You have been strong for so long . . . you are allowed to be tender too.Morgan Harper Nichols
I recently shared this quote from MHN on my instagram stories and shared the following thoughts:
This is a truth I had to work really hard for through many years of counseling. One of the biggest compliments as well as the hardest phrases I hear is how strong I am for the losses I have endured in my life.
Strength is beautiful, it is also an emotional prison where you feel as if you can never show weakness.
I felt the need to write a little more and keeping it real (as always) I’ve kind of got a lump in my throat and that little nose burn going on while thinking through it all.
I struggle, hard, with feeling weakness, expressing tenderness, or being seen as weak/vulnerable. I’m not sure if I was that way as a child but I know it was something I developed around my early teenage years. If you’ve been a reader for a while the next part of my story is nothing new, so hang out for a minute. When I was 13 (and right before my freshman year of high school) my father died very suddenly and I was left without closure, even to this day I feel myself wrapped in a level of confusion and disbelief when I think of his death. I was in that stage of puberty where everything was changing and I was REALLY close with my dad and felt lost. Then…just 2.5 years later my mother passed away while I was a junior. At that moment I took on this internal title of orphan. I knew that i was surrounded by loving, supporting, and encouraging family/friends but I had never felt so alone. I felt like I had to grow quickly to become the older sister / authoritarian and protector of not only myself but my little brother as well.
I experienced great tragedy and yet kept taking steps forward. I was told time and time again by everyone that I was “so strong” and that label was slapped on me time and time again with each passing year and every time I told my story. In college when I met other people and shared my story there would be this small whisper of “wow, you’re so strong” and even now into my adulthood I hear “You’re seriously one of the strongest people I know.” One side of the sword is finding comfort in those words; in seeing all the good that can come from my struggles; in being someone who can carry a lot and still grow…it feels good. The other side I am left feeling hollow, gutted, and like I can in no way EVER show weakness because everyone accepts me to just be strong.
A few years back during one of my counseling sessions I brought up to my therapist that someone said that phrase to me again and how defeating it felt and the words she said hit so close to home “people don’t realize how much time you’ve spent trying to be the exact opposite”. I guess I may need to clarify the point she made. There are many thing I have worked through (and will probably still need to work through) in counseling over the years but one of my biggest problems is not being able to readily access emotional responses. I “numb out” and go into action mode, I don’t allow myself time to really feel the current emotion and then at some point my anxiety triggers the cage I’ve locked them in and I become a blubbering ball of mess.
I’ve worked really, really hard (and continue to work) to not always be the strongest in the room. It’s hard for me to admit that because I want to be strong and relied on and the one who KNOWS what to do (hello enneagram 8). Yet, there is something so freeing, so liberating in knowing that it’s ok to feel all the feelings and be a little weak. Let’s replace weakness with the word tenderness here. Tenderness is beautiful, it is a moment in time where you give yourself grace to process all that you’ve walked through. It’s the ability to know when to say no and to set up healthy boundaries. It’s the comforting hug of loving yourself and loving others…we honestly could all use a little more tenderness.
So friend, if you’re tired of fighting; if you’re tired of carrying the mantle and your sword is heavy . . . it is ok to rest.
Replace weakness with tenderness.
Replace some strength with some recovery.
You can do this.