Being strong is not all it’s cracked up to be

Dr. TonyNSA

The other day Karen was in for her regular appointment. She started off by sharing some of the big uncertainties in her life and that she is worried about them. I think we all tend to have uncertainties facing us every day. For example, uncertainty in our relationships (especially nowadays where you see more families and friends splitting up because they’re taking sides on the issue of vaccines), in our jobs (where we see some people facing an ethically unclear choice between taking the shot or losing their job) and in our futures (where is the world going?).

Beyond the immediate issues, people are still dealing with the everyday stuff of life: the health of their relationships, dealing with diagnoses of life-threatening illnesses, getting their kids back to school…life goes on.

We all face uncertainty everyday. After all, for example, we don’t know when we’re going to die. We may think about the average lifespan and that we have ‘x’ number of years left etc. but we really don’t know. If one of our relatives gets a diagnosis of something like cancer, the uncertainty becomes more real and more immediate. We feel the uncertainty more. In one of her primary relationships, Karen has a relative who has been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

We talked about how she’s dealing with this and how they are dealing with it in their relationship. Karen told me that she wants to be strong for her relative even though sometimes she feels like breaking down and losing it.

You have to be strong

Well not really. This could be something that you’re telling yourself so that you don’t feel: the fear, anxiety, the feeling that you don’t have everything together. I get it, I’ve been there and probably will be again. The ironic thing is that if we just feel what we need to feel and we go through that vortex, we can come out the other end feeling calmer, more solid, more capable and stronger. The future feels more settled.

If we spend our energy fighting what we’re feeling and “being strong”, we set ourselves up in an endless loop that robs us of our precious time, energy and enriching experiences of life.

If you know that you have limited time left with someone, why would you spend it worrying about what could happen or might happen? And yet that’s what we can end up doing, rather than being fully present with the messy emotions and fully appreciating life.

Being strong can mean different things

Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent almost a whole lifetime with my head down, persevering through life like a bull in a china shop, never really appreciating the gift that is my life. And I think sometimes we need to be that kind of strong. Sometimes it takes stubbornness and fight or flight to get through something difficult.

One kind of strong is not enough

There are however other kinds of strong. Feeling uncomfortable or messy emotions is one example. Putting respect for another in front of your need to be right. Admitting to yourself or others that you don’t have it all together, that you’re not perfect. When we can be strong like this, we stay open to the flow of life and we don’t sacrifice the richness of life, that is our birthright, for safety.

And lastly, sometimes what the other person needs and what the relationship needs is for you to not “be strong”, for you to trust and rely on someone else. After all, you can’t really give your gifts unless you are open to receiving the gifts of others.

Certainty is an illusion
The Social Individual