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Being Strong

Society’s Definition of Strong is Wrong

Society's Definition of Being Strong is Wrong

Society’s definition of being strong is wrong. How many of you were told throughout your lives, starting in childhood, that you needed you needed to be “strong?” What did people mean by that? What were you supposed to do or not do in order to be considered “being strong?”

For most, being strong meant to hold your emotions in, pretend to be ok and definitely do not cry or show others that you are struggling. Those are difficult tasks, but what is even harder than that? Many of you might argue that there is nothing harder than that. I fully acknowledge the difficulty of doing that because I too, was raised to do the same. However, there is something else that is eventually more rewarding but MUCH harder to do.

Truly being strong requires vulnerabilty, which is not easy in any way. Vulnerability is one of the hardest things I personally had to work on. Also, almost every single client I have every worked with has struggled with vulnerability. So much so, that I often refer to it as the “V” word. So, why is vulnerability so difficult for us to achieve? Why is vulnerability required in order accomplish the goal of being strong?

Vulnerability is Scary

The answer refers back to the title of this post. Society’s definition of being strong is wrong. How are we supposed to be vulnerable in a world that taught us that we are weak if we are vulnerable? Well, the answer to that is sorting through our cultural, familial and societal conditioning. This is no easy task! We were taught the wrong definition of being strong.

Often when I work on the “V” word with clients. They do great work on allowing themselves to be vulnerable. Then all of a sudden, that conditioning starts sneaking back in to scream that vulnerability equates to weakness. Unfortunately, our psyche doesn’t come with effective ear plugs to tune out our negative self-talk from that conditioning. If it did, we’d see even more people walking around with headphones.

How are we supposed to undo our conditioning in order to re-define being strong? Here’s something to think on. Imagine that you are sitting in a room full of people with whom you believe you have to display society’s definition of strong. This might be a work meeting, family gathering, a group of surface level acquaintances, etc. Now, consider yourself telling that room full of people the most difficult thing you struggle with emotionally.

Did you just gasp or have a little tightening in your chest? Probably so. Please understand that I am NOT recommending doing that. Simply, I am giving you a scenario to show you the difficulty of vulnerability. Can you now understand that achieving the “V” word is more difficult than achieving society’s definition of being strong?

Lack of Vulnerability is Connected to Depression and Anxiety

Many people struggle with being able to identify where their depression and anxiety come from. Often, I hear people say they had a good childhood and shouldn’t have depression or anxiety. Those kinds of comments pile on more and more layers of Not Good Enough Stuff. For the most part, that societal definition of strong came from implicit messages. That simply means that the definition was not written down and handed to us, nor was it one of the definitions we needed to know for a spelling bee. We learned the definition from indirect ways. To learn more about what Not Good Enough Stuff is, click here.

Consider a difficult time in your life of which others were aware. The best examples of this are when a loved one has passed or surviving a traumatic event. You could also think about a time when you witnessed somebody else experiencing those events. Common comments are “She’s handling everything so well, he’s being so strong through all of this, she’s really holding it together so well.”

Those are just a few examples of implicit messages I was referring to that taught us the societal definition of strong. If we “fall apart” during difficult times, we are seen as weak. Therefore, and again, society defines strength as hiding our emotions and pretending that we are ok when that is far from the truth.

Why is Vulnerability So Hard?

One of the reasons we are taught that wrong definition is that most of us were not taught something of great value. That is the ability to allow somebody to show their emotions, whether that is crying, screaming, depressed, anxious or anything else that we were taught to hide. So, if we weren’t taught how to “just be” with somebody in their difficult times, the result is what I’m discussing. If you want to read more about this, click here to check out my blog post on Anger is Often Repressed Feelings of Sadness,

We are often so uncomfortable with others showing “difficult” emotions since we weren’t taught how to do that. So, if you’re uncomfortable with something, what do you do? Avoid it like the plague! Since we’ve been taught that others are uncomfortable with us showing big emotions, we hide them and pretend we are ok. Meanwhile, we are anything but ok.

So, back to the “V” word. In order to learn how to be vulnerable, we have to be willing to acknowledge our feelings and be willing to be very uncomfortable. This is often one of the most difficult tasks people face. It is often the reason that the majority of people don’t go to therapy. Every single person in the world could benefit from therapy, but doing so is typically very difficult. The reason it is difficult leads back to our societal difficulty of achieving the “V” word.

The Struggle to be Vulnerable

In order to be vulnerable, you first have to fully acknowledge your true feelings. Those feelings are the ones you probably fought so hard to cover up. You were simply trying to employ society’s definition of strong.

Doing my own personal work in therapy and learning how to be vulnerable were some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. One might argue that I didn’t “have” to go to therapy. My response to that is that in order to learn how to be happy and to create a life I truly love; therapy was not an option.

For years, I struggled with depression that begin in my childhood. Just as many of you were taught, I was supposed to just “get over” the difficult experiences I had. Well, that is an impossible task. However, you can learn how to heal from those difficult experiences. Even now, a little whisper of that negative self-talk creeped in to say, “You shouldn’t be telling people you dealt with depression.”

Yes, I still struggle at times with vulnerability as I was taught society’s wrong definition of strong. That kind of conditioning doesn’t just disappear once you’ve learned to be vulnerable. So then what’s the point of being vulnerable if it might always be a struggle?

Because it gets so much easier and that little negative self-talk voice gets quieter and quieter. The result is being able to accept yourself just as you are. Once you begin doing that, you begin allowing space for self-love. That is the most rewarding gift you could ever give yourself!

Redefine Being Strong

Discussing how society’s definition of being strong is wrong is important. However, there is another step in allowing yourself to be vulnerable. That societal definition of strong has to be changed for you. Creating a new and more accurate definition of being strong is imperative to healing! Please keep in mind that I have mentioned that the “old” definition has been ingrained in you throughout your entire life.

Therefore, it may pop back up from time to time and that is ok. This is the reason you need to create your own definition of strong. I encourage you to spend some time creating this new definition. Make sure you write it down and work on memorizing it. When you do this and that old definition sneaks back in, you can quickly remind yourself of your new definition of strong.

If this post was helpful, please leave a comment. I’d love to hear how society’s wrong definition of being strong affected you. Also, please share your new definition of strong. Doing so, could help others with creating their new definition of strong.

What definition of being strong fits for you? You can also share how society’s wrong definition of being strong affected you. What are some of the things you were taught or shown that you should hide from others? What ways were you taught society’s wrong definition of being strong?

For more blog posts related to What Society Has Gotten Wrong, click here!

Being Strong: “Anybody can hide. Facing up to things, working through them, that’s what makes you strong.” Sarah Dessen

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