Why “You’re So Strong” Isn’t a Compliment

When you call me strong but I know that I am weak I only feel like it’s one more thing that I’m failing at. Because I’m supposed to be strong right? But why? Why is strength what we strive for? What if I would rather be real?

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I touched on this in a previous post over a year ago but I don’t think I was ever able to convey how often I hear “You are so strong” and how deeply I resent those words. I am not strong. The me who walked around my house on Sunday heavy with sadness and grief, unwilling to get out of pajamas and trying to steep myself in a fantasy world of fiction (which by the way was Winter Solstice by Rosamunde Pilcher…it was a fantastic novel full of tidbits of wisdom and the age old, albeit faulty, lesson that love can conquer all.)

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Some days I do a better job at feeling like I can conquer this beast. That even with the intrusion of daily seizures I can appreciate this life and live it to my fullest extent. Some days that feels like winning. And other days the terror and fear that she feels as the seizure approaches grips my raw and exposed heart and holds me by the throat reminding me that I am losing this battle. And then logic overcomes emotion and I realize that I’m “judging a fish by its ability to climb a tree”. That seizures have become my only yard stick for success. And I can’t even pinpoint when that happened. But somehow in the scheme of things other really important measuring tools like is she happy? Is she making progress? Does she laugh every day? Are her eyes clear? Are lost in the all encompassing question of did she seize today? The answer to that is yes. Has been yes for every single day except one in the past 3 years. The answer may always be yes. And I have to find a way to stop seeing yes as failure.

I worry that I’m not doing enough. I worry that I’m not doing the right things. I worry that I’m worrying too much. I worry that I’m worrying about the wrong things. I worry that I need to focus more on her. I worry that I’m hyper focused on her. I worry that she’s going to get hurt asserting her independence. I worry that she’s too dependent. I worry and I worry and I worry. And it leaves me feeling unsure, insecure, battered and beaten with pieces of me washed away and lost.

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An excerpt from the novel I tried to get lost in. 

So. I am not strong. Even as you say it I know that I am weeping on the inside, even on the days that I paste on a smile. Even on the days that I pretend. My “Oh, thank you” IS sincere. Because I know that you think so. Even though I don’t. Can’t.

But you know what else? I don’t WANT to have to be strong. I’m not even sure that I want to pretend. I’d rather be real and say No, I’m not and that’s ok too. I want to send the message that it’s ok to not be strong. I especially don’t want my child to have to be strong. I don’t want her to forced to be a warrior. I want her to be a child! I want to give her a carefree childhood devoid of this constant worry and fear. I want to give her the kind of joy that can be taken for granted. I don’t want to be this broken person. I don’t want to measure success by a yard stick that guarantees failure.  I don’t know how to change that, but I’m trying. And in the meanwhile I’ll thank you for believing that I’m strong (even when I don’t want to hear it because I can’t believe it) while I drink coffee that is salty with my own tears about as often as she seizes. (Every damn day)

And I hope that reading this gives you the courage, next time you want to utter this phrase, to instead wrap an arm around the person and tell them “It’s ok not to be strong with me”.

 

8 thoughts on “Why “You’re So Strong” Isn’t a Compliment”

  1. We must tell ourselves it is ok not to be strong, we can breakdown , we can cry, we can scream, yell and throw things, we are not failures. Your story and struggles are you, your life and as long as YOU breath each day, you are not failing. Showing your cracks is not a weakness, it shows your humanity, your love, your compassion. A person who holds it all together everyday and doesn’t allow anyone to see those cracks those holes, are the weak ones. Chin up, chin down, smile or a frown, just keep looking forward to tomorrow, one day at a time.

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  2. When people say you’re so strong they usually mean “you are enduring things I cannot imagine” or perhaps “you are stronger than me” and even “your strength and courage are beautiful and inspiring”. All of which are true. And none of which necessarily mean, “you must be strong every minute of everyday”. Which doesn’t change the feeling of complete inadequacy, particularly on the days you don’t feel that way at all.

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  3. Sometimes when people say “you’re so strong” they mean “you are enduring something I can’t imagine going through” or “I couldn’t be so strong” or even “your strength is beautiful and inspirational. Thank you.” It rarely means “you have to be strong every minute of everyday.” Which doesn’t help with the overpowering sense of inadequacy, particularly on the days you don’t feel strong at all.

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  4. I know what I mean and I think you made a good point there. To me strength doesn’t mean to never show ‘weakness’. In fact I think it takes immense courage to open up abpout your own feelings and to not be ashamed if you are so overwhelmed that you start to cry (in front of others).

    But of course it might be different for me because I struggle with my mental health that took a toll on my physical health.
    So for me hitting my anxiety in the face ( I am a total pacifist, but I have learned that my mental health issues need to be treated this harsh to make me feel stronger than them, so they have no control over me or at least as little as posssible…) and being honest and showing my feelings in a good way, no matter how good or bad they are, is really important for me and something I am relearning slowly. In fact I learned that it helps with being socially accepted, because if I never open up, if others do not know, why I am struggling they make it all about them and are sure that I am hating THEM, while in reality my SELFHATE is grown so much in just a few minutes, that it is just impossible for me to smile or be positive at all. And of course that makes me less admirable.

    Strength for me is maybe (in my own definition) closely related to courage, which means for me, that the fear is very present, but I can accept that it is there, but I can handle and conquer it to a major extent.
    So courage is the type of strength that I first think of, when I read this citation. You can be strong in so many ways never forget that.

    Courage also means to me is to accept my own limitations at times. If it gets to much it is okay for me to get away from the situation, to take a break, to recover and come back stronger than before or to stop.

    I am 17. I was bullied, because I tried to make a student feel welcome, when she changed classes, because she had been previously bullied all the way through kindergarten and school.

    We ended up in complete social Isolation, that lasted for 4 years.
    I lived constantly in fear. She became my only friend in school. I was used to the rest of my classmates holding back Information about changes in class schedules and the embarassment that resulted from it. I remember the horrors of group work.
    I remember the countless times I would sit on my bed and cry for hours on end, how I would eat constantly, when I felt helpless and the scars from weight gain and always being close to being overweight.
    I rember restricting free time, having no hobbies, concentrating on becomng better in school to distract me from the emotional pain it lead me too.
    I remember all the panic attacks I had on the public toilets at school or somewhere else.
    I remember being depressed wishing my life could end.
    I remember crying, because I drew an amazing portrait but I just hated seeing myself in this mirror created with countless pencils and a rubber.

    I remember me fearing to throw up, or faint or feeling so lightheaded that I had to sit down so I could prevent a fall.
    The countless times I pinched and scratched my arms in social situations.
    The times my heart was racing and I struggled to breathe while trying to speak and hide my distress while giving an answer to the teacher’s question in class. My grades vary from excellent to good and I will graduate soon and leave high school.

    I am getting better now, I found a new sport I like and I am advancing so fast. It is about the artistry of movement, finding balance and getting socially involved. I am not bing-eating anymore and I won against my depressed mood. The fear is still there, but I can finally find some love and acceptance for myself. I am getting healthier and stronger everyday mentally and physically.

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