I used to have a different definition of “being strong.” When I was younger, being strong was about holding in and not showing anyone my feelings. Being strong meant going through everything alone and never asking for help. Being strong was about not needing to depend on anyone or anything. Now, I realize that my definition was wrong.
All that my idea of “being strong”, brought me was suffering and made me feel alone. I accomplished many things on my own, but I also wore down my biggest resource: me. There was never a point when I was giving back to myself. Now, I understand that when I was “being strong”, I was neglecting my own needs and denying my own feelings. So, I’m not sure who I was “being strong” for because I was suffering in the process. The other side it as I was “being strong” for everyone else, all I succeeded in doing was creating resentment.
Here is an example of the insanity: I can remember going to see people who I cared about. I had a smile plastered on my face and when they asked me how everything was going I wouldn’t reveal anything. Insides, I was pleading for someone to see that I was dying inside. But, I would continue to laugh and smile. When I left them, I would be angry. I would tell myself that if they really loved me that they would know that I was having a hard time even if a smile was on my face.
Now, I see that was insanity. How could I expect someone to know what was really going on when I was laughing, joking and pretending that everything was great in my life? It’s because I was betraying my feelings, and instead of owning it and dealing with myself, I projected it onto other people. They didn’t recognize my hidden feelings, so they had betrayed me. They didn’t really love me. It’s natural to feel this way, but it’s important to realize that it only supports the feelings of isolation and resentment.
My new definition of strong is opening up and expressing my feelings. In the past, I would run from them, stuff them down and try to avoid allowing others to see them. Now, I dive into them. I try to understand them and look for the truth about why they are showing up and what are they trying to tell me about myself. I trust them. As a child, I was teased when I cried. I was called a crybaby, which hurt my feelings and led me to hide my sadness. Ultimately, hiding my sadness led to me not dealing with it and hating it because it felt like a sign of weakness. What I learned is that the people who were taunting me for crying were denying their own emotions and feelings? When I cried freely, it reminded them that they were not able to and they projected their need for emotional control on me. Now, I cry. I let the tears fall when I feel them and I give myself compassion.
I’ve also realized that there is amazing strength in being feminine. A woman is a nurturer and a fierce protector, but we are also allowed to show our emotions and talk through our feelings. It’s a great experience to be a woman. I also believe that woman’s intuition is the closest you can get to the voice of God. I can’t explain the things I’ve known and done while relying solely on my intuition.
Unfortunately, through life, I learned that if I wanted to get anywhere in life that I needed to be less of a woman and more of a man. My images of women were either sexualized or marginalized to the point that I saw no desire to be like them. They didn’t represent me. I ignored that side of my feminine and adopted more male attributes. I didn’t want to be in anybody’s kitchen. I didn’t want to be anyone’s sexual object. I was a strong, black woman. I deserved respect. I even uttered the dreaded words, “I don’t need a man to do anything.”
Well, as I grew older I started to realize that strong and woman can exist in the same sentence without deleting nurturing, emotional and in need of support. I don’t need a man, but I want one. I have no desire to go through life alone just to prove that I can “be strong.” Being strong as a woman is taking care of others and taking care of yourself. Being strong as a woman is being able to do whatever you choose. Whether you have a family or not, one doesn’t take away from the other. Being strong as a woman means you have a multitude of choices about who you want to be in this world. You can be single, a wife, a mother, a lover, and a daughter. All of these roles invite you to love in a way that changes people and lives, if you allow it. You can nurture people and ideas and that is “being strong” in my book.
It takes courage to be yourself. It takes courage to feel your feelings. It takes even more courage to tell yourself that you are right when others are trying to make you be something else. What I have learned is that if your definition of “being strong” means that you value the opinions of others over your own and you deny your own feelings to make them feel better, it’s going to slowly eat you up inside. Denying your feelings, sacrificing yourself and not letting people in is actually a sign of weakness. Being strong is having the courage to honor yourself because you are the person you are born with, live with and die with. And you can’t love anyone else until you love, honor and cherish yourself. Being strong is not about suffering. It’s about being free. The strongest person is the one that knows their own strength. If you’re tired of “being strong”, change your definition.
“Greatness lies, not in being strong, but in the right using of strength; and strength is not used rightly when it serves only to carry a man above his fellows for his own solitary glory. He is the greatest whose strength carries up the most hearts by the attraction of his own.” – Henry Ward Beecher
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