One limiting stereotype in our society today is that it’s somehow weak or feminine for a man to cry. When does a boy learn that it’s not all right to show emotion? Somewhere between preschool and the football field, boys get the message that crying or showing sadness makes them less masculine and vulnerable to ridicule. Somewhere along the way they shut off their feelings. (Except anger—it seems to be socially acceptable for a man to be angry.) But most of us understand the truth: suppressing emotion is unhealthy. It’s healthy to cry. It can even be very healing to cry and let things out.
I’m not just talking about boys, though. That’s just the obvious stereotype in our culture that I wanted to expose. Some of us girls learn early to suppress negative emotion too, and we pay for it later. There are plenty of statistics to prove what I’m saying, and I’m sure people are very interested, but I also think a lot of us are in denial about how damaging it really is. Scientists have even given it a name: alexithymia. Finnish investigators report in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics that people with an inability to express emotions, also known as alexithymia, have much higher levels of inflammatory chemicals in their bodies. Inflammation is implicated in diseases as diverse as heart disease, arthritis, asthma, dementia, osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and cancer to name but a few. So in short, suppressing emotions can make you sick.
I was one of those girls who told myself it wasn’t okay to cry. I grew up in an environment where I didn’t feel safe expressing my true emotions, so I hid them away. I told myself I wasn’t built that way. I told myself the lie that I didn’t have to deal with it and it would just go away. It didn’t. In my twenties I was already suffering from depression and underactive thyroid. There are many ways to deal with these issues, and for a while medication helped me. I was using antidepressants and thyroid meds, but I continued to gain weight and I continued to feel depressed, anxious and unhappy. It wasn’t until I started reading books and started feeling the desire to do something different that things began to change for me. First I read Karol Truman’s Feelings Buried Alive Never Die. I discovered Carol Tuttle’s energy profiling system and I began to see myself differently. For those who know anything about Tuttle’s energy “types,” I mistakenly typed myself as a four. After all, I had lived as a type four all of my life. “Keeping things structured and staying on track is the primary motive for a Type 4 woman. Creating quality and precision is a priority in how you approach life. The movement of Type 4 Energy is the most rigid of all the Types.” (from It’s Just My Nature! A Guide To Knowing and Living Your True Nature) I was quiet, introverted, deeply reflective, and saw myself as authoritative, critical and serious—all qualities of a type four. But when I really began healing, when I let go of the medications and the protective walls I had built up all around myself, I began to understand that I was really a type two. A type two interacts with the world on an emotional level. I had never reacted to the world and to the people around me on an emotional level. I had stayed far away from attempting it. But when I finally began to allow myself to heal, all of those repressed emotions came up. I cried and cried and cried. I’m still crying. I still find myself crying about things that seem silly. But you know what? I give myself permission to cry. I tell myself it’s okay now. I figure if I feel like crying, something must need to come out, and I invite that. My sister says I’m still making up for all those years I wouldn’t allow myself to cry. And now that I allow myself to feel, to express, to cry, the depression is gone, my thyroid is working without any need of medication, and I feel at peace.
This isn’t just about being a certain energy type. That’s just my story. I think it’s important to expose the lies that men don’t cry, that women are naturally more emotional, that expressing emotion is embarrassing and makes you vulnerable and weak. We all feel emotion—men and women alike. We all need to express it, feel it, validate ourselves and support each other.
One of my favorite things about being a part of LDS culture is watching grown men stand up in church meetings and express emotion—sadness, joy, remorse or an overwhelming feeling from the Spirit of God. Whatever it might be, they feel safe expressing it, sometimes in front of hundreds of people. I wish they could understand how endearing and attractive it makes them. They might feel better about giving themselves permission in the future, and teaching their sons that it’s healthy and right and perfectly acceptable.