When was the last time you had a good, long cry?
We've been socialized, especially as men, to believe that crying is a sign of weakness. And, while there is value in controlling the expression of one's emotions, there's also immense value in the catharsis of a good cry.
The other day, I spent a morning doing an exercise that might sound crazy. You know those painful memories you have stored up? The ones where you were bullied, or you got dumped, or a loved one died? I made a long list of all of those.
And then I added to that list all of my worst fears. My parents dying. Someone I love receiving a terminal diagnosis. A car crash. Nuclear war.
I looked up and down the list. Had I truly felt the pain experience of all of these past occurrences and future possibilities and certainties? How often in my life did I avoid feeling that pain, through drugs or sex or intellectualizing or media or shopping?
So I went down the list and forced myself to confront the pain of each experience. I lay in my bed crying, alone, for hours. I allowed the flood of emotion to overcome me. When it felt like it might be too much, I breathed into the experience and reassured myself that I could press on.
And then, I confronted the ultimate ego pain: my own death. I've spent my life avoiding the truth that one day, I'm going to die. So I focused on it. I pushed my ego off a cliff. You're going to die. One day, some day, is going to be your last. I bawled my eyes out.
Afterward, I felt a divine calm wash over me. The only other experience that offered me a similar serenity was in the aftermath of a psilocybin therapeutic retreat. I held my own hand. I hugged myself. I felt, in that moment, self-love and self-acceptance. I realized that, in spite of all my painful experiences, they don't define me. I came to understand that by embracing my mortality, I could access an inner peace I didn't know was possible.
You know that feeling when something funny happens in a quiet setting where it would be inappropriate to laugh, and you have a hard time holding it in? You cover your mouth and try to hide your smirk, but your laughter still permeates through the gaps between your fingers. And if it doesn't and you do manage to hold it in, you'll be gasping for air laughing maniacally as soon as you're able to leave the room.
Holding in your pain is a lot like that. Except when you hold in your pain, releasing it tends to hurts other people. Whether by emotional abuse or by actual violence, it's true that "hurt people hurt people". Our stored pain becomes a ball and chain weighing us down. We carry our pain wherever we go. It's heavy and burdensome. It keeps us from opening up. It damages our ability to trust—both in ourselves, and in the people we love.
We recede into childish validation seeking, neediness, and addiction in order to get what we perceive to be our needs met. They're not our needs: They're the pain of not feeling okay in the world because we internalized our past mistakes and traumas as a reflection of who we are. In choosing to feel our previously unfelt pain, we open ourselves up to a more adult modality of relating with others and ourselves.
So don't be such a baby. Cry more.