I cry. The worst for me has always been if I cried at work. I constantly worried about losing the respect of my male colleagues and assumed that crying at work would challenge even the most accepting of them to see me as an equal. I don’t tend to cry when I am afraid or even when I am in physical pain, but I find it so challenging to hold back the tears when I am hurt, or when a trust has been broken.
Inevitably when I felt the tears coming, I would end up in the washroom trying to stop, but the harder I tried the worse it got. By the time I finished, my face would be covered in red blotches and my eyes puffy and red.
So, why did I end up in the bathroom? Why was I so ashamed of my tears? Well, people perceive them as a sign of weakness, don’t they? But must we hide our tears just because we’ve been told we should?
One day, I was gathering pictures for a training package and I found a picture of a woman with tears and mascara streaming down her face. But her chin was up as she looked straight into the camera. She wasn’t weak; she was angry. Her tears only served to emphasize her anger and determination. She was owning her tears.
So, I decided it was time to start owning my tears! I knew it would be a challenge, but I was determined.
Shortly afterwards, while working as a member of a close-knit team, one of my teammates tried to bully me in an effort to neutralize my opposing opinion. I had witnessed him bullying others but never a member of his own team.
I felt hurt and angry. I thought we were friends, but this was a total lack of respect. And then I felt it: that burning sensation in my eyes. It was only a matter of time before the tears would be streaming down my face. But this time I decided I would not run to hide in the washroom – I would not let him win. So I didn’t try to stop the tears. Instead, I looked him straight in the eyes and pointed at my own eyes. Surprisingly my voice didn’t crack, it resonated. “Do you see this? This is a symbol of just how angry I am at this moment. You need to listen respectfully to my point of view. You do not need to change yours, but I will be heard.”
I imagine it looked like I had unleashed some level of super-human confidence, but on the inside, I was doing everything I could to keep my feet from running to the safety of the women’s washroom. Admittedly, and a bit to my surprise, he actually backed down. It worked. I was not responding like his version of an “hysterical woman” and thus, his bullying actions had not had the desired effect. He could only listen. I don’t recall if he changed his opinion or not, but my tears had not escalated and I had not run to hide. I had owned my tears.
One of the Unlocking Your Instincts workshop exercises asks participants why they love being a woman. They often discuss being able to cry and show emotion. We espouse that boys should be encouraged to cry, and that men need to cry more.
So why do we run and hide when tears threaten to leave our eyes and make their way down our cheeks?
As a child, I cried easily despite being told regularly to “stop crying or you’ll get something to cry about.” So I learned. I learned to hide my tears or hide myself. I knew I did not want to experience that “something: whatever it was.
I still cry easily, when I’m: happy; sad; hormonal; angry; embarrassed; and the list goes on. But you know what? I am not unique. Crying’s not a voluntary action any more than is smiling, or frowning. Tears are just another way of expressing how we feel. The blotchy skin and red puffy eyes are usually a result of trying to forcibly shut down our tears.
We are not weak when we cry but unfortunately most of us still hear: “please don’t cry,” “you’re being emotional,” “why don’t you go take a few minutes and come back when you feel better, dear,” or worse: “stop crying or I will give you something to cry about!” Shut down that voice in your head. Tears are important and represent how we feel. Embrace them, use them; just don’t hide them or yourself.
When you feel the burning in your eyes, stop for just a moment and embrace what they represent. You can’t really control them any more than you can control a cough or a sneeze. A few tears might escape but they are NOT a sign of weakness. Indeed, you can use them to show your strength and your power.
Own your tears!