Tag Archives: safety

Learning to cry

I was bullied a fair bit as a child. I learned that mostly what bullies want is to make you cry, and that when you cry, the childhood ones soon lose interest. I learned to cry quickly, that to get it over and done with was safest. I did not cry for myself then, I was crying to placate other people with my pain and humiliation.

Somewhere in my early teens I changed tack. I wasn’t going to be humiliated any more. I wasn’t going to give anyone the satisfaction of making me cry. And so, in a determined way I became someone who mostly did not cry in front of other people. I became emotionally unavailable. There were still people intent on reducing me to tears, but I didn’t co-operate with them anymore. It didn’t solve everything, but I liked me better as someone stony and refusing to show distress.

In my twenties, the man I was married to told me that all of my emotional expressions were suspect and seemed manipulative. What tears there were he treated as emotional blackmail. I tried harder with the not crying around anyone. At this point, in my forties, I’m really good at not crying. I’m so good at it that I don’t reliably let out emotions that I need to express and I’m working to change this.

It does help to go off on my own. Making solitary physical space to cry in makes it easier to let go. Having people around me who will let me go off and deal with my feelings in this way is also really helpful.  I notice that comforting me shuts me down, so I’ve started asking the people I am closest to not to do that, and to give me the space to cry. If I need to cry I don’t really want to be soothed, which feels like pressure to stop crying.

I’m going to be working on this. Giving myself permission to cry. Giving myself space to cry. Treating my tears as acceptable and necessary, and not something to be ashamed of. Yes, emotional expressions from me may not always be comfortable for everyone else, but I’m learning to be ok with that. At the moment, I am safe, and the people around me are not going to become dangerous to me if I make them feel slightly uncomfortable. I’m also not dealing with anyone for whom making me cry is entertaining and there is no one in my life using my tears to disempower me. I can afford to cry.

Unexpressed grief is a heavy thing to carry. Letting that out of my body might be messy, but it will be better moving forward.


Emotional Processing

I’ve noticed in recent months that there are some emotions I don’t process quickly. This has been true for some time – years certainly. Before that, I think I just didn’t get round to feeling them at all. I don’t tend to become cross or upset in the situation causing it. I can have a rapid response with a panic trigger, but often in the short term with those I just freeze.

It can take me a few days to work out that I feel cross, hurt, upset, unfairly treated, let down and things of that ilk. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with the realisation – I suspect the unconscious parts of my mind are better at processing this. During the figuring out process, I have tended to spend time asking if my response is fair and reasonable. Am I over-reacting? Should I be more understanding of the situation? Is it ok, and is it safe, to express distress?

I’m now questioning that fundamental issue of whether my responses are justifiable. I recognise it comes from times when I would have to justify my emotional responses – usually to someone who was not going to be persuaded of the validity of my feelings.

It’s a significant thing for me to have got to the point of saying I do not have to justify how I feel. I don’t have to explain myself to anyone and I do not need anyone’s permission for my emotional responses. I may need space and distance to feel safe with my own emotions, I’ll give that whatever room it needs. I don’t have to make sense to anyone else. I don’t have to be reasonable. If I feel something as a consequence of my history, it is valid, even if it makes little sense in the context.

With hindsight I can see that not being allowed my own emotional responses cost me a great deal in terms of sense of self. It cost me self-esteem, confidence and feelings of personhood. These experiences taught me to mistrust myself, and to surrender authority to others. To be the kind of person whose emotional responses are preposterous, unfounded, and who needs putting straight about it is to be treated as immature and childish. It is to be invalidated. I would not, I realise, even treat the emotions of a very small child having a tantrum with the same disregard and belittling that’s been shown me in the past.

To feel on your own terms is to be properly a person. To be able to express something of those feelings is a measure of being safe. To have those feelings taken seriously is a measure of being loved, respected and valued.


Risk taking and safe spaces

All too often ‘safe’ is treated like some kind of pathetic, counterproductive retreat for the innately useless. Talent show TV programs bully and ridicule the ‘talent’ as entertainment, while people who ask for safe spaces can expect to be mocked.

What happens when you give a person a safe space? Based on experience of holding safe spaces for people, and the experience of being in places where I feel safe, the results are not what might be expected. Safety has never, in my experience, resulted in people being comfortably crap. What happens instead is that people who feel safe are empowered to take risks.

A safe space means a space where you will be treated with kindness and respect. It doesn’t mean being rewarded for messing up, but it does mean having messing up as a recognised part of being human, and striving. It’s very difficult to do anything new or groundbreaking without making mistakes. Knowing that if you try to reach high and fail, no one will kick you if you miss and fall, makes it easier to reach. People who keep reaching, achieve all kinds of things. People who are afraid to make mistakes will play it safe and will have far less scope to develop.

Recent years took a toll on my confidence. I’d largely stopped performing, I’d not MCed in ages. Getting out in public to perform and participate was not easy. If I’d been met with hostility, ridicule, or anything of that ilk, I would have stopped very quickly. Instead, I found warmth, friendship, permission and opportunity. I felt braver as a consequence. Last week I ventured to sing one of my own songs, and I’ve pushed repeatedly to do things that were outside the comfort zone. It’s been possible to face down my anxiety because I’ve been in the company of people I know are on my side.

Alongside that, I’ve watched others take risks and flourish, finding skills they hadn’t known they possessed. Safe space makes that possible.

As a culture, we’re addicted to competition, and to the humiliation of others. We’re collectively quick to pull down and stomp on those who, in reaching for something better, stumble a bit. It’s not a good way to get things done. A few laughs at each other’s expense, and that’s all the benefit to be had. When we support each other, the possible outcomes are far more exciting.