When I was young I was taught that crying was not good. After all, the message was that if you cry too much, “you’re going to get sick.” Crying, especially in public, definitely was bad news. In short, crying, even when grieving, was considered to be a sign of weakness. If you were going to cry, then do so in private.
Through the years this and many other natural ways of showing emotion have been stifled by many of the celebrities who always assume a stoic pose when appearing on camera. (I always remember the death of President Kennedy and the way Jackie showed little emotion during the funeral and on TV.)
Many additional beliefs about expressing emotion were looked down upon for years as western culture had adopted the “rugged individualism” view of dealing with life in all its manifestations. Expressing emotion was out and being strong was definitely in. Keeping emotion within is presently the cultural norm.
However, psychology and the social sciences have shown time and time again the importance of expressing, in some form, what is happening inside; it can actually save your life. If you have been trained by the authority figures in your life to suppress your feelings or if you are unable to cry (much to do with unconscious beliefs instilled early in life) when one might be expected to do so, consider the following.
1. We are built to vocalize feelings and tell our stories. This is an inherent and normal human response. Its purpose is to relieve the stress of trauma and massive change that occur in every life. There is a basic human need to externalize the pressure and pain that develops within.
2. What is the alternative when we bottle the anxiety, anger, fear, guilt or pain that is generated by a major loss? The physical self pays a huge price to perform this task. Stress hormones go into overdrive and every cell in the body is affected. I repeat, every cell in the body is heavily stressed. Energy stores are depleted.
3. A more vicious result of stuffing feelings is that our unconscious and our memory banks keep them forever alive in full force. Consequently, we are easily thrown into deep pain throughout life when something we see in a movie or on a TV show or read in the paper, cues up the terrible feelings and memories we never dealt with.
So what can you do? The obvious answer is to find a way to tell your story of pain and disappointment. If you don’t have a best friend who is a good long-term listener, (a resource we all need to develop), then seek out a counselor, clergy person, or support group. You also can express feelings through writing, drawing, painting or sculpting. Reach out to God to unload your burden. You may need several avenues of release.
Give in to the natural inclination to share the pain of loss. There is nothing weak about doing so. It is not merely highly therapeutic, it will lead to insights into your loss and how to cope with it (verbalizing our feelings often leads to new interpretations and thoughts). When appropriate, request your good listener to give you valuable feedback.
Make every effort to change the pattern of the way you deal with loss and change and encourage your children to be open with you about their feelings. See the process as wisdom seeking and in making wise choices. Let periodic expression, where you plumb the deepest depths of your feelings, become part of your long-term healing process. We all need the nurturance and feeling of community that sharing feelings naturally brings forth.