Us strong people are vulnerable too. Yes, we are.
It’s often only those that most of us consider small, soft, emotional, meek, sensitive or unable to stand up for themselves in some way, that become those whom we nurture and protect. But what about the people we consider to be strong? So strong, in fact, that we expect more of them than we do of the others? So strong that we consider they don’t need our nurturance, our reassurance, our protection?
What about me? I’ve always been considered one of those “strong” ones.
Who made that distinction that I’m a strong one, you ask? Everyone. My whole life.
From the cute boy in my new class in 2nd grade public school who challenged me to an arm-wrestling duel – me, the pretty girl! – to a former manager that kept trying to get me to take the promotion on her agenda but that I did not want. It took my therapist finally saying to me, “You know what people see in you? … Inner strength,” to make me realize that’s why people overlooked me when I needed their help the most.
People labeled me as “strong” from a very tender young age and I never got to refuse the title. I only got to live deeper and deeper into the label’s implications.
Yes. We tend to overlook the people we think can take care of themselves.
“They’ll be fine.”
“It’s just a phase.”
“I’ve seen her do it before. She’ll learn/get through it/get better/get used to it…”
But what if the strong ones get overlooked their whole lives? Who will teach them how to take care of themselves? I think this is one of the myriad of reasons why a good many of us have no idea how to say, “No,” how to create healthy boundaries, or how to care for ourselves with a deep and abiding self-respect. We simply have no clue how. We were never taught by those around us, or by those that loved us best. They thought they didn’t need to.
The scene in the movie where the mother says to her dependable child, “I just never thought I needed to do that for you,” always makes me cry. What is “that?” Probably, mothering. Maybe, being sensitive and kind in ways she didn’t realize she needed to be because that kid seemed to be able to take everything thrown their way. On the chin, of course. Not that that meant the mother was horrible. She just didn’t give that extra attention and care where maybe extra attention and care were needed. And all this happened because this child was regarded as “the rock.”
We all require heaping doses of tenderness.
— #truthbomb by Danielle LaPorte
That kid was me. I was the rock. I was the one on whom others could always depend. I was entrusted with the care of the other children. I was the one to whom everything was often given for safekeeping.
And yet, I always thought I was the hot mess. So it was a conundrum for me.
What? They’re trusting me? Again? But didn’t I burn the house down once? Ok. The whole house didn’t burn down completely, but they reamed me like it did. Why me? Why me again? Why am I the one?
I wanted them to stop giving it all to me. And yet, when they didn’t, I was like,
What the hell? Don’t they trust me?
Human beings. We’re funny, aren’t we?
Besides I loved the attention of being the trustworthy one, the capable one, the one who was given the role of leadership. I puffed my chest up when I was the star in these arenas… but I hated it too. The inner fight can be a bitch.
When you’re a kid, you don’t understand the logic of it, the parameters of your worth in others’ eyes, or the way they see you. To really know what others expect of you would boggle a child’s mind anyway, so it’s good we have our adulthood to figure these things out.
And man, has it taken my adulthood to understand.
All of these musings I’ve just described were things I’ve come to understand in my adulthood, about my childhood in hindsight. It’s important to know, for the logic of this post, that I had no idea of that I was perceived as “strong,” or with “inner strength.” So why people did what they did when I was around, to me and asked of me, made no sense to me. I was constantly back and forth between considering myself a mess and the one on whom some depended.
It’s taken my adult understanding to suss out how much of a natural leader I’ve always been, how much my mother depended on me to care for my sister and brother, that I can handle an insane amount of work and tasking, multi-task like a motherf***er and do it all extremely well, how strategically I think; that others admire how strong I am or how strong I seem; and other things that I had no clue of about myself. It’s also taken my adult life to be able to say, “No” to others when they ask of me the world, to create boundaries for myself to allow for my sanity, and to get that the reason why people take me for granted is because they see my ‘inner strength.’
It still doesn’t feel good, but it makes sense now. I’ve had to learn how to care for myself because no one truly took my vulnerability into account. No one taught me it was okay to be weak. I’ve only known what it was to be strong.
I’ve had to forgive people for not relating to me as vulnerable. I’ve had to forgive myself for playing into the role of ‘strong.’ I’ve had to teach myself and show myself extraordinary compassion. I’ve had to acknowledge myself for my strides and learn how to accept myself as I am.
I am vulnerable too.
I may have inner strength. I may seem like I can hold the whole world on my shoulders, and I can. But fuck that. I no longer want to.
I’m good on that front. I’m gonna take it easy and rest up. Ima be good to myself and not worry about what you think, even if you think you know what’s best for me.
I’m vulnerable. Ima be with my pain, not make it wrong and ease right through it. I have pain. Just like anyone else. And whether you see it or not. Whether you acknowledge it or not. I’m vulnerable and I’m proud that I can live with that.
Thank you for listening.
Note for parents: Teens need people to talk to. It’s often the teen that seems to have it all going on that is the one who commits suicide. Teens need therapists too, someone who can listen to them from a compassionate place. Not their friends whom they are constantly wanting to impress, or their parents who see them a certain way. And they need this therapist especially when they’ve gone through particularly traumatic events in life. Moving homes, neighborhoods or cities, etc. multiple times counts as trauma. Losing a parent, to death, mental illness or divorce, counts as trauma. Family changes count as trauma. We are redefining how and what we consider traumatic, and getting what truly impacts our mental health. A child’s brain is not fully formed until the age of 21-23. We must take care of everyone, even if we think they’re okay on their own.