Crying was not really a thing in my family as I was growing up. Sure, it happened, don't get me wrong. But it was only when things were so painful that my body and mind had no other choice but to release the pressure in this way. I started to eventually wear this as kind of an invisible badge of honor. I'm the girl who you will only see cry maybe a couple of times through the course of a relationship...lucky you, guy-in-my-life! I'm the employee whose tears you will never have to see in the workplace - HR should be so happy to have me on the team, right?! And Friends, don't worry, you won't have to go grab the Kleenex box for me while I cry at your kitchen table.
Instead what you are more likely to see is me flashing quick smiles as I share out loud a painful story with you. I will send you mixed signals about what's going on in my mind and heart. If I force my mouth upwards into a smile, it's very hard to cry right? Can you even do both at the same time? How do I know I do this fake smile thing when I'm super upset? Because I've been called out on my bullshit. More than once. "How is that you're smiling as you tell this painful story about your childhood?," a counselor once asked me many years ago. Of course, she knew I was hiding my emotions, and she was no doubt just holding up the mirror for me to see it too. And more recently, my public speaking coach (I know, a coach for everything!) called me out for the same thing all these years later. "Take off the mask, Britt. Let your inside and your outside match so people can connect with you." Crap. I was still doing it. Ugh, how was that possible? I felt like I had become super authentic and transparent in recent years - that's what self-development does right? You get really clear on who you are and how you want to show up in the world and then you go show up that way and be your badass, actualized self. And I was being authentic... but only halfway, so I realized.
My words were free flowing, genuine and aligned with who I was but that frozen face just wasn't willing to melt into the words coming out of it quite yet. The mask just wouldn't come off. Over and over I practiced with this coach who was trying to show me how to connect with my audience on a deeper level through my presence, and over and over, I kept the mask on. It was as if the mask had embedded into my own skin. This work with the coach was going to be harder than I realized. Damn.
Not long after my time working with the coach on this, things started to really pile up on the emotional front in my life. It's in those giant piles that I can usually get to the point where my body finally gets to unearth its raw emotion. The only problem is, by then I have a pile of things all jumbled together to work through and now it's a full out crying fest. At this point, everything has become mashed together and I'm unsure of what exactly I'm even crying about. Something interesting happened in my most recent dumpster fire-cry fest though. It became super clear what all I am holding. What all the tension is about. As I allowed myself to really go all in and not hold anything back, I eventually got to the center of the web of distressing thoughts- the common denominator in all of it. The thread that was holding it all.
This particular time it was my fears around being alone and feeling lonely. Other times it has been something different, of course. With this new awareness and the mind and body depressurized, I could start to move back to an empowered and action oriented place. I could actually begin to answer the question, "So now what?" I could reclaim my power and know what I needed to do next. Or at least start to think about what might help. But until there's awareness in one way or another, nothing changes.
Did I let it all out in front of someone? No, that stiff upper lip hasn't quite loosened up to that degree yet. And I'm not sure I ever want it to be completely loosey-goosey on the tears. In fact , I know I don't. But allowing myself to fully express myself and hold space for my emotions when by myself, I believe, is a pre-requisite for showing up as authentically as possible in my conversations out in the world. It is the start of establishing a balance between letting the emotion come through my face so I can create deeper connections but yet allowing them through in a way that doesn't cause people to slowly back away from me with a "Get a grip, lady" look in their eyes as my cheeks turn into waterfalls. As I learn to take the mask off more freely at home, I trust it will become easier to take it off in public too in a way that works.
The body knows what it needs, and the brain, of course, does a nice job of keeping us safe. I have gratitude for the parts they each play. Nevertheless, If I could just let the body run the show a tiny bit more, who knows what type of deep human connections might start to show up. Who knows what lives besides my own might be changed for the better by my vulnerability and by my 100% raw authenticity. Authenticity in which my words and and my facial expressions don't compete with each other but instead go hand in hand. I might just begin to chip away at that whole feeling disconnected and alone thing.
Do you let yourself cry it out? Are you able to find the center or heart of the cry? Leave a comment below if you are comfortable sharing your story around self care by way of a good cry, showing up 100% authentic and being able to see the root of the issue.