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How not to cry

February 4th, 2014

Eleanor

Today was my daughter’s first day of her new teacher and classroom. She hasn’t been sleeping well with the hot, still nights and we’re struggling with early bedtimes again after summer holidays. So this morning began with a full-scale tantrum in the quad at school – a red-faced, helicopter-limbed six-year-old screaming ‘I’m not going to school!’

She ran away, I brought her back, she ran away again. Her anger was palpable – her entire class sat on their silver seats watching her rage. Other parents looked away. I began to cry. I couldn’t help it, I felt utterly overwhelmed.

cry

This is how I’d like to look when I cry. Where’s her crumpled face, her red eyes, her snotty nose?

Thank god my daughter’s new teacher is a brilliant woman who took the class to their room, then came back and talked gently until she was calm and ready to go to class on her own steam. Actually smiling. The teacher was full of empathy and she was as kind to me – a teary mess – as she was to my daughter. Several parents came up and chatted to me afterwards, gave me a hug, but I felt so mortified. How have I gotten here: 36 years old and still breaking down in tears?

I cry more than I would like to. I cry when I argue with people, when I am criticised, when I am overwhelmed and when I see things that make me sad. I sometimes cry just when talking about difficult subjects, or when people do things that I feel are unfair. Why do tears come so easily? Why are they so hard to control? Even worse is the feeling of powerlessness they give: you can’t communicate when you are crying, and you certainly can’t argue your point or tell someone off. You are the definition of vulnerable – a crying person is one of very little authority or strength.

When I worked in an office it was worse, any whiff of confrontation and I would be fighting back tears. A meeting with the editor for a performance review was torture as I was determined to avoid the waterworks. When you cry in those situations you derail everything, because the attention becomes focused on your emotions. People think you are being manipulative by crying, when it is often the last thing in the world that you want to do.

In my quest to avoid public tears, I’ve done what any reasonable person would do. I Googled ‘how to not cry’. It is a popular question, according to Google – fifth after ‘how to not eat’, ‘how to not be tired’, ‘how to not be jealous’ and ‘how to not care’. Swap around the to and the not: ‘how not to cry’ – and it’s fourth, after ‘how not to live your life’, ‘how not to be boring’ and ‘how not to get pregnant’. Half of the joy of Googling something is the little window it gives you into human nature. Dr Google provided me with some interesting advice. The most relevant was an article published in Oprah magazine by a woman who is similarly frustrated by her frequent tears, who spoke to several experts about crying.

It seems that taking a literal step back from the situation, placing some physical distance between yourself and the person/thing upsetting you is one way to avoid tears. Also, you should approach these emotional situations with an expression of neutrality rather than a frown and furrowed eyebrows. Supposedly the neural pathways which tell us to cry are following not just our brains but our facial expressions, so looking sad or upset isn’t going to help.

Other tips include pinching yourself, biting your tongue, and opening your eyes as wide as possible (all physical distractions which might look a little distressing to others). Allowing yourself to be angry was another suggestion. This could be useful for me, because the most frustrating tears come when I should be angry about something. Learning to vent anger can be a useful thing.

I console myself with the knowledge that tears aren’t always my enemy. It can feel good to cry, particularly at something controlled like a film or listening to a sad song. In high school, my best friend and I would purposely re-watch videos that made us sob. It was a sense of release; a sort of purging.

Crying in public breaks down those barriers that we build up around ourselves as well. It’s an admission of vulnerability and humanity. We can’t always be strong.

But it isn’t always the right response, or the most effective one, and I’m hoping to be able to control my tears.

Have you been in a similar situation? How do you avoid the embarrassment of a public cry?

7 Comments

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  1. N #
    February 4, 2014

    This post came across my feed at a funny moment tonight. I’ve been feeling teary this evening and other evenings and can’t really work out why. At times like this I usually call my mum and say ‘mum what’s wrong with me?’ and she’ll say the usual list of ‘is it PMS, have you been eating too much sugar, do you need more sleep?’ And I’ll usually say no to all those. Would be nice to know the reason for waves of sadness that appear sometimes. Ugh…

    Similarly I sometimes cry in public and dark sunglasses are the best way to avoid stares I’ve found, if I have to get on the train and can’t clear my upset expression in time. I also carry a bottle of rescue remedy wherever I go.

    • Eleanor #
      February 4, 2014

      Thanks for reading N, I know what you mean about those waves of sadness coming unannounced and unexplained.

      Thanks for the tip about dark sunglasses, I’ll be taking a pair to the school drop-off tomorrow, just in case we have a repeat of today. And I might have to pick up some rescue remedy as well!

  2. RedHorse #
    February 5, 2014

    I’m not much of a public cryer, although since the kids arrived it happens more often. My sense, though, is that I mind being seen to cry more than people mind seeing me. The usual response has been one of compassion.

    Perhaps it’s drawing a long bow but just as it is sometimes hard to accept help (however much it might please the helper to offer it) perhaps we need to simply accept that compassion, rather than being mortified by our public tears.

    That said, for me the mortification usually wins out at the time, the acceptance comes later, if at all.

    Great post, beautifully put. Thanks.
    RedHorse

    • Eleanor #
      February 6, 2014

      Thanks RedHorse, you’re right about it being difficult to accept help and sometimes I am definitely guilty of that! I love how you say we mind being seen to cry more than other people mind us crying. I hadn’t thought of that but I’ll bet it’s true. Will try to remember that next time I am absorbed in my own mortification. Thank you for reading and for your response.

  3. Charlene #
    February 5, 2014

    Funny because I am the exact opposite. It takes a lot to make me cry. Not that I don’t…but it takes a lot. Interesting article because I am one of those people who think people who cry in the midst of a confrontation are being manipulative because now you do feel like you have to approach that person with some emotional sensitivity otherwise they could go in hysterics and who can handle that (at least that is my perception). The problem with being the woman who does NOT cry at the aappropriate “cue” is you are perceived as a cold, heartless woman and people come down on you even harder. Just because I don’t cry doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. Hey if this is you then it’s you. I’d say it’s a part of your charm and authenticity. If people have a problem with it then perhaps it’s their discomfort and not your flaw.

    • Eleanor #
      February 6, 2014

      Thanks for reading Charlene and for giving me a different perspective – interesting that people can judge you for not crying as much as they do for crying! You’re right to embrace our authenticity and individuality and not worry so much about what others think.

  4. Jade #
    April 7, 2015

    I too am a cryer… Always have been. But I’m about to turn 38 and I’m tired of how powerless it makes me feel. Reading your article made me at least feel normal. thanks x

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