BE STRONG. You have heard those two words your entire life, over and over again. People say it with the best of intentions and you, yourself, have likely said it to people as well. It’s a phrase that seems to be the most common response when people are in the depths of immense pain; whether grief, betrayal, illness, trauma, or really anything difficult in life, and the common reply from everyone is BE STRONG.
There have been several times in my life when I remember going through something so big, so traumatic, that I thought I literally might not live through it. The pain was so great and overtook my body in ways I can’t explain to you. My mind raced with thoughts that terrified me. My emotions paralyzed me. At times I even struggled to get out of bed. I cried enough tears to fill a small lake it felt. I was wrecked. The pain leveled me.
I turned to my closest friends and family members as I needed a place to tell my story and to be heard. I needed hugs. I needed a safe space. I would scream and cry and I may have even appeared to have lost my mind at times. I was an emotional roller coaster. I absolutely know that my intense emotions scared many. Shit, I was scared of myself at times.
Some people allowed me the time and space to fall apart. They would hand me tissues to wipe the snot from my nose or just sit on the other end of the phone call and say, “I’m sorry.” This helped. However, others would tell me to BE STRONG. BE STRONG???? I thought to myself, “How the hell can I put these emotions away right now when I feel so devastated and wrecked?” I was angry at people for telling me I needed to be strong. It felt like they were telling me I was weak for feeling sad and emotional. It also felt like I wasn’t allowed to my feelings and that there was a timeline for how long I could grieve and process through my pain. I felt so alone when those two words were spoken to me.
Now, if that wasn’t hard enough, this next phrase really killed me. BE STRONG FOR THE KIDS. When I heard this, I finally realized enough is enough. NO. I absolutely would not shut off my feelings and repress them for the sake of my kids. In fact, it was even MORE important for me to fall apart FOR the sake of my kids! My kids need to know that feelings are ok. As parents, we are teachers for our children and we model for them how to navigate through life. If I choose to suck it up and never allow them to see my darker feelings, what will they do when they are sad, scared, or angry? How will they know that it is OK to have feelings and to express them if I can’t? I would never in million years want my children to think that they need to repress their feelings. This would be the beginning of living an inauthentic life, possibly later leading to addiction. This, my friends, is why we need to stop saying BE STRONG to one another.
Now, I realize that the people who told me to BE STRONG don’t love me any less than the people who let me fall apart. Their intentions were 100% good no doubt. These people were there for me and damn, I am forever grateful to these people for sticking by my side. I’ll admit, I wasn’t easy to be around. Who wants to be around someone who is always crying or talking about some really hard stuff that brings a ton of shame, grief or anger with it? I know that strong emotions scare people. You know why? Emotions scare people because they force people to look at their own shit. Yep. When we sit in any emotion we are confronted with our own. So, it’s a lot easier to not want to be around some pretty heavy feelings if you have your own ghosts that you have been trying to avoid.
A wonderful friend of mine once told me long ago, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.” She was siting a quote from Winston Churchill. It has stuck with me for years as it deeply resonates with how I feel we should heal. You have to go THROUGH it and FEEL it in order to heal from it. Repressing it only delays the pain. Believe me friends, I know this. There is no forever when it comes to avoiding something. It WILL indeed surface. Yeah, it hurts and it is something you don’t want to face. But listen, once you face it, feel it, and allow it to move through you, life gets a whole hell of a lot better. Repressing feelings can lead to some pretty harmful ways of staying checked out. Do you want to continue the rest of your life drinking that bottle of wine every night, smoking a ton of weed to constantly stay high, popping those pills to take the edge off, starving yourself, eating until you physically feel sick, or working out on that elliptical until your legs feel like jelly? These numbing behaviors may work for a while but eventually you are dealing with a new monster, addiction. So now you have an addiction to battle AND that painful thing you are trying to run from.
Healing requires feeling. There you go. Believe it.
And when it comes to those two words that I despise so much, here is what I suggest. Instead of saying BE STRONG when someone is facing a difficult time in their life, why don’t we start saying YOU ARE STRONG. This tells the person that they are strong enough to feel whatever it is that needs to be felt. It might give them the courage to sit in the messiness of their pain without trying to numb or hide it. We need more vulnerable, authentic souls showing up in the world and less of that pretending to be perfect bullshit. So start working on your shit so you can be there for your children, your friends, your family or you clients. Stop fearing the pain of your loved ones and learn to sit there with them. The feelings don’t last forever. I say this because I know this.