Move your mind, Move your body, Move your soul.
The current state of the world has me thinking about experience. How does “experience” look now that we are not traveling to exotic places, or even leaving the house in some cases amidst COVID-19. What does the college experience even mean these days? The lived reality of our Black and brown has been highlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. Even the Administration through the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has put more emphasis on the health care consumer experience in terms of paying our medical providers.
A level down, this theme of experience has been filling my work days as well, as we are trained in our Communication styles, our DiSC framework, how we are perceived by co-workers. Experience is a major tenet of our sexual discrimination and harassment trainings as well as in our Diversity & Inclusion Council’s work.
And then, experience became the focal point of an argument I had with my husband about a week ago.
I have been working on a project for a couple of years – yes, years. And on the day of the argument, I had a meeting with a graphic designer to discuss the details of digitizing my work. I felt so excited to have forward momentum. At last, my project would be birthed to the world. And my husband, understandably, asked me how it went. After a few benign questions, he gave me some unsolicited feedback.
"I don't think the online form is right for your journal. Who is going to download a pdf and print it and then do it?"
I referenced my research about online books and about my target audience and their use of online tools.
"I think you need to push yourself and think bigger," he challenged.
I referenced my research on the cost associated with printing an interactive journal like the one I created. And how self-publishing was really the way to go until I have a following.
Another question, another question, another question. I was not expecting this. I felt like I needed to have answers to all of the questions. And that my answers were not satisfying him. I bit my lower lip and then pressed my molars together to set my jaw. And then my eyes got that old familiar burn and the tears rolled down my cheeks.
And this is when the actual argument started – about my tears.
"Why are you crying?"
As I spoke, as I tried to explain myself, the tears flowed harder. I knew that I was getting to that ugly cry place. And ugh, I was so annoyed. How I wished I could just talk without crying. I felt embarrassed and mad at myself.
And then the rest of the argument that followed is a bit of a jumble in my mind because it had nothing to do with the project or his feedback about it. It had to do with my crying.
The comments about my tears started with: “I feel like your tears don’t match this situation.” And ended with: “Your tears feel like an attack”
My tears made him so angry.
It was basically at this point that we agreed to pause the conversation (a tactic we learned in therapy). I wanted to do some processing. And research. I wanted to come back with reasoning, explanation and proof (in defense of) my crying.
Days later, on Instagram, I saw an image of two white people who were found guilty of a racially motivated crime. And they were crying in the courtroom. The photo was captioned with the bullshit of the tears. Fake tears. White tears. Another podcast I listened to about some woman who posted Dr. Maya Angelo’s words without crediting her was noted as giving a “fake apology.” My husband has accused me of giving fake apologies, too.
Am I the same as those people? Am I just another white Karen out there?
Full disclosure: I am a crier. I cry a lot. At least a couple times a week you will find me in tears. I cry when I am touched by an inspiring story, I cry when I am lonely, I cry when I am overwhelmed, I cry when I feel happiness bubbling in my chest.
During my formative years and into early adulthood, I was labelled "too sensitive" and "melodramatic." On the other side of the coin, I was deemed “harsh” and “painfully honest”, seemingly being too direct in my communication. I armored up for about a decade and only cried in the shower/bathroom where no one would see. I changed how I constructed emails and how I gave feedback. In the last 5 years, I have embraced my tears as being a part of who I am. I chalked it up to being a Highly Sensitive Person and I can't help it.
But is that all bullshit?
My initial research, post-argument, brought me to a Highly Sensitive People website and some articles first. Articles that talk about how some people are just more sensitive than others. Some of us can’t watch (or even read about) violence. These are the stories I have surrounded myself with over the last few years. It’s real, they promise. You are not crazy and you don’t have a diagnosable condition. You are just sensitive. It is your superpower.
But these musings were interrupted by thoughts back to Layla Saad’s work, Me and White Supremacy, and I looked for the journal prompts I had worked through two years ago on white tears & fragility. If you don’t know what I mean by “white tears”, buy Saad’s book (you should buy it anyway).
When people insinuate that I am fragile or meek – or that I would feign weakness in order to win an argument (or get out of one)—it makes me want to fight. How dare someone say that my tears are manipulative?! And I’m old enough to know that if I feel that triggered because of it, there must be a lesson in that.
It brought me back to intent. I didn’t intend for my tears to be an attack on my hubby last Monday night. I flashed to our conversation and I actually said that “I am not intending to make you feel bad. I’m just telling you how I feel.” And I didn’t intend to make him angry. And yet, my tears had an impact on him. He experienced my tears in a negative way.
And then I read this article, from the March 2016 Time Magazine, “The Science of Crying.” It discusses how more recently, scientists believe that crying is about connection to other humans. It is a way to express that one needs support, love and care. This way of communicating can be manipulating others for that support and care.
Makes sense, right? I mean, babies cry because they need something. They are trying to communicate. So perhaps even if I am not conscious of it, I might be trying to communicate. I might be subconsciously intending to receive love and support.
I catalogued my crying history. I do cry when I am mad, sad, overwhelmed, relieved – at times I cry due to fear of abandonment, loss of love or rejection. Did I cry the other night because I wanted my hubby to take it easy on me? Did I cry because I wanted to connect? I cry when things are uncomfortable and when I don’t know what to say. Physically, my throat feels cloudy and clogged, much as it does when I literally “hold back” something I am hesitant to voice. Noticing that physicality is something I'm diving into.
Perhaps my tears are communicative. And that’s where my A ha! Moment struck. Just like when we talk with each other, email, use body language, there is an impact when others’ receive our behaviors. Impact over Intent. Experience wins.
Now, hold on a sec. I know that many of us grew up trying to make others comfortable. When I was a child, I acted as a chameleon. I tried to change my demeanor in order to keep everyone happy. So careful with my words in fact that sometimes that I lost myself.
My husband’s anger triggered by my tears probably doesn’t have to do with me. It likely has to do with his own story he’s told himself over time about tears, and probably specifically women’s tears. I care about his feelings but I don’t have to carry them. I don’t need to be responsible for how he feels. He is responsible for his emotions and what he does with them. But since I care about how my communication “lands” with him... what to do?
As with most things, there is likely a balance between losing yourself completely, changing yourself in order to make others’ comfortable and being a bull in a china shop.
Here is what I propose:
My tears that evening were about a feeling of overwhelm for sure. And now I believe that I started to cry so that we could end the conversation and so that my husband could see I was hurt by his words. I didn’t want any feedback about my project or my process. And I probably could have said that right from the beginning: "I am not looking for feedback." After my bout of crying, my hubby reminded me that I am loved. That he is here to support me - and also to challenge me in order to help me grow. And that is exactly what I wanted to hear.
My tears got me exactly what I wanted that evening. And this makes me squirm.
You gotta feel it to heal it.