How do I stop the tears from flowing?
August 21, 2010 7:07 PM   Subscribe

How do you handle crying when you're actually raging to kill someone inside?

I don't like crying nor do I do so often but when I get really really mad, I start to cry. I don't yell, I don't scream, I just cry. Then that anger starts getting deflected inwards and I start hating myself, which makes me cry even more. This happens when I'm dealing with difficult customer service representatives, when I have to stand up for myself (crying in this situation is the worst), or when crying will not help the situation at all! I'm generally seem as a very calm and collected individual!

Aside from the over used suggestion of "Go see a therapist", what can I do to stop the crying??
posted by astapasta24 to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Actually, IMHO, the suggestion of "go see a therapist" is underused around here.

The reason that suggestion is appropriate in this situation is that we have NO IDEA as to why this happens to you. If YOU don't know why this happens, with your extensive knowledge about your history, how could we give you the answer?

Short of suggesting some sort of successive approximation of fabricated events that allow you to practice these skills, the real answer lies in your identifying why conflict creates this response... and, guess who is going to help you determine that (and, I'm assuming here, that you've attempted to figure that out on your own in order to mitigate it and have been unable to do so).
posted by HuronBob at 7:13 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

I also do this when I am absolutely furious, but this for me does not include customer service reps or standing up for myself. I have to be over the top angry. When I feel like I am approaching this, I remind myself to breathe deeply, and a lot of times I have to walk away.
posted by bolognius maximus at 7:15 PM on August 21, 2010

This is going to be a very personal thing, so I can only provide what works for me, but it sounds like you need to process your emotions better. The problem isn't crying, it's reaching the level of anger that forces your body to decompress and de-stress by crying it out. What makes you really really mad?
posted by Phyltre at 7:16 PM on August 21, 2010

Try learning to meditate and practice it daily. I've developed a nice empty space that let's me evacuate emotional tension from the top of my head and look at it from another more imparial angle in real time. This allows for a nimble response without either suppressing or being overwhelmed by raw emotion.
posted by Burhanistan at 7:19 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

my usual reaction to extreme anger or frustration is to cry. its not the symtom you need to address but the cause: anger and frustration. as others have suggested therapy meditation etc but what you seek to learn is how to avoid anger or frustration in triggering situations...
posted by supermedusa at 7:23 PM on August 21, 2010

As for myself, I've dealt with this one half via situation rehearsal when it could be predicted, one half with not letting it bother me.

I know it tends to trigger The Freak Out type response from whoever I'm dealing with, past which I don't get much of an honest interaction, just kinda the mutual embarrassment of somebody violating an unwritten social rule. In this situation you may really have to maintain at least focus on what the point of the anger is and not let the "somebody make this person stop crying," thing overwhelm what it is that was important to you in the first place.

This one is overused, but I find exercise, while it hasn't made me look like Brad Pitt, (yet!), does tend to provide a needed outlet that keeps my emotions from turning my mind into a pressure cooker. Meditation can be a two way street, sometimes it is a big help, sometimes it just enables me focus overwhelmingly on my rage and I end up muttering to myself which is also not usually helpful.

But that being said, you mentioned that you yourself are not that often in this situation. Frankly IMO unless you do some serious Serenity Now type damage to your psyche you are going to experience extreme anger and loss of emotional control at some point in the future. I always HATED this in myself, especially because I had a messed up sexist idea that this was unacceptable in a guy. But you know hating yourself over something valid and not entirely under your control isn't that useful.

You could try gaining superhuman shyster style confidence but I think that's really just a symptom of sociopathy so I don't recommend that either. Maybe "accept there are things about yourself that can't be completely changed" isn't the answer you are after.

I've got to say I've never had a problem with Customer Service though. I guess I just don't see them as authority figures that must be confronted so much as retail workers who I am trying not to overtly pity (I've had that job before and I am glad I don't have it now). These people have no power at all. If I could get more detail about that situation or the one where crying doesn't help I might have a more specific answer. Standing up for yourself is a rough one no matter what you are doing.

Sometimes you have to get away from the situation, calm down, and come back and try again. Don't buy into the bullshit idea that whoever maintains the most emotional control is right or winning the argument, (I've come to think this is the heart of every scam). Just because somebody is emotional doesn't mean they're wrong.
posted by SomeOneElse at 7:42 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]

You might also try:

Getting a pet.

Short circuiting anger with humor. This can help return a little normalcy to a bad situation although if you wish for things to remain serious it is a double-edged sword.

If this is coming up a lot examine the larger context. Are you being put in situations that are emotionally manipulative? Why is it happening and how can you change the overall situation? For me it was getting out of a bad work environment.
posted by SomeOneElse at 7:50 PM on August 21, 2010

As someone who cries when I get very angry, I generally just let it all out just so I can be done with it. I am not in customer service, but in a similar situation where a coworker enrages me to the over-boiling point. I do make a point, however, not to cry in front of this person because they would only use it against me. I don't think that this is the kind of situation you'd find yourself in customer service. Please don't hate yourself over crying in anger. It never helps. I've never been to therapy for my situation because mine has an end date (I'm in academia - last year of grad school), but if you keep running into this sort of thing in your line of work, it might be helpful to see someone.

Also, yoga has helped me work through the anger.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 8:11 PM on August 21, 2010

I register ALL strong emotions with tears. I thinks it's in my DNA -- my Dad is like this, too.

Happy: tears with a smile.
Sad: tears with a frown.
Super angry: raging tears with knife.

I have been like this all my life, both in and out of therapy, on and off meds. It's how I am wired.

I don't like it, since most (idiots) people associate tears with weakness and lack of self-control. But, I have learned to manage it by removing myself from situations where tears could be a deal-breaker. At least until I find some kind of neutral.

Good luck to you! There's a lot of power in accepting yourself, but if change is what you want, I hope you find it.
posted by kidelo at 8:29 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]

As girls, we don't have a lot of models for coping with anger at all, to say nothing of healthy strategies. Girls aren't supposed to get angry. Crying is a valid expression of strong emotions in girls. So it's no surprise that we struggle to express or cope with anger as adults by resorting to socially acceptable tears.

Don't be hard on yourself. I know in the past I have tended to immediately become critical of my own responses when I get angry, which make me become entirely uncertain in my own actions and anxious about what to do. Now I try to accept my anger when it appears and channel it in more healthy ways. For one, it's important to acknowledge that you have a right to feel anger, and that you are not a bad person for it. I think the tears are very much tied up with self-esteem issues, too.

As you become more confident and accepting of yourself, you will probably find that you deal with your anger better.
posted by Hildegarde at 8:45 PM on August 21, 2010

I'm like kidelo - I cry when I'm happy, sad, angry...and especially if I'm being very sincere. Sincerity makes me tear up like nobody's business. I used to be ashamed by this until I realized that we're supposed to cry. Crying has a physiological purpose, it's a natural response to emotion. It just so happens that many of us live in a society in which showing any type of emotion is frowned upon. This is society's problem, not ours. I generally try not to make a show out of it - I just blot my eyes, blow my nose and move on. If the other person can't handle it, I just feel sorry for them.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 8:58 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're a woman, like me the emotion is some sort of estrogen poisoning that hit around puberty. What has helped was a telemarketing job and a partner coaching me to be meaner on the internet. It didn't do much about the slow leak problem, per say, but it gave me more familiarity with facing down someone, either to tell them their account is over due, or their internet post is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Also my therapist told me to practice by actually having (yelling) arguments with my long term partner, on the grounds that this was healthier than bottling it up, and work with him to correctly calibrate from bottling my emotions or going splah to loudly threatening.

Lastly, on the self esteem front, since unwanted histamine reactions during emotion are often a female problem, I can reassure myself that my anger involving blurred vision is as valid as the yelling guy, even if he'd be called assertive and I'd be called weak.
posted by Phalene at 9:17 PM on August 21, 2010

Yeah, I have the same problem. (Female, fyi.) It particularly happens to me in professional situations when dealing with someone really difficult who makes me really mad. I have a hard time holding back the tears. It usually meant a trip to the restroom to let myself cry and then clean up and go back and deal with whatever.

Crying is a way to release emotion. When you have an emotion and no way to release it (like your boss just pissed you off and you want to leap across the desk and strangle them, but you can't because you need your job and don't want to go to jail) it comes out however it can.

The best advice I can give is to try breathing exercises to try to keep control long enough for you to take a private moment and compose yourself. In that moment, let yourself be upset, and then think through how you want to approach the problem, what you will say, etc. Of course, you can't always take a moment depending on the situation. But to me, having to excuse myself suddenly is often preferable to breaking down in tears in front of some people.

At any rate, I wouldn't worry that there's something wrong with you. It's just one of those things we have to try to learn to cope with as best we can.
posted by threeturtles at 9:31 PM on August 21, 2010

You have to give yourself the permission to get gradually more and more angry as situations warrant it. I know it's a cliche but therapy could actually help you examine recent confrontations explore why you couldn't express your anger clearly. I used fear that my rage was so unmanageable that I couldn't afford to uncork it even a little bit. It's not like I was a violent person, I just had a neurotic fear that if I expressed my anger, it might rage out of control. So they were tears of frustration.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:56 PM on August 21, 2010

Stop being so angry.

Yes, I know that's difficult. Burhanistan's recommendation of meditation seems like a good place to start. In general, cultivating some stillness will help with this.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is way more normal than you think. I certainly cry when I am incredibly angry and frustrated, particularly when I am not sure how to react next. I certainly know many others who do the same. People get angry! Sometimes it's just that simple.

Things that help and have helped: deep breathing, removing yourself to go to a calm, quiet place (in instances when this is actually an option), writing down or articulating what precisely is upsetting you, if you can, taking a nap/hot shower, distracting yourself with something pleasant and mindless.

But I actually think the best thing you can do is just let yourself feel how you're feeling. If you need to finish crying, it's better to just get it all out, wherever you may choose to do so.
posted by Pochemuchka at 11:04 PM on August 21, 2010

I've had this exact problem for years and years. I'm finally getting better at it, because i'm now able to deal with anxiety in general, and I think for me, the crying-while-angry was part of my physical response to anxiety.

When this happened to me, I would get this massive rush of anger that would wash all over my body, leave me incapable of thinking about anything else, and would make me cry if i had to talk about it. I think it really wash a massive rush - of adrenaline, which freaked my body out. I've since looked into things like mindfulness and general meditation, as well as learning to watch out for my anxiety triggers, and i'm now [mostly] capable of handling a difficult situation without bursting into tears.

So to sum up - for me, this was part of a bigger anxiety problem, and once I started addressing that, this started to go away. Good luck to you!
posted by ukdanae at 1:34 AM on August 22, 2010

Deep breaths can help. When I get angry, my throat constricts, and it usually isn't long until the tears start. Keeping deep, regular breathing going helps a lot.
posted by rubbish bin night at 2:46 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

As girls, we don't have a lot of models for coping with anger at all, to say nothing of healthy strategies. Girls aren't supposed to get angry. Crying is a valid expression of strong emotions in girls. So it's no surprise that we struggle to express or cope with anger as adults by resorting to socially acceptable tears.

The worst time in my life was when I bought this theory. It's the most harmful thing you can possibly believe about yourself and your life (I'm assuming you, OP, are female). I'm a woman, and I finally figured out that while crying got me out of 6 or so speeding tickets, it never got me out of an actual problem. What did get me out of problems (fairly severe ones) was to quit turning that anger IN and direct it OUT.

Get mad. Breathe deep in the "I'm about to do something physical" kind of way - through the nose, NOT the throat. Like a bull getting ready to charge, if that helps. Nostrils! Get pissed! Eyes should be on the person who instigates. If this is taking place on the phone, then find a spot on the wall and that's the person you're talking to. Stare at it as if you are insane, and get mad at it.

Sounds stupid, right? It's not. "Depression is anger turned inward." So. Get mad at something outside yourself. I am NOT saying that you should rip someone's head off - but if you focus on outside things, the inside person won't break down in tears. You're mad at the outside world, not yourself. I don't care what gender you are - anger at the existing status quo is why we currently have all sorts of neat things, including voting rights, freedom of religion, and desegregation. Stare it down!

*it took me YEARS to be able to do this. I'll never forget the first time I got mad instead if crying*
posted by deep thought sunstar at 3:52 AM on August 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

I'm the same way - especially if the customer service type person was implying I was in the wrong and I knew that wasn't the case. I sat down and contemplated what in my personal history made standing up for myself and showing anger to be things that magnified the emotion. That helped me to feel a little less overwhelmed by the emotion when it happened again, Not self-loathe for it, and to better model myself on those who are firm and assertive instead of raging and sniffly. But it's always a struggle - so good luck!
posted by ldthomps at 10:52 AM on August 22, 2010

If you're like me, your anger often comes from frustration at not being heard or not being taken seriously.

Learning some different techniques for handling disagreement goes a long way to removing the frustration. If one tool doesn't work, you can just pull out another one. Lots of the tools involve changing the tenor of the conversation so it's not necessarily about anger or frustration, but maybe sympathy or co-operation or something else that you know how to handle.

Examples of ways of handling conflict:
- Calmly repeat your original request
- Agree cheerily with their point of view, sympathise with them and then get back to your point
- Tell them you understand (whatever they just said), and then ask them, what do they recommend you do to solve your problem?
- Ask them to tell you more about (their unexpected criticism)
- Say something descriptive about them: "You sound really stressed".
- Say something descriptive about you: "I'm just really frustrated that I can't seem to get this subscription cancelled"
- Ask to speak to the supervisor
- End the call and try again later, or write a letter instead
- Angrily tell people that their behaviour is unacceptable
- Burn your bridges by laughing and then telling them exactly what you think without mincing words, then hang up!

Things that won't help:

- Defending yourself when someone tries to distract you from the original issue by attacking you. This is a non starter because it leads to an upsetting and frustrating cycle of unpleasantness. Don't defend yourself! Keep the conversation to the original problem.
- Worrying about things they DIDN'T say but you imagine they probably meant.

After any upsetting conversation, afterwards sit down and map out in your mind
how it went, what happened, how you felt at each point and where you could perhaps have done something differently to stop the conversation going down that line.
posted by emilyw at 2:10 PM on August 22, 2010 [2 favorites]

I think crying became a female response because it stops women from speaking. I read, probably on, that the bit of flesh between the thumb and forefinger is an acupressure point to reduce tears, so I pinch that spot (not hard). Over time, it's gotten much better.
posted by theora55 at 6:05 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't like crying nor do I do so often but when I get really really mad, I start to cry. I don't yell, I don't scream, I just cry. Then that anger starts getting deflected inwards and I start hating myself, which makes me cry even more.

Hmmm. I notice people in here are advising you about how to control your anger, but I think -- if I read you correctly -- that you're asking more about "why do I CRY when I'm angry?" And, well, some people just do.

I think, though, that you maybe try to FIGHT this reaction ("what the hell, I'm CRYING? Why am I CRYING when I'm ANGRY? That's not the 'right' thing to be doing!") and that's why the anger is getting deflected inwards, because you're now beating yourself up for not having the "right" response to an emotion.

I wonder if maybe just accepting your response would help -- rather than seeing "crying while angry" as something to punish yourself for, just acknowledge crying as something you do when you're angry, and respond accordingly ("...Huh, I'm crying. They must really have gotten under my skin. I'd better go take a walk for a couple minutes and clear my head.") At the very least, you won'd be compounding the problem by piling self-directed anger on top of the outward-directed kind ("yeah, whatever, I'm crying, but it's THIS ASSHOLE that drove me to it!!")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:56 PM on August 22, 2010

« Older Please Help Me Find Good Computers for My Two 7th...   |   Sites for teenagers? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.