I am a normally confident, outgoing and successful woman in my forties. My problem is that I often burst into tears if someone is unpleasant to me or if I get angry with them. It is totally embarrassing especially if it happens with my boss or in a meeting in front of several people. How must it look – a grown woman blubbing uncontrollably into her hanky?
The trouble is that when it happens – the person who has caused the upset tends to then treat me like a child wanting to stop the tears. I can see them losing respect for me and any valid point I had in being upset is lost in the snuffles.
I have had enough of being like this and want to change. It would be great to be able to express my annoyance, anger or hurt without the tears but how do I do that? Any thoughts?
Tears are a manifestation of something emotional going on inside of us. In your case it is an emotion that you find unable to express in any other way: your anger. The problem, as you have discovered, is that uncontrolled crying prevents you from getting your point across clearly. Other people find the tears embarrassing, puzzling or awkward even though you might have a legitimate reason for feeling wronged, hurt or angry. The good thing is that you realise that it is a problem and you want to do something about it. I think the first step is to try to understand why you react like you do.
Has expressing anger or hurt always been a problem for you? Why do you think that was? Perhaps your family didn’t allow negative emotions to be verbalised or perhaps for some reason you didn’t think that it was appropriate to do so. Sometimes uncontrolled crying can be a sign of unresolved grief. Have you experienced a significant loss in the past that you haven’t been able to work through? If so, you might want to consider seeing a counsellor who will be able to look back with you at the bereavement and help you to access some of your buried emotion.
As well as getting to the root of the problem, there are also some practical steps you could try:
Firstly, practice expressing hurt and anger with safe people. Tell them about your problem and enlist their help. When you next feel annoyed, upset or angry try to explain to them how you feel. Give them permission to ask you questions to draw out the issues.
Secondly, use the written word to express your feelings. If there is an incident at work that you feel strongly about, write down your response rather than try to express it verbally (certainly until you get better at it). Then, even if you do end up having a discussion about it, you will have already got your main points across.
Thirdly, if you do find yourself crying with a colleague or business associate – apologise, excuse yourself and then go to the loo. Take the time to compose yourself, splash cold water on your face and take a deep breath. Go back into the room and try again. You might want to break any awkwardness in the atmosphere by admitting that you have a problem with crying. Tell them not to worry and ask them to bear with you as you try to express the issue that caused your reaction.
And finally, try as much as possible to express your feelings with the right person at the right time. If you let emotions build up they are more likely to spill out at the wrong time and sometimes with the wrong people.
You’ll find more in my book, Authentic – Relationships from the Inside Out (*link opens in new window) about how to have difficult conversations and how to access negative emotions. I hope you will find it helpful. It really is possible to get better at expressing your feelings in a controlled manner because I did and so can you.