WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MAY BE TRIGGERING.
I spent the first 13 years of my life almost constantly crying. I was a perpetually squalling cranky baby, a screaming tantrum-throwing toddler, a tearful preschooler, and a school child prone to attacks of uncontrolled crying in public places and embarrassing situations. During my teen years, my crying was downgraded to near-constant sulking and negativity. Tears came mostly when I was angry or frustrated by the time puberty hit. Rage frequently accompanied the tears, or maybe it worked the other way around.
I had the curse of the blonde and fair skinned, so my emotions showed on my face in neon reds and pinks against the white background of my skin. I blushed easily and that was embarrassing enough. I could feel the blood rising up my neck like a sudden wave of heat and my ears would start to burn. My bullies picked on my tendency to blush and would deliberately embarrass or humiliate me to see my ghostly pale face turn as red as a fire engine. If it went on long enough, my lips would start to quiver and there would be tears, and that’s what they were really waiting for–to see me cry.
The crying was awful. I wasn’t a pretty crier; in fact I was ugly when I cried. My skin would turn into a mottled red and pink that looked like a bad case of rosacea, my nose ran like a faucet and turned so red it was nearly purple, and my eyelids turned bright red too and swelled up as if they were bee-stung. It would take hours for these facial giveaways of my pathetic vulnerability to finally disappear.
I had a great deal of difficulty controlling all the intense and confusing emotions that seemed to crash over me like tidal waves when I least expected it. These feelings were just too big for me to handle, and I was so easily overwhelmed by them and had trouble soothing myself (this is an early indicator of BPD and other disorders like PTSD). Whenever I cried I thought I would never stop. No one could calm me down. My emotions were a force of nature too powerful to be tamed. When I wasn’t crying, I felt a constant dull ache in my chest (heart area) and congestion in my throat. Even that early, I knew crying would relieve the tightness and pain, but the crying was like vomiting and sometimes as painful because the intense waves of emotion plowed through me like an out of control bulldozer.
Raised by a narcissistic mother and enabling (possibly low spectrum or covert narcissist) dad, I became the the family scapegoat (made even more crazymaking by the fact that as an “only” in their marriage, I also sometimes served as Golden Child). I was either held on a pedestal that far exceeded my actual abilities/beauty/intelligence/whatever, but most of the time I WAS NEVER GOOD ENOUGH FOR THEM. I questioned myself and everything I did; it seemed I could do nothing right. I wasn’t allowed to do things for myself or speak my mind. I felt awkward and defective in my family and everywhere else too.
Not long after I started elementary school the bullying started. I was the class crybaby and kids always target the kid who cries the most or seems the most vulnerable. I had no defenses at all; I had never been taught any and lacked the confidence to stand up for myself. Things got especially bad in 3rd – 5th grades. During 4th grade, I was followed home every day by a group of kids who laughed and jeered at the way I walked and imitated my walk, as my tears welled and threatened to overflow (no wonder I hate mimes). The bullies would call out to me and sometimes even throw things to get my attention, but I wouldn’t turn around. I just kept on walking. I knew I couldn’t let them see the tears streaming down my face because that would make everything so much worse.
My third grade teacher, Mrs. Morse, was a psychopath with arms like Jello who always wore sleeveless dresses, so whenever she wrote on the board, all that quivering, pale freckled flab hanging from her bare arm made me want to throw up, but I still couldn’t take my eyes off it. It was mesmerizing in a horrible way, like a car accident.
Mrs. Morse knew how sensitive and scared of everything I was. She knew I was bullied by most of the other kids. But she had no empathy for my plight. She was a sadistic bitch straight from the pit of hell. She deliberately called on me whenever I was daydreaming, which was often (no kids got diagnosed with Aspergers back in those days and the idea of “attachment disorders” that lead to later personality disorders was an afterthought in those days), then she would make me stand in the front of the room and answer a question or solve a math problem while she glowered at me like wolf about to pounce and kill their prey. She never did this to the other kids, who were allowed to answer questions from their seat. She deliberately tried to humiliate me, because she knew she would get a reaction.
One time I couldn’t solve the math problem on the board (which was my worst subject), and she berated and belittled me in front of the class.
“You never pay attention. You’re always daydreaming. Do you have a mental problem?”
The class laughed.
My tongue was in knots and I felt the blood drain from my face. I felt tears burning the backs of my eyelids like acid.
I swallowed hard and tried with all my might not to let a tear loose but they started to flow anyway. I hung my head in shame and rubbed away the tears with my grubby fists as I turned away toward the wall. My narrow back and bony shoulders heaved with silent sobs.
That was exactly the moment this sadistic malignant narcissist who passed for a teacher was waiting for.
“Look everyone! Lauren is crying! Look at the tears! Cry, cry, cry, baby.”
The class burst into screams and hoots of laughter.
“Cry, baby, cry!”
I stood there in front of the class, staring at the floor, snot mingling with my tears, and longed to melt into those scuffed green-gray linoleum tiles, and never return.
In today’s anti-bullying environment, this “teacher” would have been fired for that shit. She might have even lost her teaching license. That kind of thing isn’t put up with anymore.
Later that year, there was a similar blackboard incident. This time, I was stood in front of the room and told I looked like an albino rabbit when I cried. (I actually did, due to my fairness and my slight overbite.) I was mortified as this unbelievable cruel bitch encouraged the entire class to laugh at my pain and humiliation. I ran out of the room and fled to the library sobbing. The librarian was a sweet and very young woman (probably just out of college) who actually liked me and knew about my love for books. That library was my refuse and the librarian was my friend who understood me. This time, she saw me rushing in like that and held her arms out to me as I crashed into her and sobbed into her warm fragrant neck. We stayed like that for a long time, until Mrs. Morse (accompanied by one of her 9 year old flunkies) came marching in looking for me. Mrs. Morse grabbed me roughly by the arm and marched me back to the pits of hell she called a classroom. Sadly, I looked back at my librarian angel and saw the wetness on her face and her sad little wave.
She knew, and I knew she knew. I’ve never forgotten her. Sometimes in my fantasies I still see her waving at me with that sad tearful smile, and that image gives me comfort and strength.
I think my years of uncontrollable emotional displays came to an end when I was 15. They had already been abating somewhat, replaced with rage and anger, but I had trouble controlling my anger and constant dark moods, even though I wasn’t crying as much. I started to drink and do self-destructive things. I started “talking tough” but inside I still felt anything but.
The year before, when I was 14, my parents divorced and I was taken to live with my mother in the city. She loved it; I hated it back then. We fought all the time, mostly because of her self involvement. My grades slipped and I never did my homework. I was depressed all the time and cared about nothing. When I cried (which was still often) I usually did it alone. The other kids at school didn’t like me. I was never invited to parties, always last picked for softball. I felt intimidated and shy all the time, but I still tried hard to make friends–a little too hard. I fit into no clique (I have never fit into any clique) but there was a group of girls low in the high school pecking order consisting of the geeks and quiet, studious girls. They seemed welcoming enough at first. I saw their small (or more likely, polite) displays of acceptance and wanted so badly to believe they actually LIKED me that I guess I started following them around like a needy puppy.
I noticed after awhile they avoided me too, and my “birthday corsage” box was proof of my unpopularity, because it was not signed by all the girls and when it was signed, it was just a name. No long flowery messages, no in-jokes, no high-school risque comments, no “you are such a great friend” or “Love ya, Lauren. XXXXOOOOOO” Just…signatures and an occasional terse “Happy Birthday.”
My fears were confirmed later that day. After weeks of avoiding me, the group of nerdy girls approached me and told me they wanted to take me out to a restaurant for my birthday after school. Wanting so much for them to like me I remember grinning like a fool and nodding like the needy puppy I was. Inside I was a little suspicious, but dammit, I wanted to believe them! Maybe their ignoring me had just been my overactive, “oversensitive” imagination after all, and they really did care. Why else would they want to spend time with me on my birthday?
At the restaurant I was picking up a certain tension. The girls kept looking at each other worriedly and wouldn’t look me in the eye. As I ate, I watched their anxious faces. Something was up, and it wasn’t good. I felt like I was going to throw up. I spoke to no one.
Finally, Harriet, the leader of that clique told me she needed to talk to me–privately. I felt like I was on my way to the principal’s office for some transgression. My heart pounded in my throat and I felt tears burn the backs of my eyelids, but I didn’t cry. I bit my lip until it bled and tried to just breathe through my terror.
Outside, she smiled at me sympathetically. Then went on to tell me the real reason they had planned to take me to lunch was because they didn’t want me to hang around with them anymore and didn’t have the opportunity to tell me at school. She actually got tears in her eyes when she said this, and then told me she hoped my feelings hadn’t been hurt. Um…hello? But all I could do was stand there staring at her as if I was cognitively challenged. For the first time ever, I felt emotionally numb. I didn’t realize at the time that would soon become my new way of coping with my pain.
I was traumatized by that rejection. I spent the next two days in bed. I felt sick and couldn’t go to school. I told no one what happened because the shame was too great. I didn’t cry; I couldn’t anymore. I just wanted to sleep forever and maybe die.
After that I couldn’t cry anymore. At least not in most situations that call for it. I had and still have trouble accessing my emotions. It was too scary to let them out, because when I did, bad things happened. It scares me to realize I might have easily become a narcissist, splitting off from all soft emotions, even empathy and guilt. Many narcissists started life this way too, without natural defenses.
I know now whenever I feel that painful tightness in my chest and throat, that means I need to cry. I’m not afraid of it anymore. I want to retrieve my long-ago ability to feel intensely connected to my emotions, because used properly, being an HSP is a gift and a blessing. The big difference will be that I’ll be able to let emotions pass through me freely and be able to express them without shame and without allowing them to overwhelm me or control me.