Warning; this is a grim read. But possibly worth stomaching if you were ever shamed for crying – as so many people have been.
I rarely cried as a child. This partly due – I think – to being a mostly happy kid. But also due to being shamed by family members on the rare occasions I did cry.
Scene 1 – Age approximately 31.
It’s not me crying.
It’s my stepson. He’s approximately 8 years old.
My partner and step-children are seated at the dining table. My stepson’s father, my partner, is shouting at him for, no doubt, a minor to non-existent transgression.
My small stepson is rubbing his hands over his eyes. Partly to wipe his tears. Partly to hide them.
His father shouts at him to stop crying. He demands that his son takes his hands away from his face.
My stepson puts his arms down by his side. Unchecked tears stream down his face. He gulps for air as he struggles to stop crying.
“He’s allowed to cry!”
– is what I don’t say to my partner.
The rest of us are frozen. The other children don’t wish to attract their father’s anger.
I’m not overly worried about being the anger-target, its happened plenty of times before. I don’t know what would happen if I challenge my partner in this context. But I am worried the ensuing detonation may be worse than what’s happening now. I don’t want the children to witness that. The tension and uncertainty triggers cowardice.
So I don’t say the words. And these unspoken words are the biggest regret of my life.
I wish those children had witnessed an adult saying;
“This is not okay”
“It is not okay to treat children like this”
“You shall not treat these children like this”
Scene 2 – Age approximately 33.
It’s me crying now.
Not yet though. I’m reading in bed. My depressing book is about ill-fated lovers. I feel sad and flat. I never finish the book.
My partner comes to bed. I try to hide my upset. He won’t like it.
He notices anyway. “What is it this time?!”
I try to explain about the book. It doesn’t help.
I know why I am crying this time.
The finale of two hours of shouted abuse, is that my partner suggests I resolve my sadness by killing myself.
Scene 3 – Age approximately 35.
I can’t cry.
I have left my partner.
It was necessary for my physical and mental health.
There is a much collateral damage. In losing my partner, I had to lose my home, my pets, my garden, and my stepchildren.
It’s the first Christmas since I left. I post Christmas presents to the kids. I suspect they’ll never get them.
My favourite Christmas carol is playing on the car radio – Snoopy & the Red Baron. I feel incredibly sad about my stepchildren. I want to cry. I try to cry.
I manage to squeeze out a few drops.
Scene 4 – Age approximately 43.
I cry rivers.
Driving my car home late at night, a thought intrudes – I could accelerate at high speed into a lamp post.
It’s an attractive option – speed and exhilaration followed by the absence of pain.
Realizing I’m in trouble, I get myself to a solution of privilege. I see a psychotherapist weekly for three months. We drop some depth charges into my rage and despair and grief and guilt.
Around this time, I experience forgiveness for leaving my stepchildren. Actually, this comes to me in a dream – my stepdaughter forgives me. She won’t speak to me but she forgives me. A huge weight evaporates.
I leave the therapy sessions feeling dehydrated.
I haven’t identified the people in this story. While I don’t think I should protect my ex-partner and my family from their actions – their behaviors are behaviors that thrive in the shadows and wither in the light of day – I don’t want to shame them either.
I am currently estranged from most of the adults mentioned and not mentioned in this post. I consider it best for my mental & physical health.
As I can rapidly anger when I think of how they have treated me over the years, I try not to focus on the anger (except when I’m using a simple technique to process and release painful emotions!)*
Rather, I try to practice compassion for them.
There’s a few reasons for this. I know there is physiological evidence that forgiveness is good for my health, but I also know that all the people who have hurt me, have themselves suffered the deepest of rejections early in life.
They already have a surfeit of un-deserved shame, and more of the same will not help.
Reminding myself of this, as necessary, helps me practice less anger and more compassion.
These people that harmed me, I’m guessing that if someone had been able to see their tears; they may have been able to see mine.
So say the words.
Let the children cry.
If this story has been triggering for you, I encourage you to talk to someone safe OR if that’s not an option, then please consider using a simple psychology writing-technique. It’s safe, FREE and has been clinically proven not only to help process, and release emotional wounds, it also boosts the immune system! You can read the simple instructions here.
Comment below: Whenever I share this story, people – men and women – often tell me about how they were shamed for crying as children. I’d love to hear your experience of this, whether or not and how it’s impacted you.
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Want more reading?
My HuffPost article: NZ’s dirty secret (aka why I’m a raging meninist as well as a feminist)
What is the best gift you can ever give someone?
What the sex therapist said to me en route to the burlesque show