I got a pneumonia shot today. I didn’t cry. So, I thought, “I’ll get myself an ice cream cone.” And I did.
How did those things ever get connected in my mind? Why did I think I should get an ice cream because I got a shot—and did not cry? Is it deep in my childhood memory? Was I rewarded for not crying when I was in pain?
I am not sure, but I have heard of such a thing. We often reward children if they don’t cry. Or, we sometimes shame them if they do. When a child gets hurt, we sometimes say, “There, there, don’t cry. It’ll be all right.” (As if the fact that it will be all right makes the pain any less intense.)
Why do we teach children to hold in their tears when they are hurt? Is it because we don’t like the sound of crying? Is it because we don’t want them to hurt and we can pretend it doesn’t hurt if they are not crying? Is it because we feel powerless to fix their problem? Probably these and many other reasons explain our efforts.
But, I wonder what this conditioning does to us when we become adults and do not feel that we have permission to cry when we hurt. What does this way of dealing with tears of children contribute to the inability of many people to express their painful emotions?
Tears are a gift. They reflect our being in touch with primary feelings such as pain or hurt or sadness. If we do not express these softer and more honest feelings, they can often get twisted and become hardened and then channeled as anger or aggression toward others. Tears help us release the tension that we often feel when we are overcome with stress or too many painful circumstances.
So, maybe we could try something to help us adults express our more primary feelings. Maybe we could get an ice cream cone when we give in to the sadness and cry.