My seven year old stopped me in my tracks a few days ago with an interesting comment: “Mum, why does nobody ever cry on Peter Rabbit?” OK, so we have to suspend disbelief a little at the idea of rabbits talking and wearing clothes etc, but his observation was fascinating…mainly because it prompted me to think how rare it is to see people (or animated characters) crying on children’s TV.
It made me reflect a little on our everyday perceptions of crying. We can feel really vulnerable if we cry in public – sometimes we even apologise for it as if it were uncomfortable to witness. The reality is that crying – whether from sadness, joy or anything in between – is a valid expression of emotion. We have somehow fabricated the idea that vulnerability is weakness, yet in truth it is the opposite. Sitting with uncomfortable feelings (as raw as they might be) and being honest about them is an act of great courage.
For some it is a result of holding on to a facade for too long – the mask slips either deliberately or inadvertently and we expose how we really feel. It might feel uncomfortable momentarily but there is also a huge relief in letting go of the need to appear as if we are nothing short of perfect.
Emotions are the transient, powerful flip-sides of thought in the moment. They can appear to overwhelm us at times, yet this too can come from a need to contain them somehow. The notion of control is often the undercurrent of this feeling of somehow falling short when life’s narrative doesn’t align with the script in our heads. Here’s the thing – it never will and we don’t need it to in order to be content. Life happens…it unfolds from moment to moment regardless of how much we can will it to go in a certain direction. And that goes for people, experiences and pretty much everything else.
Have you ever walked through a busy supermarket or town with a small person who is screaming, crying and gesticulating in the throes of a toddler meltdown? Even the phrase ‘meltdown’ suggests it is somehow not permitted as a day to day activity. Yet toddlers are small people experiencing BIG emotions and they deal with them in the only way they know – by letting them out and moving into the next moment. Often the storm will subside within minutes (OK maybe longer) regardless of how you choose to deal with it. As a parent it can cause immense inner anguish and tension. This stems from a societal pressure to be ‘in control’.. as if being with a child who is expressing confusing emotions somehow is indicative of your inability to parent well. When you look at it rationally, it makes no sense at all.
The resistance to these perceived ‘negative’ expressions of emotion comes from the very idea that some emotions are more acceptable than others. In truth, all emotions are equally valid and inherently human. It’s only when we put a filter on our lives and simultaneously set up expectations only to act in a certain way, that we feel a need to resist what naturally flows.
So while Peter and co. are brave (as they continuously remind us with their rabbit ditties) – it’s not because they don’t cry. After all, vulnerability is courage in motion.
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