Think you have to be strong all the time?

Just yesterday I was on the phone with a client when the topic of strength came up. I had asked how she was doing after she mentioned recently filing for divorce. MAJOR, I know.

“I’m fine,” she said tightly. “It’s hard but I’m doing...fine.”

“Really?” I said. “Hard. And you are doing “fine”. That’s it? Next to losing a loved one or a child you’ve just gone through one of the most traumatic things a person can experience. This is huge and you are going to tell me that you are fine?”

I could hear her breath quicken on the phone. I had touched something deep inside her she was desperate to avoid and I shone a light right into the dark place.

Slowly she said, “I know. I don’t know why I think I have to be strong all the time.”

“Well”, I said, “it can be hard to let go of being strong all the time when we think NOT being strong isn’t an option. First let me ask, what does being strong look like to you?”

Without hesitation she rattled off what “being strong” looks like to her:

Rarely crying and if it happens it is done alone in the car or in the bathroom. Keeping it all together. Handling shit without getting “emotional”. Knowing the right way to be and the right path to take. Being superwoman and going it alone. Answering “good” to the question, “How are you?”, no matter how you are really feeling. Staying positive at all times. Being grateful always. Never burdening others with your problems.

And then I asked her, “What does it mean if you aren’t strong all the time?”

She described a number of beliefs including:

If she’s not strong people will know she’s not perfect. If she doesn’t hold it together she will be judged as being “crazy”. Strong women suck it up and don’t cry. Tears means she’s lost control, which means she’s erratic and untrustworthy. If she starts crying she may never stop. If she can’t hold it all together, she’s a mess and can’t provide value. If she opens up the can of worms of “feelings” she will be overwhelmed by it. If she falls apart she may never come back together again.

Now raise your hand if you can relate to any of these feelings. Yep, I’m right there with you. We all want to be seen as strong and if our definition of strength is one where we can’t cry, can’t fall apart and can’t share what’s really going on then of course we feel like a failure.

So here’s the truth. It’s more work to keep the ocean of emotions at bay than it is to let the tidal wave wash over you, stand up, and gently ready yourself for another. The more emotional waves you allow to hit the more skilled you become at riding them when they come crashing down. Yes you will fall apart and the first time the wave hits you will be knocked on your ass. However strength lies NOT in never falling down but allowing yourself to do so without judgement and, when it’s time, tenderly standing up again. TWEET THIS.

After getting her definitions I asked my client, “What if rather than thinking you had to be strong all the time and never cry, never feel, and never really let go, you changed your definition of strength?”

What if being strong was being honest rather than keeping a stiff upper lip?

What if strength was being real rather than acting how you think people expect you to?

What if being strong looked like letting people in rather than shutting them out with an, “NO really, I’m fine”?

I know from my clients’ experiences and my own life that when we hold tight to a definition of strength that doesn’t let us express or feel, those emotions get lodged in the body. They show up as anxiety, calorie-counting, mistrust, body-bashing, digestive disorders, food restriction, insomnia, adrenal fatigue. When we give ourselves the strength to express ourselves our body is forced to express for us, and will in any way she can from low back pain to fertility issues and thyroid concerns.

In the next few weeks consider your definition of strength. Does it look like my client’s definition above? How does this definition make you feel? What is your attachment to holding on tight to what you believe strength should look like?

Now imagine what it might be like to shift your definition of strength. What if being strong felt more like dropping a boulder than holding one up?

These are huge questions so be gentle with what comes up for you.

So tell me. What’s your current definition of strength and what’s the new one you might be shifting in to? Lay it all on me here.

Lots of love coming your way,

Jamie

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