Sunday, August 11, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be Strong?

Strength is a useful quality in life. It helps us persevere, show toughness in the face of adversity, and survive as individuals. We, like all living creatures, are a part of nature and toughness helps us in a world where we don't always have control over what happens to us. It helps us get what we want, including what we want in our health. Though strength is desirable in life, at times it can be tempting to unnaturally "wear" or force it in order to block out other uncomfortable feelings.

What does this mean? Say that you've just been through a difficult situation such as leaving a job, moving to a new place, or enduring a break-up. Instead of looking at all the feelings that are bubbling up inside, you decide that you have to be strong. You're not quite sure why you're saying this, but you feel that for the sake of yourself and others that it's better not to rest idly in a state of discomfort or confusion. "YES," you confirm to yourself, "I have to be strong!"

This type of forced or unnatural strength is not the same as true strength. What it's effectively doing is suppressing a natural instinct to process what you've just been through. Maybe you are confused. Maybe you're hurt. Maybe you're mad, and even more. You may not necessarily know how to express all the rising feelings, but the firm declaration to not feel them and instead be strong will actually make you feel weaker---not stronger.

It takes energy to suppress feelings that want to come out. This drained energy can make you feel tired, and while you look in the mirror and tell yourself you're being strong, you'll know on some level that you're pretending. As you're blocking yourself in this manner, your health can take a hit and make it even more difficult to move through your challenges.

We can all learn to read clues from our bodies and minds on when to exercise strength versus when to encourage a more nurturing and gentle attitude. Just because you're gentler with yourself through tough times doesn't make you weak. Toughness and gentleness are two sides of the same coin, attributes that when used the right way can help you naturally face whatever you're going through in life. Abandon one or the other, and all of a sudden you can feel like the floor has fallen out from underneath your feet and you don't know why. It's because both strength and gentleness are needed to take care of yourself and your health.

Next time you encounter a challenge, ask yourself how much you're forcing yourself through "I need to be strong" boot camp. If you notice that you are taking this approach, try taking a step back and nurturing yourself and your health. You may end up being surprised at how much stronger you feel naturally with this more balanced mindset.

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