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“Stop Crying, Or I’ll Give You Something to Cry About”

loving dad

This dad looks like he’s saying, “It’s OK. I’m here with you.”

Did you ever hear these words when you were a kid? Have you said them yourself?

If you were told, “Stop crying, or I’ll give you something to cry about,” here’s what you learned:

1. The world is a dangerous place.

If Mommy or Daddy or Grandma or the babysitter threatens to make you cry, what might a stranger do?

Trust is necessary for healthy relationships. Children learn to trust others by experiencing safety with them.

How safe do you feel around others when you’re having strong feelings today?

2. You can control how you feel.

Why would someone tell you to stop crying, unless it was possible?

The instruction to stop implies that you have a choice.

If you were convinced that you could and should control your tears, you must have come to believe you could control your feelings.

Hence a lifetime of feeling bad about yourself for not being able to control your emotions — as if anyone can!

Control your actions if you want, but don’t waste your time struggling to control how you feel.

3. There’s something wrong with crying (and, by association, with being sad).

For some reason, others didn’t like it when you were upset enough to cry.

You were bothering them with your feelings. So much so that they threatened you!

You were either told, or you concluded, that tears are for losers/sissies/babies/wimps/people who don’t mind being totally inappropriate.

How is this message still affecting you?

*   *   *

If you were told to stop crying when you were small, all is not lost. You can still question the validity of the “facts” today.

What if there’s no real punishment for crying (e.g., you won’t be beaten or arrested)?

What if it turns out you simply can’t control your feelings?

What if it’s just not that big a deal if you’re sad, or angry, or scared sometimes?

If all of these were true, how might your life be different?

Photo courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

About Tina Gilbertson

Tina Gilbertson is a psychotherapist, speaker and author based in Denver, Colorado.
She specializes in supporting parents of estranged adult children through therapy, consulting and other resources, and offers assertiveness training and executive coaching for organizations.
The author of “Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them” and the “Guide for Parents of Estranged Adult Children,” Tina is often featured in the media as an expert on communication and relationships.
Her blog on PsychologyToday.com is called “Constructive Wallowing.”

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0 Responses to "“Stop Crying, Or I’ll Give You Something to Cry About”"

  • Rosie
    May 4, 2013 - 10:18 am Reply

    Tina……..it seems as if you were hiding in the room somewhere when I grew up. I heard that statement from my father more times than I can count. And as an adult, I CAN NOT cry in front of anyone. I would like to, but the fear overwhelms me. What’s the worst that can happen…I ask myself. I don’t know. Maybe the earth will open up and swallow me. Or maybe the person watching me will judge me and think poorly of me and every time I look at them, I will know they “saw” me at my weakest. I have managed to eek out a few drips during therapy, but full on crying? I have to save that for the confines of a private space. And it takes so much energy to hold all this back. I understand all of this intellectually, by my emotional parts are just too afraid.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 4, 2013 - 11:17 am Reply

      Rosie, thank you so much for sharing your story. You’re far from alone.

      Many years ago, despite my best efforts, I cried in front of a group of people. Coming from a family that didn’t cry, I expected to be shunned. I expected others to avoid me afterwards.

      But that didn’t happen. Instead, people reached out to me, sharing their kindness and their own difficulties with me.

      That experience made me realize two things. One, that crying can create and/or strengthen relationships. And two, that my “weaknesses” make me more, not less, attractive to the kinds of people I like to hang out with.

      Crying in public is still not my favorite thing, but that experience changed the horror of it for me.

      Thanks again for taking the time to leave a comment.

  • multnoma
    May 4, 2013 - 2:00 pm Reply

    As a child, my wife was physically abused by her mother. She never talks about it. However, she and her siblings have mentioned from time to time, almost casually, that the subject phrase was a favorite of their mother’s.

    My wife hates to cry and seldom does so. Almost to the point of being obnoxious about it. And when she does she can become suddenly very angry, if she is not being comforted ‘sufficiently’.

    I never connected those two dots until today.

    Thank you.

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 4, 2013 - 3:36 pm Reply

      Thank YOU, Multnoma, for your contribution to the discussion. A great many of my clients have a hard time with crying, even in therapy. That early training gets deeply embedded.

  • tundrawoman
    May 8, 2013 - 5:29 pm Reply

    Ahhh….tears! As an infant I was dxd. with what would now be called Failure to Thrive. My Walking Cluster B “mother” was very well educated for her time-an RN, BS. I also had an older sister so it’s not as if Mummy-Dearest didn’t have OJT *and* OJT. As a child I was well-versed in Learned Helplessness.
    I was also well-versed re: Crying. So I didn’t until I did at the ripe old age 😉 of 23 after I destroyed my living room in an out of control rage, then sat down in the middle of the mess and cried, a sobbing, body-shaking, snotting mess; all 23 yrs. of pain erupted in one big explosion. I dutifully cleaned up myself, my lil’ LR and became even more terrified of my feelings. Prior to that event I had learned to keep my feelings absolutely under control at all times.
    I was so frightened by my out-burst I retreated to numb for the next few years. I never learned emotions were normal. Expressing them did not have to reflect years of previous abuse/neglect so repressed their expression terrified me. I learned I was human. I learned feelings were normal. I learned they were necessary. I learned they were sending me vital information and I ignored them/stuffed them at my peril.
    I’m an old widow now with a geriatric cat-a true cliche, eh?! I look back at the young woman that was me and I want to tell her, “It’s OK. YOU’RE OK. And now when it looks and feels as if you’re a mess, you’re not: Neither is your life. You’re now on a new journey of fixing what ails. It was NEVER YOU.” And I’d ask my young self if it would be OK if I hugged her. Or just held her hand. Touch does not have to mean pain. Little fingers that had been repeatedly crushed could be made whole.
    So can hearts and lives.
    Tears can feel good! But trying to force them doesn’t: At the right time, in the right place and for me that still requires privacy.
    And that’s OK too.
    TW

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 8, 2013 - 8:09 pm Reply

      Tundrawoman, it’s an honor to have you share your experience on this page, and you’re right to point out that crying is never a requirement. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story of courage and self-acceptance.

  • Sandy
    May 9, 2013 - 8:04 pm Reply

    I think this is one of my major difficulties, not just crying, but expressing any kind of emotion that might not “be appropriate.” And when what’s appropriate is subject to change from day to day, it REALLY messes you up! I cried a LOT when I was little; terrible temper tantrums, and yes, I actually did kick myself around in a circle like Homer Simpson does. It wasn’t just shame from my mother, though, which was plenty bad in itself. My father was physically present when he wasn’t golfing, but always stayed aloof; I never learned much about him, and he never learned much about me, really. We talked very little. But he did read to me at bedtime a lot. Then there’s two older sibliings who tormented me relentlessly, with no holds barred, because they were often the ones babysititing me…making me cry, (or laugh uncontrollably with chicken-pecks to the chest) and then tease me about it. So, here I am today, venturing out on a new journey. New territory that I’ve never been in before. But, hey. Here I am, better late than never!!

    • Tina Gilbertson
      May 9, 2013 - 10:27 pm Reply

      Sandy, congrats on venturing into new territory! I agree when you say “better late than never,” especially when it comes to personal growth. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.

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