I am not one who believes that crying is a sign of weakness.
I cry all the time. I just don’t cry in front of other people.
I cry in front of Randy because it’s safe to cry in front of Randy. I cry over sad videos and cute stories about kids. I cry over television shows that are designed to yank your heartstrings. I just don’t cry over me.
I refrain from crying in front of other people because even though I don’t think crying is a sign of weakness, I think it’s a sign of my weakness.
I am the oldest of 3 girls and my narc father made it very clear to me his disappointment that I wasn’t a son. His first child was supposed to be a boy. The message of disappointment contained a thinly concealed accusation that the fact I didn’t have a penis was somehow my fault.
It was important to him that I be strong. Being strong included not crying.
Crying was for girls.
When I was 10 years old, I was playing barefoot in the cemetery behind my house and sliced my heel open on a broken bottle. My father was terribly annoyed that bandaging it wasn’t enough and that he had to take his time to take me to the ER for stitches.
I remember screaming my head off when they cleaned it out and shot it up with Novocaine. When I came out, my father was livid. Was that me back there screaming like that? I embarrassed him.
The words ‘I’ll give you something to cry about’ were often spoken.
He lived up to that threat, too. He often gave me something to cry about.
And cry I did. I cried over everything for years. Any confrontation ended in tears. Often, confrontation began in tears. Criticism from a boss or a coworker would make me cry.
I so badly wanted to bottle up my tears. I was embarrassed by them.
Hypnotists were popular back in the 80s for cigarette addiction and weight loss. I decided to see one to help me stop crying. I couldn’t get through the conversation with the hypnotist without sobbing.
It didn’t help.
I did manage to get my waterworks under control. I was well into my 30s, but I managed. I went from crying over everything, to not crying at all. I did this by avoiding confrontation at all cost. I did it by not standing up for myself and swallowing anger and hurt. I also managed my tears by taking anti-anxiety medication before any event that I knew could trigger tears, such as a performance review at work. Or just going to the doctor to describe cold symptoms.
I was a walking exposed nerve who felt the pain of everything all the time, but I did it without crying.
For many years now, I have had people tell me that they admire my strength. I am such a strong person. Every time I heard this, I felt a little bit more like an impostor. I’m not strong! I’m just an expert at avoidance.
I’m working on living a more authentic life and not avoiding painful feelings, I’ve had to deal with the tears again. I’ve broken down and cried in front of my discount therapist on more than one occasion and was mortified by my tears. She has explained to me over and over that tears are not a sign of weakness, they just are.
The last time I cried in front of her, all I got was a headache. I wasn’t flushed with shame and I didn’t feel weak. I didn’t like crying in front of her, but I felt a little more comfortable with it.
I also had a sort of confrontation with my boss. Usually, I have to be extremely angry to have any type of confrontation and, in this case, I wasn’t angry at all. I calmly explained to him that his ‘jokes’ were not funny. I found them degrading and demoralizing. (He finds it hilarious to talk shit about women).
I think at one point, I felt the hint of tears pricking the backs of my eyes, but there was never any danger of them falling.
I was beyond proud of myself. I found strength that I didn’t know I had. I was able to tell another human being that I was unhappy with their treatment of me and I did it without screaming and crying.
It didn’t change the situation at work, but I know it changed me. I think I might be more strong than I’ve ever given myself credit for and I’m beginning to feel that tears are no longer my enemy.
That’s not to say that I want to walk around crying all the time over every little thing. I still feel that there is a place and a time for tears. I doubt that I will ever feel comfortable crying in front of anyone other than my husband or kids, but I think I can drop the associated shame.
I so badly don’t want my identity to be one that was shaped by my father’s mental illness, but it is. I can’t change this overnight, but I can keep chipping away at it.