In difficult times, and goodness knows these are difficult times, being strong is not necessarily about being tough and unyielding.
Many of us have been brought up to believe that we shouldn’t ask others for help. Even that we shouldn’t NEED help. Our job is to be strong for others, and we shouldn’t express emotions. We may even believe that we don’t feel these emotions they are so bottled up. But, while this can work for a while, even decades, eventually it will catch up with us.
The oak tree and the reed
One of Aesop’s fables is about an oak tree and a reed. The wind blows hard and the oak tree stands firm, while the reed is blown about and bends to the wind.
The oak tree scorns the weakness of the reed. ‘You’re pathetic, look at me, I know how to stand firm.’ Until the wind gets really high and the oak tree comes crashing to the ground. But when the storm is over the reed is unharmed and stands upright once again.
Allowing ourselves to admit that we are as vulnerable as anyone else, and asking for and accepting help when we need it, isn’t weakness. It’s strength because a) it enables you to fight another day and b) it builds balanced relationships with others. Relationships should be about give and take. Not all take, for sure, but also not all give.
If this is you, let others help you from time to time, and see how the relationship deepens.
Is crying a sign of weakness?
Another thing that sometimes comes up in my work with with clients is a belief that crying is weak and a bad sign. Crying can sometimes be a sign of depression, but it’s a symptom and not a cause. In fact, crying is designed to help us feel better and recover from stressful situations.
Crying stimulates the release of oxytocin, the comfort and love hormone, and endorphins which kill pain, including emotional pain. If you feel better after crying, then it’s doing you good, and you shouldn’t avoid it. You can even benefit from deliberately having a good cry. That’s essentially why people enjoy watching sad films and so on.
Being needy, or being vulnerable?
If you’ve been brought up to value being strong at all times, the thought of being more vulnerable may make you cringe. You don’t want to be one of those needy kinds of people who are always telling everyone their problems and making people feel sorry for them. But that isn’t what being vulnerable means. That’s playing victim, and it’s a completely different thing.
Being vulnerable is about communicating truthfully with people, and telling them how you feel. But it’s also about taking responsibility for your own feelings. That means not making them someone else’s fault, or expecting other people to fix you. Allowing people to see that you have feelings, and even asking for help doesn’t mean that you hand off your problems onto someone else. They’re still yours to work through, just not necessarily alone and in secret.
Being vulnerable is about letting people get to know the real you, and taking the risk that they won’t like what they see (they probably will, and if they don’t they’re not someone you want to be close to). But if you don’t allow yourself to be vulnerable, no-one can ever truly be close to you.