In the summer of 2001, I was a 12-year-old child in mourning. Sitting in a church pew flanked by my father and aunt, I sat quietly as the family walked up to my mother’s casket and said sweet things about her. They talked about how kind she was and spicy. They remarked about how much she loved me and my brother. They giggled at the fun memories they shared while she was on this planet. As the parade of loved ones shared their snippets, I didn’t allow one tear to fall from my eye. Leading up to the funeral, I spent hours worrying about seeming ok. I didn’t want anyone to be able to detect how I was really feeling. I didn’t want to allow myself to express my inside emotions on the outside and risk being told to hold it together for the other people that were hurting. So, on that day, I sat in that pew and bullied my tears to the back of my eyeballs. I didn’t move or shake. I just sat there in those last moments with my mother’s body. From then on, the ability to wield inner strength became my superpower.
Throughout my life, I’ve had to put on my cape and shoot out beams of strength to get me through situations. Whether it’s financial woes, heartaches, or the other big and small bumps of being a grown-up, my strength has always been my blankie. Much like that tearless little girl sitting in that church pew, I’ve oftentimes felt like I’ve had to be strong. Whether it’s the fear of appearing weak or my lack of trust for others, being strong is my comfort zone. But here’s the problem; I don’t want to be a strong woman anymore.
As I have gotten older, the idea of being a strong woman is less admirable and more damaging. Before now, I’ve worn my ability to be strong and weather any situation like a badge of honor. Being able to stand-up strong after being knocked on my feet was like my own personal magic trick. I’d get a little tickle or invisible pat on the back watching people stand in awe about how much bullshit I could take. However, I am ready to hang up my strong woman cape, and here’s why the reign ends here.
Being the strong one negates my softness, vulnerability, and need for support:
Since I am strong and can seemingly handle just about anything on my own, I can’t be the soft damsel that sometimes I want to be. There is something comforting about hearing a person say “let me help you with that” or “I don’t want you to do that on your own”. As a strong woman, that is virtually non-existent. It should go without saying that I don’t think it is malicious or purposeful on the part of others as I think people just don’t think that I need help. It also should go without saying that those close to me do offer a helping hand sometimes though I tend to reject it out of my own strong independent woman hangups. I’ve spent a lot of time feeling like I’ve had to choose between soft and vulnerable and strong and independent. I am tired of it.
Being strong makes asking for help difficult:
I feel like I’ve been rocking this strong persona for so long that it is hard for me to ask for help as that isn’t what I do or what is expected of me. If my back is against the wall, my ego will step aside and allow me to ask for a helping hand. But I shouldn’t feel like it has to get to that place for me to ask for help. I recently moved and needed help removing old furniture and tossing it in the trash. I planned on dragging a couch, bed, and mattress to the dumpster by myself because I didn’t want to burden someone with my need for help. After all, I am expected to do it on my own. Luckily, my friend offered help without me having to ask and I was so grateful. But there are many times that I feel like I can’t ask and I just suffer through it. That’s what I am supposed to do. I am strong.
Being strong translates to “can survive on less love”:
In my last relationship, I was strong as fuck. I was a firecracker and got shit done on behalf of us both. Amazon package got lost, I’m hopping on the line. Food came out wrong, I am talking to the manager. Needed to solve a problem, I am up all night like Einstein trying to find a solution. I didn’t so much mind being the strongwilled girlfriend. All I really required from my partner was some soft, squishy, sweet love. The kind that you’d give the woman that wasn’t strong. I wanted to be handled with care. Despite being the strong one outside, I wanted to be treated delicately at home. Don’t let me carry the heavy bags. Don’t let me walk to the train alone at 5 in the morning. Open the doors for me. Rub my back. I didn’t need him to fight my battles but I did need him to support me while I did. I am strong but I can’t survive on less love.
Being the strong one dismisses my feelings:
There’s nothing that gets under my skin like someone calling me strong when I am in the midst of a full-on crying meltdown. I am not strong right now. I am hysterical. I am hurt. I am confused. Do not pause those vulnerability-based emotions to insert strength. It does not belong there. Comfort me. Tell me it’s ok to cry. Being sad is allowed. Don’t tell me I am strong and will figure it out because, in those moments, that superpower is dimmed. When I am struggling, telling me that I am strong is not helpful. It makes me feel like I have been dismissed. It’s kind of like crying during a depression spiral and instead of being heard, I am told to shake it off and be the strong person that I usually am. Treat me with grace and sensitivity because I need that sometimes.
I am a part of my own problem as I find myself falling into the pattern of describing myself as strong. Despite hating it, I still use it. From now on though, I am going to use the right words to describe who I am. When I find a solution to a difficult problem, I will call myself smart. When I am able to withstand a difficult time with patience and perseverance, I will call myself determined. When I am able to juggle school, work, raising my child, I will call myself focus. Strong no longer describes me.