Today we were watching the last episode of Community season 6, the final episode of the show. In it's own Community way it was emotional and melancholy...I mean they did call it Emotional Consequences of Broadcast Television. Anyways, I started to feel tears building up, and I immediately felt ashamed and tried to stop any liquid from leaving my eyes. Next, I tried to be kind to myself, there shouldn't be anything wrong here...but the shame was making me feel embarrassed and I was sweating. I kept looking over at my husband and compulsively said something about hating when I cry. As if that will make it better some how.
There have been many times, over my lifetime, that I've felt this way. Felt the tears well up and wanted to run away, to disappear entirely. It's not always TV, but regardless of the reason, crying makes me extremely uncomfortable. I'm not sure where exactly I learned this shame, but today I took the time to explore my why, in that moment.
I felt that because my husband wasn't having the same emotional response as me that my response was wrong, somehow. I wanted to disappear or run away (I'm not sure which was more important) because crying wasn't for public consumption...my husband most definitely shouldn't count as the public. He's seen me at some pretty low points and still graciously loves me (more than I feel I deserve, often). But, all the same, crying feels like it should be extremely private. Which, in itself, isn't necessarily wrong. The problem really is my deep, painful shame surrounding even letting one tear slip. And, even when alone, it's hard to feel safe crying. When I dig further there is also the issue of showing weakness or vulnerability. This, I've been taught through various outlets, is wrong...and shameful. Even in private.
Now, this has gotten better, in recent years, but I still have a lot of shame and programming to work through. Once I started working with my therapist, after some life-changing medical news, I started to realize there were a lot of things that needed to be worked on. For the first time I felt that it was OK to cry while spilling my soul to someone. I want to note here, for my lovely husband, that I do want to and do try to do the same with him, but there is a lot more emotional stuff surrounding sharing so much vulnerability with someone close, especially someone you love so much and so deeply. There is a lot more to potentially lose, though, rationally, I know I won't. I'm working on it!
When I thought about where I may have learned this shame some things came to mind.
I love my mother. We have reconciled quite well since my angsty, I-don't-trust-my-mom teenager years. The thing is, though, that she was never very vulnerable around me. I think the only time I've seen her truly vulnerable was when dealing with breast cancer, only a few years ago. During childhood I felt that it was too emotional to cry, though I often couldn't help but cry. In my memory there were moments where I felt that I was accused of being overly emotional (often including tears) and the consequences would be medication or something to make the overt emotion stop.
Later when discussing emotional things with her, she shared with me that, for her, crying was a very private and very personal thing. It should be saved for times when you are alone and in a safe space. This helped put some of my feelings surrounding crying into perspective. Even if she never said it in words, she unintentionally taught me to feel ashamed for crying.
My mother, regardless of my belief or trust in her, is a strong, independent woman. She raised me (and my brothers) mainly by herself, I look up to her in many ways. But part of that is realizing what I want to unlearn. We all have baggage that we pass along to our family; there is no avoiding it. What we can do is work and strive to make it better. And despite all the unintentional things my mother taught me, good and bad, I know my mother is doing her best to pay it forward.
But back to crying. I want to be able to cry while not feeling deep, painful shame or having a terrible compulsion to disappear. As I was saying, it has gotten better in the last few years. At a New Years party a couple years ago we ended up watching How to Train Your Dragon 2. I cried, sobbed, really. Sad and then happy-sad tears. There were people there, at the party, because, you know, it was a party. Thankfully they were all friends. But still I felt ashamed, I was sweaty and shifted uncomfortably the entire time. It was a victory for me to just allow the crying to happen. I took the win.
The next step is what I did today. I took the time to analyze my why and said it out loud. It wasn't easy, it wasn't painless, but it was liberating. I even cried a bit while I was saying it all out loud to my husband, and I let it happen with minimal discomfort. Another win!
I've been trying to do this for a lot of things. To say and give language to my self-destructive, insidious thoughts that keep me from living my best life, from giving myself proper self-love and care. It's a slow process, but as long as we are seeing progress, even if there is backtracking, we are doing just fine. It doesn't have to even be progress in weeks or months, we all have our own paths and journeys.
Have you felt shame over crying? Or maybe over showing vulnerability? How do you work with and through it? Let's show others that crying and being vulnerable is natural and nothing to be afraid or ashamed of!
—A Recovering Design Imposter