Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Article written by Sarah Nielsen
When I was in 5th grade, I had to do a monologue assigned by the teacher for a drama program I was a part of. My monologue was from the perspective of a girl who had just been diagnosed with leukemia. It was an emotionally charged, challenging piece, especially for the awkward, shy 5th grader that was supposed to present it. I practiced at home in front of a mirror the days leading up. During my performance, I was more than nervous, but I got through it without forgetting any lines. Afterwards, the teacher tore me apart (at least that’s what it felt like to 5th grade me). She only pointed out the things that I did wrong. I started to cry in front of everybody, from the embarrassment, hurt feelings, and anger at how hard I’d tried for apparently nothing. Everyone was afraid to talk to me afterwards, like something was wrong with me. It was only when I made up a “valid” excuse for being sad, that my grandmother had leukemia (she did, but that was not why I had cried), that people were okay with it. Why do I bring this story up? Because it shows why I get so self-conscious crying in front of others.
I cry a lot. At least it feels like a lot to me. This may come as a surprise to close friends, because I think I generally give off a pretty happy persona. And I am generally a very happy person, but sometimes I just need to blubber as a way of release. I’ve always had insecurities about crying though, especially when it happens in front of other people. Because of that, I’ve had plenty of times here at Swarthmore where I’ve tried to keep everything bottled up inside. This generally doesn’t turn out so well, meaning I feel like crap while doing it and then it just comes out when I am alone and have no one to turn to. But I’ve also had experiences of crying both alone and with people I care about where afterwards I’ve felt emotionally stronger ─ like something inside me that needed to get out, did.
Here are some things that make me cry: Watching other people cry. Scenes in movies involving parent-child problems. Getting yelled at by my mom. Feeling like something is entirely out of my control. Fighting or disagreements with the people I love. Being anxious or overwhelmed. Hurting someone I love. Emotions of anger, frustration, jealousy. Feeling helpless and powerless. Death.
When I cry in front of friends, whether it is in front of one person or five or ten, often my immediate reaction is to apologize. Say “I’m sorry” for wasting their time. For pouring my emotions onto them when they probably had better things to do. For “being silly and unreasonable.” But I shouldn’t feel that way because my friends are my friends because they love me and value me for who I am, including my emotions. However, it is those moments like the one from 5th grade that cause me to feel embarrassed and weak when I cry. Like somehow when I cry, I betray my gender by fulfilling the emotional female stereotype and by validating the saying “you cry like a girl!” I know that me feeling this way is really messed up. It is caused by those stereotypes simply existing, by media crap, by how I was socialized, by a lot of things. It reminds me of the ad that exploded on social media a few weeks ago by Always, “#LikeaGirl”, that showed how doing things like a girl is constantly twisted negatively. Well, maybe crying like a girl is a good thing.
I had one moment at Swat that sticks out in my mind where I ended up crying in front of a lot of my friends. Although I felt a bit embarrassed in the moment, I felt the support and love from people who cared about me even more. They refused to take my apologies, listened to me, gave me hugs, and made me laugh. It was one of the first times I had ever with a large group of people and afterwards felt no shame or wished I had stayed in check of my emotions. For me, it was a release of built up emotions in a safe space that left me feeling stronger and healthier.
The atmosphere at Swarthmore can be extremely hard to handle: mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Most of you know that by personal experience. And it is really easy to tell yourself that your problems aren’t as bad as someone else’s, and because of that you should just suck it up and deal with everything yourself. But I’ve learned that is dangerous. When does that attitude stop? We all deal with different struggles and we all need some sort of release. Crying is one of those methods of release for me, and maybe for you too. I’m tired of being embarrassed and weak when I cry in front of others because true friends will be there for you no matter what. Whether the cause is academic induced stress or the death of someone close to you, crying is and should be treated as an appropriate, healthy way of acknowledging and confronting emotions. If crying consistently makes you feel worse or if there doesn’t seem to be any reason behind the crying, then that may not be healthy. But otherwise, crying can be extremely cathartic, alone or with friends. And you may not be able to control why or when or where it happens, but that is okay, because crying is natural and is not something to be ashamed about.
Speak 2 Swatties is Swarthmore’s student-run peer counseling and mental health advocacy group. Speak 2 Swatties is confidential. If you want someone to talk to about anything going on in your life, please email us at S2S.firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to talk.