By: Maya Wright

I’m an emotional person, if that’s what you want to call it. It’s not something I apologize for (because, why should I?)—but I do feel sorry for it; that is, when I allow myself to be that kind of vulnerable with someone who simply wasn’t worth my trust.

I had a pretty rough week last week, and I let myself cry in front of a friend on three different occasions. After the first time, they assured me that I could confide in them and that I didn’t have to bear my burden alone. It was comforting and I felt honesty in their admission; so a couple of days later, I cried in front of them again and then once more the next day. I thought everything was cool and confidential until we were watching a movie with a group of friends (who I have never cried in front of) and the friend I had trusted suggested to everyone that I was emotional. Everyone got a good laugh out of it and I played it off, but I was pretty hurt. It caught me off guard that they would betray my trust like that and I vowed to never cry in front of them again.

But it caused me to really consider: Where did this notion originate, of not wanting to cry in front of other people?

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And it’s not really crying itself, but crying openly—publicly—just feels like a major no-no. In other words, it’s okay to cry as long as no one else sees it. And growing up, my mom never let me cry in public. While those tears were usually associated with something I’d done wrong, it ingrained in me a discomfort with public displays of vulnerability. My mom was a soldier and a single mother of 4; I didn’t see her cry until I was a teenager. She was hard on the exterior—hard to relate to, hard to understand, but I knew she loved me. And now, in my adulthood, I understand her plight. Being a woman in the army, she was forbidden the freedom of crying, so it was only natural that she instinctively taught us the same behavior.

So I learned how to keep my feelings to myself and that if a person was crying in public, they had failed to do exactly that. Even now that I know better, I would still say that sometimes seeing a stranger cry in public feels strangely invasive. It’s like I’m seeing a part of them that I shouldn’t, because vulnerability has a way of making you feel stripped, open.

Especially in black culture, crying just gets a bad rep. It is considered to be the very manifestation of weakness. Whereas strength conjures up images of physicality, determination, and often aggression, weakness presents itself as being emotional, crying, and showing physical incapability. But this attitude towards crying is nothing more than a societal-inflicted impression that is actually 100% false. In fact, tears show that the person is mentally strong, in control of their feelings and unafraid of societal expectations. PsychCentral.comsays, “tears signal a need for help and comfort, help relieve stress, and may bring us back into emotional equilibrium.”

Which is good because I cry a lot. I cry when I pray, when I’m angry, sad, anxious, worried, or venting. I cry when I’m really grateful about something or just reflecting on how blessed I am. I cry while watching TV or a movie. I cry when I feel lonely, left out, confused. When I try not to cry, I just don’t feel “free.” I need to cry sometimes and there’s no point in risking a headache when I can quite easily just let myself fall apart for a few minutes and be done with it.

Still, crying is something I only choose to do privately—alone, or with someone I trust. When I get to know a person and they cause me to feel comfortable enough to think I can allow them to see that part of me, I almost always get let down. They either suggest that I need to ‘suck it up,’ call me ‘weak,’ tell someone, or bring it up randomly in public conversation. These days, the comfort of confidentiality and respect is a rare find, but still worth searching for.

What some people fail to realize is that even though they are sometimes listed as synonyms, ‘weak’ and ‘vulnerable’ are not the same. Something or someone that is weak is lacking in power or strength; easily damaged or influenced.  Vulnerability is choosing to let your guard down, despite the consequences.

Vulnerability is a choice, and if someone is willing to let you see them cry—which is probably the rawest expression of emotion that exists—be worth their time. Don’t make them feel like crap. See the beauty that is present in their tears and be there for them.

Because vulnerability is a gift—not a handicap.