Failing that, I’ll remove myself and hide. If I’ve cried in front of you, then either I really, really trust you, or I was so broken at the time that I failed to maintain control.

It always feels like failure to cry, or to succumb to a panic attack. I feel ashamed of it. It’s a natural bodily reaction to pain and distress, but unless I am entirely alone and it goes unnoticed, I feel ashamed of my own tears.

In the last few days I have come to recognise how dehumanising this is. It’s a denial of my basic animal self, my natural self. To treat my own pain as unacceptable, to not allow myself the freedom of grief when I am hurt, is doing me a lot of harm. I’ve taken the decision to cry when I need to, regardless of the consequences. As a self employed person I have the luxury of not needing a brave face for work. In the short term, to have the space to handle my own distress, (and there’s been a lot to distress me this last month) I will mostly be stepping away from people. I need to feel safe about crying, and I need not to be worrying about how it’s going to impact on other people. That feels very selfish, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m going to see what happens if, for a little while, I let how I feel be more important than anything else for me.

There will be people who find me too difficult, and no doubt there will be people who again call it emotional blackmail and bullying on my part. They are allowed to feel that way. The right answer is for anyone who feels that way about me to spend no time with me. I’ve decided that no matter how much I love someone, if they have no space for me when I am in pain, they have no space for me.

I’m interested to see how the process of allowing my emotions – because I also intend to change how I handle panic and to totally shift my relationship with my own anger – impacts on my depression issues as a whole, and on the issue of body pain. I’ll share the results of the experimentation, because I think there are other people who will find they get similar outcomes, whatever those turn out to be.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

6 responses to “Permission to cry

  • Dawn@CL

    Once again, your words hit close to home.

    For me, I was taught not to cry. I’m actually a very emotional person but my mother saw crying as a sign of weakness and in her eyes, weakness was unacceptable. I was chastised and berated for showing emotion, regardless of the reason. As a result, it took me almost 6 months to deal with my emotions when she passed.

    Since the accident in June, I have experienced true chronic pain on a level I never have before. I’ve had to cope with the idea that I will probably never have the mobility I did before and the possibility that one of my legs just isn’t going to work properly again. When I was still in the hospital, I started having breakdowns. I tried to hold it in but between the pain, fear and medications I was on, I was unable to. My husband of 19 years saw a side of me he never had and had no idea how to deal with it.

    The first time I broke down after getting out, my best friend and my niece were there. You could have heard a pin drop when they realized I was crying. No one knew what to say or do simply because it had never happened before.

    Even though I tell myself that it’s ok to cry, that I have every reason, every right, I still find myself berating myself when I do. Old habits die hard I guess.

    I wish you more luck than I’ve had.

  • alcsmith

    I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, but I’ve heard good things about Peter Levine’s books on somatic experiencing after trauma. Might be worth a look.

  • emeraldnz

    Reclaiming the right to cry and show emotion is powerful. I know that for me, allowing myself to cry is an outlet and also a recognition that I am human and my pain matters. I hope you find healing in giving yourself permission to cry. You are human. You matter.

  • Sheila North

    I wish you well. To cry and look after yourself should be a basic human right.

    How can this be potentially interpreted as “bullying”?

  • Wen

    Hi Nimue,
    I’ve just read your last two blogs. Last year I went through hell, I nearly lost my business, my dog was put down and, then without warning, my father committed suicide, which led to a police investigation and some incredibly difficult times for my Mum and I. I have been very lucky to be surrounded by the right people, friends and relatives who have made all this survivable. I have also learned a truly important thing, self compassion. You say, you’re difficult to be around, that you’re full on, that you feel it’s wrong for many reasons to express the physical and emotional pain you’re in. If someone else had come to you and expressed these problems would you have told them to go away and pull themselves together? Would you have told them they were right and really are impossible to be around? My Grandmother always said ‘treat others as you would wish to be treated’, but I add, ‘treat yourself with the kindness you would treat others with’. Think about the advice and words you would use to a friend in need and pain and then ask yourself why you’re not applying that to yourself?
    Physical pain wears you down so much and has as much of a negative impact on your emotions as it does your body, I have nerve damage and it can be relentless. Personally,I have found Mindfulness incredibly useful in dealing with both the physical and emotional pain of the last year. It is all too easy for the inner critic to become the loudest voice in your head, I have found a way to turn mine down. It is never wrong to cry, it is both an expression and part of the experience of being human.

  • syrbal-labrys

    I had the same punishing experience with shedding tears — to the point where beginning to cry usually activated an asthma attack. And I have been told ‘not to cry to get your way’ because I was thereby a bully, not a victim. I think that was the moment I got pissed off enough that I was done hiding tears and no longer cared if the person causing them felt “bullied” by my reaction to their mistreatment of me!

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