A lot is written about strength and the importance of staying strong, stop any person on the street and they will undoubtedly recount endless advice they will have been given on how to be strong. But from my perspective, there is one problem I’ve always had with the notion of strength, there seems to be no room for weakness.
Over the years, strength has usually been described to me in a sacrificial way, as if the essence of strength comes from a deprivation of your needs and wants. So, for instance, I’ve heard strength described as “not crying even if you want to” or the ability to “put on a front and hide your feelings”. There always seems to have been an inherent belief that to show feelings is to show weakness. How many people were told as a child “Big girls/boys don’t cry?” But they do, it’s natural but yet in our society it’s become seen as a weakness and something to be ashamed of. So many times, people are embarrassed to cry and often apologise as if they have done something wrong when it’s nature’s coping mechanism to deal with strong emotions and sorrow. “There’s no point crying over spilt milk” but what if it was all you had to provide sustenance to you and your family, then it might well be
This is the problem I have with society’s notion of strength, to me I don’t see any strength in hiding my feelings, stopping the tears that need to fall down my cheeks. It feels we’ve become so fearful about looking weak that we’ve completely lost sight of what strength actually means. Is it so bad to show weakness? Is there any power in our weaknesses?
Now, admittedly this is a highly subjective area and will be different for everyone based on their own life experiences. But when I really think about my own experience, I feel the below areas to have been key sources of strength for me during the hardest parts of my life and to me, weakness is at the top.
Weakness – I know this may sound counter-intuitive but I honestly believe that every ounce of strength I possess has been born from my weakest moments. How much strength do we need when times are happy? None. We draw upon our strength in difficult times that usually take us by surprise, leaving us feeling vulnerable. I truly believe that in these moments we need to allow ourselves to feel weak, to give ourselves time to accept and come to terms with difficult events. Never should we mask this with a brave face or false assurances that everything is fine. That moment of weakness is signalling the point where you need to step back; to re-evaluate what is and isn’t important and how to resolve it. While no-one likes to be seen as weak, it really is a source of strength. It’s your weaknesses that inspire you to use your strength. No-one should feel ashamed of their weaknesses because today’s weakness is tomorrow’s strength.
Emotions – This almost goes hand in hand with weakness, in times of turmoil most people suppress their emotions. Now, to a certain extent that is human nature, we don’t want Mavis at the supermarket knowing our personal business so we hold it back. Whether you divulge your emotions to others is down to personal preference but never should you suppress your emotions from yourself. I did this once, pretended it was all fine and even convinced myself but all I did was make it ten times worse, which resulted me spending an entire day in tears. At that point, I realised I had to deal with my feelings head on, it’s hard but not as hard as the baggage of carrying around unresolved issues. Our emotions are our friends, they help us deal with difficult situations so the next time you want to cry, let it out because those tears contain Leu-Enkephalin which is a natural painkiller and the reason you feel better after a good cry. Any emotion needs to be felt, you are feeling that way for a reason and maybe it seems trivial to some but if it’s important to you then it’s natural to have an emotional reaction to it.
Support – No man is an island. “I am an island, I’m bloody Ibiza” protested Hugh Grant’s self-absorbed character Will in About a Boy. However, for anyone who has watched that movie, it was quite clear that by the end he was a lot happier being Spain than Ibiza. Finding people who are genuinely supportive in life can be difficult, sadly so many people live their lives without any true support. By contrast, “sunshine friends” as my mum used to call them can be found in abundance. They will always be on hand for a good party, for chats about the new guy in your life and frivolous fun which isn’t always a bad thing. But when times get hard they will disappear because offering a shoulder for you to cry on is not what they signed up for. It takes a special someone to care enough to share in both your good times and your bad times, to be a consistent figure in your life. These are the people who count most because they will be there for you to guide you when you’ve lost your way, carry you when you can’t walk and celebrate with you when you’re out the other side. Nowhere is this more beautifully referenced than in Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge over Troubled Water when it says “When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in your eyes, I will dry them all. I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found, like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down”. If you have people like this in your life, you are truly blessed.
Confidence – If you don’t believe in you then why should anyone else? Shouldn’t our number one cheerleader be ourselves? It isn’t conceited or arrogant to feel proud of yourself especially if you’ve done something well. It’s essential. So many people in life are on hand to pull us down to make themselves feel better, why make it easy for them by doing the work yourself. Now, confidence is not about gloating, bragging, attention seeking or trying to gain validation from others. Confidence isn’t an attitude, it’s not about making others feel inferior, realistically it’s merely something that helps us do something we might not otherwise. When we fear something we have two choices, to face our fears or to run away. If you have a level of confidence it’ll be the little push that inspires you to try anyway; take the risk to move beyond your fears. It’ll help you realise that if it fails, you’ll be fine so what have you got to lose? Strength is closely linked to confidence, they are the perfect team because confidence is what helps you decide to go for something while strength is what gets you through it, when you begin to wonder why you ever thought it was a good idea in the first place. If we have confidence, our strength is never too far behind.
Gratefulness – Everyone knows someone who focuses solely on the material things they don’t own while failing to recognise the many blessings they have right in front of them. While you may lament on your inability to buy an iPhone 8, realistically, when times get hard would you prefer to talk to your phone or a friend? If you can recognise what you have to be grateful for in life and appreciate the non-material things that make you happy then it will help keep you strong when you need it. It’ll give you a sense of perspective when everything has blown up in your face.
Mistakes – Never be afraid of your mistakes, we’ve all got them and will most likely add significantly to our list during our lifetime. How boring would life be if we were all perfect? Mistakes are not the problem but how we deal with them is everything. If you employ the Ostrich Manoeuvre (sticking your head in the sand) and ignore them then you’ll never learn from them and will undoubtedly keep repeating them. It takes enormous strength to face up to your mistakes, to try to resolve them and ultimately learn from them. It’s certainly not easy but then nothing that’s worth having ever is easy. When faced with mistakes many people will choose to lie because it’s easier but they only end up deceiving themselves in the long run. Be proud of your mistakes, they made you who you are and in time they might even be a funny anecdote! If you have the strength to face them and take the lesson they provide you will always be way ahead of the curve.
Care a Little Less – Now if there was ever an ambassador for kindness it would be me but sometimes you can care so much for others that you forget to care for yourself. When a tough situation arises, usually we seek to resolve it and that’s by far the best approach. However, not every situation can be resolved, it’s not always within our power to bring around a resolution. When this happens, it’s necessary to care less about it. If you have done all you can do in a situation, acted in a way that is appropriate then what more can you do? Why hold yourself captive on the actions of others? Care a little less about it, stop wasting energy when you can do nothing to change a situation? It takes a lot of strength to care less about something that was important to you but it’s liberating and necessary. Don’t take on baggage that doesn’t belong to you, leave it where it belongs and find your own resolution. Care for yourself, be kind to yourself and look after yourself as much as you would for any loved one.
Happiness – If there is anything you should ever want to be in life, it’s happy. No one can be happy every day of their life that would just be selfish! But if you spend more of your time happy then sad then you’re doing something right. The biggest mistake anyone makes in life is thinking that someone else is responsible for their happiness. Your happiness lies with no-one but you. It’s your responsibility to make you happy with the choices you make and the actions you take. If these don’t make you happy, it’s time to change so that they do. Spending your life worrying about the past, focusing on the negative or pining after what has gone has never made anyone happy. No perfect partner or life ever will change that, only you have the power to change that. We all have insecurities and worries about ourselves that come from our own personal experiences but we also have a choice to face them and move past them or be a slave to them. It might sound harsh but I don’t believe anyone has an automatic right to happiness, if you don’t take steps to try and make yourself happy to the best of your own ability then why should you be happy? If it isn’t down to you then who? Prince Charming may appear on his white horse but whether you get on that horse is down to you. If you don’t make the best of an opportunity, then no one can do it for you. No-one needs a hero to save them because if we can be strong enough to face our own storms then we will always be our own hero.