Should you be strong all the time? Is it possible? Be Strong — it’s an expression we all have heard countless times. Since childhood. As a child when you fall down and people don’t want to see you cry, they tell you to be strong. As an adult, if anything untoward happens, they don’t want you to cry, they tell you to be strong. A caring person will understand your plight and induce strength in you with their empathy. A weak person will convince you that you are being a coward by not being strong, a weak person cannot have empathy and wants you to ignore your challenges, they want you to hide your fears and concerns. Why? Because somewhere they are scared themselves, they are afraid that seeing you like this may make them weaker, it may expose their own emotional mess.
While I don’t deny that a certain degree of strength is needed to survive the blows life can deliver sometimes, at the same time I believe strength does not come from hiding who we are and what we are feeling. That will only be an illusion of strength. Real strength comes from being honest to yourself, it comes from acceptance and understanding.
Let me share with you a real-life story out of Brené Brown’s I Thought It Was Just Me:
The author’s mother’s only sibling was killed in a violent shooting. Her grandmother couldn’t endure the death of her son. Quoting verbatim: “Having been an alcoholic most of her life, my grandmother didn’t have the emotional resources she needed to survive a traumatic loss like this. For weeks she roamed her neighborhood, randomly asking the same people over and over if they had heard about his death.
One day, right after my uncle’s memorial service, my mom totally broke down. I had seen her cry once or twice, but I certainly had never seen her cry uncontrollably. My sisters and I were afraid and crying mostly because we were so scared to see her like that. I finally told her that we didn’t know what to do because we had never seen her ‘so weak.’ She looked at us and said, in a loving yet forceful voice, ‘I’m not weak. I’m stronger than you can imagine. I’m just very vulnerable right now. If I were weak, I’d be dead.’ ”
Next time anyone tells you to be strong or when they say you are weak or if you feel within you are weak, recall the story above. If you are hurt, when you’re injured, there’s going to be a wound. You have to take care of the abrasion if you want it to heal quicker. When the wound is fresh, it’s susceptible to infection and deterioration. This is vulnerability. It is a phase, a temporary state. When you experience trauma, you experience a sort of helplessness, you are not your normal self; during this period you are vulnerable. It does not mean you are a weak individual, it simply means you are recovering, it means you are human, it means you are normal.
Weakness is when you believe you are what others say about you, when you are in a pity party, when you downgrade yourself, when you start to believe you are unworthy because you are not fulfilling someone’s criteria. Just because there’s a misfit, it doesn’t mean you are unworthy. Just because you want the other person and they don’t want you as much, it doesn’t mean you have to change yourself so they may want you, it doesn’t mean you don’t deserve them. It simply means the fit is not right here. A shoe of size seven is not unworthy of a foot of size six, it’s just unfit. Unfit does not equal unworthiness just like vulnerability is not weakness. Never let anyone tag your worth.
I’m not saying we should not work on self-improvement, I’m not recommending we should ignore our shortcomings and limitations, I’m simply suggesting that you don’t need to weigh yourself on someone else’s rigged scale. If you believe you ought to work on an aspect of yourself, go ahead, but only if you truly want it. Life is not a battle, you are not in a boxing ring where you have to keep fighting and show your strength till one of the opponents is knocked out or time runs out. Sometimes, most of the time in fact, it’s perfectly fine to take a back step, to cry, to be yourself, to express yourself. To show your emotions does not make you weak; on the contrary, it shows you are genuine. Just because a part of your life is broken doesn’t mean you are weak or unworthy, it doesn’t necessarily mean you are at fault. It could just be one of those times when you went out without an umbrella on a clear day but it rained cats and dogs.
If there’s one gift you can give to yourself, if there’s one resolution you can make to transform yourself, it could be: never let anyone ever tell you what your worth is, never let them dictate how you see yourself. The next time someone neglects your feelings and tells you to be strong instead, please know that he or she is not the right person to share your feelings with. You’ll be better off speaking to a mirror. Or maybe you’ll get more out if you just call the customer care line of your telephone company and insist they hear you out for the next few minutes. You’ve been a loyal customer for years, and the least they can do is listen to your grievances for five minutes. Alright, I’m only joking. Not a bad way to end the year, I reckon.
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