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One complaint many of my clients have is their tendency to cry when they get overwhelmed. While crying is a perfectly normal response to pain, frustration and sadness…it can get in the way. The problem is when those tears start leaking out at inappropriate times, at work, in a big meeting, in the middle of a conflict, with a stranger etc. Crying is an extremely vulnerable act especially when you have been told that it is manipulative, weak and/or controlling. Crying has gotten a bad wrap–sometimes you just need to leak. But what do you do when your crying goes from healing to embarrassing?
Don’t apologize. This step was truly freeing for me and my clients. Once you feel the tears sting your eyes, the first thing you want to do is apologize. Apologizing implies you are doing something wrong..and in reality you are just crying…you are exhibiting an emotion. You aren’t hitting or hurting anyone. Remind yourself there is nothing wrong with crying. When you apologize that makes the other person feel responsible for you and diminishes you as well. So own the fact that you are crying without apologizing.
Take a Step Back. Tears are most likely coming from a place of frustration and anger. As women, we are often taught that anger or frustration is not ok so we push it down until it bubbles up as tears. So give yourself a chance to pause and breathe. If you can keep talking do so, but if not ask to continue the conversation later or ask to take a break and come back to you.
The goal with these 2 steps is to break the cycle of….start crying….ridicule self….assume everyone else is ridiculing you…apologize profusely…cry harder. Instead turn the cycle into start crying…breathe…remind self that crying is ok, it is just an emotion…keep talking or ask to take a break…return and keep going.
The first 2 concepts are how to handle crying in the moment…this next concept is how to start decreasing the inappropriate crying tendency.
Look back: What is it really about? Too often my clients get so caught up in the shame of crying that they never look back to see…what were they so upset about? What was really happening? Were you angry, frustrated, hurt? Did you feel attacked, betrayed, powerless? Start noticing a pattern in what triggers you.
For my one of my clients this process was life changing, first when she stopped apologizing and started embracing that she was a crier, it took some of the sting out of it. She was still embarrassed and she still didn’t like the fact that she was crying but when she stopped apologizing it just was “just something that happened” rather than the major EVENT it had been in the past.
As she started looking back and asking, “what is this really about?” She noticed that there was actually A LOT going on behind the scenes. She realized how much she had swallowed her feelings of fear, frustration and anger. She felt powerless at work and when there was any type of confrontation she felt more and more powerless and then more and more confused so she would cry out of frustration. Her crying was a sign of her not speaking of for herself, her incongruence between how she was feeling on the inside and what she was sharing on the outside. She knew she had a lot to contribute, she was just scared to do it. Over time we started unraveling her fear, frustration and anger. We started giving her a voice in our sessions and developing strategies for using that voice in the workplace.
She learned she needed to:
- speak up for herself more often in little ways so co-workers and superiors didn’t just bull-doze her
- ask for a break or a chance to reflect and come back to the problem
- discuss things one-on-one rather than in a large group,
- value her inner sensitivity, that piece of her gives her a lot of insight that her co-workers miss out on. She just needed to channel it in a different way so it could be heard in the workplace culture.
Now when she has a confrontation at work her first response isn’t crying but speaking up for herself. Leaking is still a part of her life, just not as much as is use to be.
I would love to hear from you in the comments: Can you relate? Do you have any strategies that have worked?