On perceptions of weakness and strength

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that crying or otherwise showing negative emotion is always looked down on in some manner. We can shout and cheer at sporting matches, but heaven help us if we let a tear escape or don’t constantly plaster a smile on our face in public. Considering how driven we are by emotions by our very nature, I can’t help but think this is the height of hypocrisy—and yet, so many of us go through our lives with this mindset.

I don’t mean to say we should go about our lives freely expressing every wave of emotion that comes over us; it would be quite alarming to hear and see people shouting or crying in frustration because the crosswalk light changed right before they arrived, or witnessing somebody give a victory cheer when their favourite yoghurt is in stock at the local grocers’. However, going about our lives on the complete opposite side of the spectrum—terrified of expressing ourselves for fear of alienation from others—is no better. I got thinking about this last night, after my boyfriend and I experienced an emotional hour or two for the first time. I’ve been looking for career opportunities to pursue after I complete my dissertation and, because of the visa and immigration restrictions in place within the UK, have been increasingly worried about it (yes I still have 8 months here but what can I say, I’m a very forward thinker…). We have already discussed him looking into a company transfer should I have to find work in the States, and as I said that decision is still a far way off, but for whatever reason I got pretty upset about it yesterday. So how did I respond to these feelings?

Rather than admit that I was upset and having a little cry about it, I instead spent the better part of an hour (not so) discreetly wiping tears from under my glasses and feigning interest in academic articles I had no desire to read. When Fraser finally asked whether I was alright or not, I managed an “I’m fine”…about 5 seconds before the dam finally broke. Now, I’m not talking hysterics—I certainly wasn’t inconsolable, and we were able to talk through it—but the stress and worry had built up so much that when a tiny bit squeezed its way out, it was well and truly a snowball effect. And the first thing I asked him?

“I’m sorry, you probably think I’m crazy right now don’t you?”

Ugh.

This response was most likely in part because I’m a woman and, as such, have been conditioned to think that any display of emotion means I must be insane. However, it was also largely because I’ve always been told, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, that emotions are meant to be felt in private. If we must show any hint of feeling it should be neat, tidy, and absolutely tear-free. But that’s just not how us humans are created. Consider the words of Charlotte Brontë, author of Jane Eyre and all-around wise woman:

“Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.”

Well, damn. Now, I don’t think good Charlotte meant that we should go around crying at every opportunity; that becomes unacceptable as soon as we learn to speak. But she does have a point: from our very first moments on this planet, as soon as we’re born into this vastly terrifying and beautifully confusing world, we express ourselves, fully and without any inhibitions. And while sobbing because we don’t get our way goes out of style when we learn how to share and compromise, the act of crying—or fully embracing emotion otherwise—should not be considered taboo. Go on a rampage because life doesn’t go our way? Absolutely not. But hold it all in until we have an hour-long cry, when we should have let ourselves feel the emotions for weeks beforehand? That’s not cool, either.

Long story short, part of being human is feeling—and accepting—our emotions. No matter who we are or where we come from, we all feel so many things on a daily basis. So why shouldn’t we let ourselves fully experience this? Think of emotions as the sea; you can either let yourself be moved by the waves and enjoy the calm all the more for weathering the harsh swells…or ultimately fatigue yourself with fighting currents that, for better or worse, will be there day after day. Never feel ashamed of how you are feeling, and embrace whatever emotions arise in a given time. I used to feel this desperate need to hide how I feel and, as shown by my experience yesterday, I still have work to do. However, more often than not I can now find a productive outlet for these feelings. From a long, hard run to doodling or writing free association entries in a journal, I’ve found that channelling my emotions—good or bad—makes me feel so much more alive than when I tried to tamp it down.

This week I want to challenge you to allow yourself to feel. How do you find yourself channelling these feelings? Look at how your relationships change, if at all. And as always, pop me a message below if you want!

xx

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