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You Can’t Cry

I am the biggest crybaby known to man.

Trying to win in a heated argument? I’m crying.

Saying goodbye to a long-time coworker who’s resigning? I’m crying.

Tying my shoe, and the knot does not come out evenly? You guessed it: I’m crying.

Over the years, I have learned that not every sad situation I am in needs crying. Sometimes, the happiest situations need crying as well! Honestly, every emotionally charged situation I am in tends to invoke Niagara Falls.

For a lot of people, my emotional reaction to anything tends to be extremely overwhelming and unbearable to deal with. Many people do not know what to do in that situation, and many people do not want to be the shoulder to cry on. I’m sure it is nothing personal. I’m sure it is simply because they do not want salty tears to stain their nice shirts.

My parents, on the other hand, always seemed to have a set response whenever they caught me crying. It did not matter what the circumstances were. They were always quick to respond with dry, glaring eyes, eyebrows raised, and a scowl on their faces, reminding me of their one response.

“You can’t cry. What are you crying about? There’s nothing to cry about.”

There are so many instances where I remember my parents saying this. I remember them saying this exact phrase when I failed my Spanish test, got teased by my family members, or was hurt by something they said. The first time I heard any modification to this robotic response was when I was lying in my hospital bed after a car accident.

I remember lying on the bed, shaken from what had happened. I remember my vision being blurred by tears and the bright fluorescent lights of the facility. I could feel my little sister trying to regain her composure next to me when I heard the door open. I heard my mom’s boots clacking against the linoleum floor, almost rhythmically.

I remember when she stopped at my bed. I remember her coming over, thanking God that I was okay and that I was only mildly injured. It only mattered to her that I was alive, but I kept apologizing through tears for getting into the accident in the first place. She responded to my tears with the same response.

“You can’t cry. What are you crying about? There’s nothing to cry about,” she paused, realizing how much pain I was in, and continued, “You can cry, but only because it hurts. Don’t cry because of anything else.”

My car accident was in July of this year. I am 20 years old, and my mother is still scolding me for crying.

Growing up, I grew not only resentful of my parents for suppressing my emotional reaction, but I grew spiteful of my own crybaby nature. When something upset me, I used to repeat in my head, “Don’t cry. Don’t cry. Don’t cry.” If I could not handle it, I would simply walk away. I would try to keep my tears out of anyone’s sight.

I tried not to cry with my parents or my siblings around. I didn’t want them to see me in such a weakened state. I did not want to show them how weak I truly was. I needed to show them that I was the strong pillar of strength in our family.

At night, I dropped my persona of the strong pillar of strength. The walls came crashing down when my family’s snores filled the house. Their snores seemed to drown out my tears. While I cried, I always wondered, “What was wrong with me? Why am I crying?”

I lived in that mind trap for years, constantly wondering what was so wrong with it that my only response was to cry. Most importantly, why did my parents have such a disdain for it?

As I grew up, I found answers to both of those questions.

Why Do I Respond by Crying?

Crying is just an innate emotional response. We all cry. We cried when we wanted something as a baby, and everyone sympathized with us. They cooed us to sleep. They comforted us.

However, the crying got significantly less cute as we grew up. We cried when something emotional happened, and everyone scorned us. They told us to grow up. They insulted us.

We have learned to associate crying with immaturity. Maturity means being strong, smart, and having the ability to restrain your tears. But if that were true, I would be considered the most immature person alive. However, I am not, and it took me a while to realize that.

Crying is not a bad coping mechanism. Crying is cathartic, both physically and emotionally. Crying can literally reduce pain and release stress building up inside of you. There is no reason that I, or anyone else, should associate crying with being a bad coping mechanism.

Crying did for me what I couldn’t do. I could never communicate my feelings well as a kid, but crying communicated for me what I couldn’t. It let go of the stress and tension within me. While crying might not be the only thing I should rely on to cope, it’s a great start.

After a long look at myself, crying is my go-to coping mechanism because I was never taught a productive alternative. My only alternative to crying was simply to repress my emotions. That, by itself, wasn't going to cut it. I know that now.

Now that I realized that, the next question came naturally to me: “Why didn’t my parents know that?”

Why Do My Parents Hate Crying?

My parents grew up in the Philippines. Both of them grew up in poverty in a third-world country. Both of them have seen things I can only look at on the news. Both of them learned that crying could not get them anywhere.

When both of my parents were living in poverty, they quickly learned that only action and never crying could get them out of the situations they were in. If they stopped to cry, perhaps they would be too late for their next chance.

Anything sad, traumatic, or upsetting had its own internal impact on them that they could not express. They were never told that the trauma they experienced was not normal. They were never told that they could react to it. They were never told that they could cry.

So they didn’t.

They got out of their situations, holding onto the trauma of not only themselves but the generations before them, who had to hold onto their trauma as tight as they could. To them, crying was the weak man’s alternative.

For years, I could not understand that. For years, I looked back and thought something was wrong with me or something was wrong with them. Never once did I look back and realize that maybe nothing was wrong with us, until last year when Turning Red came out.

The scene where the main character looks at her younger mother, breaking down and realizing that they were in the same traumatic cycle. The scene absolutely broke me. I cried for hours, realizing that what I was seeing was a reflection of me and my parents. What I was seeing was the choice to either repeat the same cycle of traumatic repression or be the one to finally let go.

That night, I cried. I cried, knowing that I had chosen the latter.

I will continue to cry. I will continue to respond to emotionally charged situations by crying. I will continue to cry in order to let go.

I will let go on behalf of my parents, the ones who couldn’t cry, and let go of their generations of dismay. I will choose to live happier and freer than they could. I will choose to be the one who breaks the cycle.

I will choose to cry for my parents, the ones who could never cry.

I will choose me. I will choose to be the happiest version of myself by crying. I will cry and cry and cry until all of my ancestors’ trauma can be released. I will cry for my parents, whom I love so dearly.

So now, when they remind me not to cry, for there is no reason to cry, I will not grow resentful against them as I have done in the past.

I will remember that these tears are for them.

About the Author

Kahleia is in her junior year at UNLV, and currently majoring in History! She hopes to go into Public History post-graduation to help make history understandable and digestible for the general public. At school, she is part of the Dean’s Student Advisory Council (DSAC) for the College of Liberal Arts (COLA) which is a student-led organization that works to act as the voice for COLA undergraduate students. Also, for the last 5 years, she has been working at the Discovery Children’s Museum in a variety of positions, especially in their Birthdays department. She has had a passion for writing since she was in elementary school, and she was involved in journalism in elementary school and high school where she was the Editor-in-Chief!

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