Is it better to Cry when Hurt or Hold Back all Feelings

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"Is it better to Cry when Hurt or Hold Back all Feelings"
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There are times when it is okay to cry immediately when you are hurt - and other times when it would be best to steel yourself till you are in a more personal space. Most of us learn to do this to a large degree at some stage during our childhood. It's probably a gradual process, as we become conscious of society's views towards crying and feel embarrassed by others seeing us cry spontaneously about every little thing that hurts or upsets us.

The downside of this is that we can go too much the other way. Boys in particular can receive the false message that it's unacceptable - even a sign of weakness - to show emotion. As they grow up they build up a thick wall to hold their feelings in rather than risk being regarded as a wuss or less than a real man.

I do believe that in the past generation or so there has been some modification of this view and it's becoming more widely recognized that it's not only okay for men to allow their tears to flow - but emotionally healthy. Men who are in touch with their feelings are more likely to be seen as real, caring and warm human beings rather than weaklings or sissies. One of Australia's former long-serving Prime Ministers cried openly once and it seems that the majority of people approved and were empathetic rather than being critical or thinking less of him.

Nevertheless, society has a long way to go in breaking down the emotional barriers that it has built up around men's souls over the years. The fact that men often can't allow themselves to cry easily probably plays its own significant role in the major incidence of depression and suicide today. While women suffer from chronic clinical depression as well, at least they are more likely to release some of their feelings by crying. This is indeed like a safety valve for the soul.

Of course, few adults want to be crying at the drop of a hat in front of anybody and everybody. Some people are very sensitive and hurt easily - but they will choke back the tears rather than be seen to be a sook. Often they don't want to give somebody the satisfaction of knowing how much they have been hurt either. This is certainly a mechanism we develop at school when we are targeted by cruel children who say or do unkind things. Our pride eventually allows us to become adept at holding ourselves together and remaining composed outwardly, no matter how much we are hurting inside. We don't want to be the object of ridicule for being a "cry-baby".

The downside of this is that we can become too experienced at covering our true feelings. This is especially the case when we have suffered a great deal of significant pain in life. Not only do we suppress so many of our feelings because we are anxious not to cry publicly - but we need to do so just in order to cope from day to day with the terrible pressure we are under.

This is something I have experienced first-hand - most particularly in the past decade since the birth of our precious firstborn with major brain damage. From a very early stage, my husband and I learned that we had to pick ourselves up after the most devastating interviews with medical experts, and get on with doing the best we could to make life as normal as possible for our baby and ourselves.

Over the years there were numerous crises that we had to somehow stand up under. Giving up and falling to pieces was not an option. Yes, we cried many times - but mostly in private. In the first year of our daughter's life I experienced overwhelming grief at times. There were days when sorrow would sweep in over me like a gigantic tidal wave and I would cry from the depths of my soul for a couple of days straight. Then gradually the tidal wave would subside and I would be left emotionally exhausted, but able to begin recovering again for a time.

In between these episodes there would be times when I even felt that life could be okay on the whole and that we would cope. As time went by and we moved into the second year of our daughter's life, I became increasingly experienced at coping with the heartache that was still always there, deep in my heart. As my husband put it though, we always felt like we might be just an inch away from falling apart.

The week before Christmas our little girl lost her long, courageous fight to stay with us when she had a cardiac arrest. The first day or two we felt like we were in a deep pit of darkest grief from which we could never imagine emerging. Her funeral had to be left till after Christmas because she had to have a post mortem. So somehow we had to cope with Christmas for the sake of our little boy, who still needed and deserved to have some happiness at such a time.

With the help and support of very special friends we did manage to cope and were even able to put on a brave face and get through the traumatic experiences of the following week. We were all too experienced at switching into what we had always referred to as "crisis control mode" or "auto-pilot". So it was like we just switched into a new level of that mental state in order to survive emotionally in the midst of such devastating loss.

My husband cried like a child the night our daughter passed away, whereas I was in a state of shock. After that night though he hardly cried at all - whereas I cried every day. Even so, neither of us could believe we were coping as well as we were. I would have expected to be a total mess. Other people looked at us and were amazed at our courage. We didn't really feel that we were being terribly courageous though. Underneath the self-protective layers built up over a decade were two very deeply wounded souls.

As the weeks went by I eventually moved into a new stage of my grief journey. While I am still coping far better than what I would have expected to, it's getting harder. I cry harder and more frequently than I did at first. It's like the pressure inside built up so much that it has had to escape from gaps in my protective armour wherever and whenever possible. Three months on, I never know from one day to the next how emotional I will be - and whether those tidal waves of grief I experienced in the first year of our little girl's life will return again.

My husband, however, has only cried once since the committal service. That was one night when there was a story on TV that hit too close to home. Deep inside he is very sad about our little girl - but is just not able to express it emotionally as much as I am.

On the other hand, I have had a number of times when I have even found it impossible to hold back the tears when I have been amongst other people. For the first time in many years I have cried spontaneously like a child in front of others. The tears are never far from my eyes and I never know what will trigger them.

I don't really have a problem with this lack of emotional control in relation to my little girl though. I feel it is a natural, healthy response and is good for my soul in the short and long term. I need to cry - and it honours her memory that I am able to express how deeply I loved her (and always will) and how much she is missed.

I am more concerned that my husband's feelings still seem to be locked inside him. There's a strong possibility that he would not be as emotional as me anyway - just because he's a man - and also because I was with my daughter around the clock for weeks - even months - on end when she was too sick or frail to be at school. Even in the first year of her life it was me who did by far the most crying. But I feel that he would be crying more if he had not become so expert at standing up under such immense pressure. I'm relieved that at least my own armour is flexing to allow some of the pain from my soul to be released.

Crying has an important function for the human soul. To constantly deny ourselves the right to cry has the potential to not only disable us emotionally, but even worse, to put us under such enormous pressure that we could have a breakdown. There is healing in tears and often when you have had a cry you will feel better for a time. Crying releases chemicals called endorphins which are vital to our mental well-being and reduce stress build-up.

So next time you need to cry, make sure you allow yourself to do so as soon as possible. If you don't want to embarrass yourself in front of anybody else and you have the capacity to compose yourself temporarily, at least get in touch with your feelings later. Have a good cry. You'll feel better for it and it will safeguard your mental and emotional health. Indeed, crying when you need to promotes all-round well-being.

More about this author: Ruth Woodhouse

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