Sunday 22 September 2019

Stephanie Regan: 'It's good to talk and courageous to cry and show your emotion, Roy'

On the mark: Jon Walters celebrates scoring for Republic of Ireland.
Photo: Reuters /Clodagh Kilcoyne
On the mark: Jon Walters celebrates scoring for Republic of Ireland. Photo: Reuters /Clodagh Kilcoyne

Stephanie Regan

In May this year, footballer Jon Walters gave an emotional interview on the Late Late Show. I sat on my couch and listened to him speak of how he felt when his mother died and he was a young boy aged 11. He faltered, cried and struggled to tell us of this painful part of his life.

"I was my mum's little boy you see... I was lost."

He continued to share with us the death of his brother, his wife's miscarriage and the diagnosis of scoliosis of his young child, each of which had happened in close succession.

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It was a lot to bear, perhaps it was too much.

The therapist in me heard the shock, the trauma, the broken bewildered boy bending under the heaviest of grief. It was hard to watch and he seemed so alone on that TV.

The interview lasted seven minutes and throughout there were tense pauses as it became unclear if he could hold his composure and resume the interview.

Ryan offered him many opportunities to stop, to regroup his thoughts. "You don't have to go on if you don't want to," said Ryan.

Walters explained that he did want to go on. He had spoken of this before in an interview and people had come up to him and said that "because he had spoken of these things that they felt they could now".

This is why Jon Walters was speaking, this is why he was on TV "crying about his family situation", as Roy Keane put it. Walters wanted to help. He opened out his pain, he showed us his brokenness, and in doing this he let every small boy in the country see that it was OK for strong, successful sportsmen to cry.

At the time I thought that it might have been too much for Walters as he seemed so emotional and still very broken by these events. As a therapist, I am of course accustomed to seeing lots of tears, but this interview stayed with me.

Yet this week Keane took a cruel stab at Walters, referencing the interview,chastising him for "crying on TV about his family situation".

You see, Roy couldn't see the pain in that interview, or didn't want to. Roy didn't notice the courage it took to continue despite the tears. Perhaps he didn't want to, couldn't or wouldn't.

Roy didn't care about the broken boy because Roy is in the winning business: picking teams, training them hard, getting the results, and there's no room for emotions in that world, is there Roy?

But I do care because emotions are my business. They are the colour of life; they are what makes our hearts sing and break; they are what make our connections deep and our partings painful.

In essence, they are life. We cannot only care about wins, we must care about people.

There was a time in this country of ours when the school of hard knocks, the ruler, the leather belt and the swallowed tears, formed us. Fear and shame kept heartbreak silent. Children, babies and loved ones were left unmourned, but we've learned from it all and we've progressed and grown up to be our better selves.

We've dropped words like "cissy", "cry baby" and "whinger" because we know that these words are designed to hurt, diminish and to shut people down.

We've grown up emotionally and learned to value the freedom to be ourselves and to express our worlds.

We embrace talk and see the merit of holding the hands of those who need our support.

We've learned that our emotional and mental health hinges on being able to process and make sense of what life sends us and yes, sometimes we cry as we try to find those words to make sense of it all.

It can be uncomfortable when someone begins to cry in front of you because you may feel that they need something from you. In fact, they don't need much.

They don't need solutions or answers but they do need to be heard.

Jonathan Walters was trying to help us all to see that and to play his part in making the world better for the small boys and indeed for anyone grieving from any kind of loss.

Roy Keane couldn't see that and he has been correctly attacked in the media for his mocking comments.

It's possible that Roy sees all expressions of emotion as some kind of weakness to be avoided, but he needs to look around him and see how the world has changed and how we have all grown up emotionally.

He is in a position to influence young minds who look up to him and needs to consider the message he wants to give them. This week his message was very wrong.

It is good to talk and sometimes it's good to cry.

Emotional intelligence is well recognised to be a key competence in managers, whether in business or otherwise.

It is the capacity to be aware of, control and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

It's recognised to be key to good leadership, embracing the nuances of human emotion.

You could try it, Roy. You might even get more wins.

Irish Independent

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