As a writer, there are words I do not like. “Should” is one of them. A woman recently wrote that she felt the word “should” needed to be removed from the dictionary. I agree. Don’t slip in “ought to” – it’s the same thing.
Physically strong is acceptable, emotionally strong is not.
This is written by author, Marjorie Holmes, known for her book, Hold Me Up a Little Longer, Lord. It is titled, “I’m Tired of Being Strong”
“Forgive me Lord, but I am tired of being some of the things I’ve tried so hard to be……… I’m tired of being so capable, so efficient. I am tired of the compliments. “You are such a strong person; I admire your strength”. I’m tired of being considered so patient and understanding that people dump their troubles on me. I’m tired of being so cheerful. I want to be free to be cross and complain and not get a ‘buck up old chap’ routine. I’m tired of being considered so independent, so strong. Sometimes at least sometimes, I want to be weak and helpless, able to lean on somebody, able to cry and be comforted.”
I can add to that. There are such times when I want to be able to be me and not the Academy Award Face that says STRONG. To be with people who accept me as I am! A vulnerable woman who grieves.
So many people respond to that writing from Marjorie Holmes. At the end she writes that she would like to climb onto her mother’s lap again to be held and comforted.
I left that out for a reason. It doesn’t apply to me, and I want to be honest in this article.
Think about her words. Don’t you sometimes want a day off so that you can be with yourself and not be “organized”. I have discovered over the years that many Americans can’t do what Europeans can. This has come up when teaching Graduate students. What is this mystery?
Europeans can at times do absolutely nothing. When I say that, people protest and say they can relax and do nothing. Then I ask them, “When you are doing nothing, do you think to yourself, ‘I should be doing some paperwork or, I really need to do the laundry, take something for dinner out of the freezer, clear up the table, vacuum the living room, clean the cat’s dish and so on’?”
We end up laughing about it and they admit it is the case. People who do Yoga and meditate can do nothing but they had to learn. The other words that apply in this case is “shoulding” on yourself.
I feel that “strong” is thrust upon many people. At times, it is an excuse for what not to say, how not to be able to deal with someone else’s challenge.
To tell someone they are strong means “I am not here for you”.
So many of the wonderful people with whom I work are bereaved parents. To tell them they are strong and are admired is an insult. Please remember that this is entirely based on my opinion. Oftentimes they are forced into appearing to being strong so it ends up they are comforting the people who don’t know what to say.
Quite often I am asked, “What do I say to my family member/friend, whose husband just died?”
“What do I say to a friend whose child has just been diagnosed with cancer?”
“What do I say to a friend whose daughter has been murdered?”
“I want to help but what do I do?”
Let’s start with STRONG. Never ever tell them you admire them for being so strong. I know because I have been told that in the privacy of their bedroom where they pace the floor during the nights, sobbing, being angry (or heaven forbid show their anger), screaming, beating their chests, and begging to be taken too. They don’t know what to do. They haven’t experienced this kind of agony before. Some ask me – how do I go on? Usually, I hug them at this point if I get their permission to do so.
Grief work is different from regular therapy. One knows one’s powerlessness from the start. I know I can’t bring their loved one back with them. They need to be encouraged to understand that bereavement is personal. Each person grieves in their own way, and I am always quick to tell couples this, as oftentimes one will be expressive and the other has a stiff upper lip. It doesn’t mean they don’t agonise over the loss. Possibly they think that not being STRONG is being weak.
For many years of my life, I was strong. With all the horror of my childhood being raised in the London Blitz, I was taught to keep the pain to myself. When some of my little friends were killed by nazi bombers I was told to be grateful it wasn’t me. I was also told not to cry, or I would be given something to cry about. To this day, I rarely cry. These childhood messages run deep. Simply put, the word STRONG means you don’t need anything. When STRONG people wonder why they don’t have a shoulder to cry on, it is because the energy they put out is that they are strong. That’s what people see. In some cases, that’s why people tell the mourners, “ I admire you being so strong”. NO. It has to stop. By telling people who are in emotional pain that they are strong is the same as saying, “I don’t know what to do.”
Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t people say, “I am so sad for you, but I don’t know what to say.” That’s being honest.
Grief isn’t just death. There’s a long list of losses. Here’s some of them. Divorce. Moving to another town, country, school district. Losing friendships. Family entering the military, being deployed. Accidents resulting in paralysis. PTSD, rape; I could go on and on. It also depends on the relationship people have with one another. I am writing a small book called What Not to Say to grieving people and asked some of those I know are in emotional pain to let me know some of the comments from those who feel they have to say something. The truth is – you don’t have to say something. I hope some of you buy it as the proceeds will go to The Compassionate Friends.
I admit that I have a bad habit. Regarding communication I expect others to do what I do. Big mistake! When I text someone or even leave a voicemail, I expect people to get back to me quickly. Why? Because I do. It is a big mistake to have those expectations. They can create resentments. Nasty things. In her book, Each Day a New Beginning, Karen Casey writes, “If you hold resentment to a person, you are bound to that person with bands of steel”. This book was first written many years ago anonymously and is the first Daily Affirmations book written for women in recovery. The President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, wrote, “As I walked toward the gates of freedom I knew if I held hatred and bitterness in my heart, I would be in prison for the rest of my life.” Both of these people, and others, have been labeled STRONG. No, they are not. They have strengths, which is different.
When I am working with a group and we discuss this dilemma, it takes a while to understand it because surrendering to a power greater than oneself is regarded as “giving up”. Men have a more challenging time with this than women. They have been taught that it is manly to be in charge, that fighting and anger are being strong. Wrong. Those emotions are covering fear. Hiding behind being strong is fear.
Of what, one might ask? Of being thought of as being weak and that really scares people. At these times I think of my friend, Dr. Dan Newman from Cincinnati. Apart from my two sons, this is the man I trust with my life. I watched him work with a grieving man who was so closed down, and because Dan has these qualities of strengths he opened him within minutes. I trust him absolutely and wish he would be available to work with men who suffer these challenges, everywhere.
There are wonderful phrases in Alcoholics Anonymous.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT?
EASY DOES IT.
ONE DAY AT A TIME.
YOU ALONE CAN DO IT BUT YOU CAN’T DO IT ALONE and many more.
The simplicity of these words, if acceptable, give power to learning to love oneself. Now this really frightens people. Love me? That will never happen, so we start with me asking them, “What are your strengths?” Now that’s different and slowly, quietly, they will begin.
I AM A HARD WORKER.
I AM COMPASSIONATE.
I CREATE MUSIC.
I HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOUR.
I CAN FORGIVE.
I AM A GOOD FRIEND.
I AM A GOOD PARENT…. And many more, as they become more confident and start understanding that strengths are gifts to be used. They open hearts, minds, even souls. So different from the word STRONG, which is all inclusive and creates distance. They say beautiful things to me, hinting at strong.
When I insist I am no different to them, they don’t understand it, but it is true. The only difference is that I use the gifts I have been given. Anyone can do that. I encourage them to look at their gifts. They don’t know what they are because no one ever suggested it. They will tell me that no one ever asked what their strengths are. I know not many people read these blogs. For those of you who do, thank you. For you, I suggest you sit quietly and write down your gifts. I believe you will be surprised.
Many years ago, I wrote a poem. It was the beginning of a new life for me after I freed myself from a narcissistic husband in 1979.
Tapestry of a Woman
I am an emotional tapestry,
Created by the gifts of silken feelings
From those who have entered my life
And enriched it.
My core is formed from encounters with people
Who have loved me enough
To rearrange my thoughts
And show them to me.
I have learned from all those
Who have passed my way ,
Experiences of all kinds,
Good and bad – nothing is wasted.
I have accepted the true meaning of life
I can give and I can take
I can be wrong, and I can be right.
I can be angry, happy, sad, funny, vulnerable
Passionate and serene – all those feelings flesh is heir to.
I can grieve and I can miss.
I can lose but of all things,
I can love and in so doing,
Create for those who have never known it
A freedom that only deep love can bring.,
I can only create if I am trusted
And that I have to learn…………………constantly.
I was asked by a self help group if they could use this poem as a recovery statement to codependency. I am so honoured.
Thanks for reading. Remember, learn to love yourself – you can’t give what you don’t have. Blessings.