The Effect of Squashing Emotions


Years ago a teacher told me that it took more energy to keep from crying than it did to cry and I didn't believe her. For me, crying, especially in front of another person, felt too humiliating to bear except in the most extreme circumstances. I took the strong silent approach to dealing with emotional upset and prided myself on my self-control.


But then I got to know a three-year-old and his mother. One day we were riding in a car and the little boy was tired and upset because his older sibling was harassing him. Finally, he hit his limit and began to cry. His mom immediately insisted that he stop. I said the crying didn't bother me but she said it did bother most people so he had to learn to stop doing it. She threatened to keep him from doing something he was really looking forward to when they got home if he didn't control himself. And control himself he did. This is what it took:


He tensed every muscle in his little body. He held his breath, gritted his teeth, made his hands into fists and rocked back and forth hitting himself. His mom couldn't see him because she was driving. She said "Now there's a big boy. Doesn't that feel much better?" The little boy shook his head "no" but couldn't say so out loud because he was trying so hard to keep from crying.


If this situation was repeated often enough, eventually the physical things he did to stop his crying would become second nature. We all hold our breath, clench our jaws and tense our muscles but we don't notice anymore. We stop noticing the effort it takes to hold back our tears because it seems normal. I can't imagine a baby who wouldn't cry when it was hurting, but big boys and girls do it all the time. We're used to it. Meanwhile the physical tension this involves takes its toll in headaches, inflexible bodies, ulcers, asthma attacks, heart disease and cancer.

© Copyright 2007 Sheryl Karas

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