She’ll Play When She’s Done Crying

by Melissa Karnaze

DramaShe sits in the windowsill, higher than the rest of us in the playroom.

She peers outside through her tear-welled eyes and moans as if her world has ended. She portrays one of those frail female characters from a movie made in the 1950s — when women were supposed to be that way.

I don’t know why she is so sad. Her older brother probably menaced her earlier that day. Or her mother wouldn’t let her have her way.

Whatever happened, she wallows in it.

My ten-year-old self thinks up the best way to make her feel better. I propose a fun game to her siblings and mine, and we get ready to play.

Then I walk up to her, and in my most welcoming voice I say, “Arielle, would you like to play with us?”

She turns her head away from the bleak world outside and tilts it toward me in deep thought.

“Not right now,” she explains, still with sadness in her blue eyes.

Disappointed, I realize I can’t make her feel better after all.

“I need to finish crying first,” she continues, with empathy now shining through the blue. “I’ll come play with you when I’m done crying.”

She looks through the window again, back to the bleakness in the distance. I see her little brown curls hug the back of her neck. She looks like a movie star.

What Arielle knows about emotional intelligence

Arielle, at four years of age, knows more about emotional intelligence than most of us adults do. She knows the secrets about emotional intelligence: self-acceptance and the delicacy of timing.

She knows that there is a time to be sad, a time to be lonely, and desolate, and hopeless. And that when that time passes — she’ll be ready to play with the rest of us. She’ll be ready as ever to move on — but not a moment sooner.

That’s because, at four years of age, she’s mastered self-acceptance in ways we adults grasp at with our self-help books, recovery programs, relationship workshops, and therapy sessions. She just does it. She just accepts herself. And she revels in herself, her moods, and her deepest emotions — for as long as it takes before she’s ready to move on.

Emotional intelligence is about self-acceptance

Emotional intelligence is about accepting yourself enough to see through the fog that other people are caught up in — the fog that tricks them into thinking that being emotional is unintelligent. Or that being emotional will get you trapped, when it can get you mobilized more than anything else.

Emotional intelligence is about being really, really honest with yourself. It’s about admitting what you really (want to) feel. And feeling any “negative” feelings for as long as you need to because you know that in order to follow them back to where they came from — back to what was causing you pain or discomfort in the first place — that you have to let them run their course.

Emotional intelligence is about having patience with yourself

Emotional intelligence is not about scoring high on a paper-exam asking you whether you are happy and satisfied with life every day. It’s not about being able to smile to everyone you walk past on the street because you’ve just got it that much together all of the time. It’s not about being able to claim that you rarely if ever get “stuck” in your trouble emotions and have some down times when your whole world doesn’t make sense.

Emotional intelligence is about saying “Who cares about time tables — my feelings are not on a schedule here!” It’s about taking as long as you need to grieve. And tending to a broken heart or an open wound, without rushing. It’s about owning your cognitive distortions, without trying to change them prematurely, by listening to them instead.

Arielle will play when she’s ready

Arielle wasn’t so child-like to be tricked into an easy distraction from her pain — a new game to play.

But it is from her child-like innocence, self-awareness, and assertiveness that we can all learn a little more about emotional intelligence.

Or rather, more about how we can better accept and be more patient with ourselves.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Robin August 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm

I’m not sure what to think after reading this. In the real world, Arielle would’ve been picked apart mercilessly by other children for acting like a ‘baby’. As an adult, she’d probably be called a ‘drama queen’ or just immature. It’s very unfortunate our culture values emotional control and repression rather than the natural ups and downs of a rich emotional life. We’re told to ‘man-up’ or just ‘grow up’ and always be in control of how we feel (rather than being in control of our behavior, which is another thing entirely). Yes, being present for our emotions is the healther choice, but it can make a lonely and difficult life for those who can’t ‘get over it’ like the culture demands.

Kari August 15, 2011 at 5:46 am


I can very much relate to your opinion on this post. The more I work on accepting my emotions and working through them, the harder it becomes to consistently engage with people. I now find contemporary culture so oppressive and restrictive, whereas before I, like many, thought that maintaining a positive an upbeat personality all the time was the “high road”.

The bright side though is that I feel so much more comfortable with myself now, and am perfectly ok with being alone. It’s worth the isolation, to get that kind of acceptance of self.

I also think that in time, people will gravitate toward you of their own accord. It won’t always be lonely because eventually, I think, people recognize when someone is happy with themselves and emotionally balanced, and they start to engage with those people because they want that for themselves, if they don’t have it already. If they do have it already, then it’s easy to form relationships with like minded people.

Luca July 25, 2012 at 12:29 pm


I agree with most of what you are saying. We usually lean too much on the efficiency side than on the effectiveness one. Being in contact with our emotions is a mostly overlooked and underestimated skill in our society. Yes, feelings are not on a schedule, emotional wounds need time to heal, emotional pain needs time to subside.

Still, we do have more than emotional needs in our Maslow pyramid. We need to tend to our primary urges, and sometimes we simply cannot afford to allow for all the time that our feelings would need.

In my book, being a well-functioning adult — a real adult, I’m not talking about one of those hectic beings all focused on efficiency — means learning how to strike a balance among time for allowing feelings to evolve as they should, and tending to all our other worldly needs.

Emotional intelligence is an important tool, but not the only one you need to have in your shed.

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