The person who says ‘I’ll get through this’, ‘I just need to work harder’ and many more mantras to get through a difficult situation in life may find this article resonates with them. The expression ‘be strong’ or ‘I must be strong’ are fantastic attributes to getting through life and have probably got you through school, tricky relationships, difficult situations at work and even family situations. However there can be times when ‘be strong’ doesn’t seem to be working as well as it used to. Being strong has a sense of sturdiness, unbreakable, the capacity to withstand any thing life may throw at you. This strength in one’s character is very worthwhile and enables you to carry on, dig deep and work twice as hard but it is the consequences to your psychological wellbeing that could be at stake.
When the harder you work at ‘being strong’ has a consequence of feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, high anxiety and even starting to control your everyday behaviour or patterns of doing things in your schedule then your body is telling you it’s had enough.
The question I ask you is ‘What’s behind the need to be so determined at being strong to the world?’
‘I had to be in my family’
‘I needed to be to get on in life’
‘I must not let people down’
‘You can’t hurt me.’
These could be some of the answers to your strength and you will notice the urgency, the responsibility and drive these possible responses have. The weight that can be carried, withstood in a ‘be strong’ character can catch up with you later in life. Being strong worked for you in the past and got you through some tough situations; it can be an invaluable tool now with what’s happening in your world. However, the strength can take over how you feel. The need to protect can make you lose sight of what’s being protected. When you were younger you had little power in your life but the one thing you owned was your strength. This was all you had to trade with yourself then, ‘If I’m strong now I will get through this for later’ and it worked then so it must work all the time. I always say to my clients ‘knowledge is power’… so ask yourself this?
What did I sacrifice, hide, put away to enable my strength to be the priority?
This hidden or ignored part is the vulnerable. It’s the part that wants protecting and it’s the part that is wrapped up in emotions, feelings that have sadness and fear of losing hope.
Hurting is painful, suffering can be unbearable and sadness can be lonely.
You may have found yourself thinking, ‘If I’m strong, I will not feel any of this and I will keep myself safe’. It has worked in the past and can work now but there is a psychological cost to you by ignoring what’s behind the need to be strong all those years ago and now.
As a psychotherapist working with past, present and future can sometimes be part of the sessions case by case. Supporting clients can often reveal psychological hurt behind the feelings of being overwhelmed, exhaustion and high anxiety. How the defence of ‘be strong’ came about, and why it’s the go to position now when life gets tough. You could find jumping ‘to be strong’ in situations in life when you don’t have to as there are other tools out there or it’s a mechanism so well used its on auto drive.
Here’s a little exercise, make a fist and place it on your heart tapping it against your chest three times saying … ‘I’m strong’. Now open your hand to a palm and keep it over your heart and for about a minute just have a little conversation with your self-answering these questions:
- ‘If I don’t I will ………………
- I feel………………….
This is the searching part for the feeling; it could take a while for it to surface but this is the moment you give yourself permission to feel. As I said earlier ‘knowledge is power’. Knowing what’s behind your strength, your need to protect is where you start to understand yourself and accept the vulnerable part of you. Knowledge is power and the power to see behind what you are being strong against. What may have seemed like a weakness as a child, to feel and get hurt, as an adult you have a right to feel and own your feelings because then you can nurture them and look after you. Be strong and get to know yourself a little bit more so you can remember what you are actually protecting, your wellbeing.