“When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
It’s a catchy little phrase that demonstrates how much we admire strength in our personal development culture. It says that we should power through our difficulties without any whining, blaming, or victim dramas. That certainly looks good on the surface, but how often do we choose “strength” over our true feelings?
When Dianne was a child, she was told to “put on a happy face.” Don’t cry, don’t complain, don’t be a burden for anyone else….and that’s what she did. When she was scolded for not doing chores well enough, she smiled and tried harder. When she was confused by her homework assignments, she didn’t ask any questions and just hoped for the best. And when she had to deal with mean girls at school, she never even told anyone. Her parents praised her for being so well-behaved, and she learned that “toughing it out” was a behavior worthy of reward.
It was her strategy for success, and she used it continuously with friends, partners, and colleagues. People saw her as a strong, positive, productive person and she enjoyed being recognized for those qualities. However, in exchange, she went decades without speaking her mind, expressing her feelings, or asking for help because she was taught that she wouldn’t be accepted if she showed any weakness. By the time she contacted me for help, holding all of that back had left her with a variety of physical ailments and significant issues in her marriage.
Although she was proud of her ability to see the bright side and keep her complaints to herself, it wasn’t long before we uncovered how she really felt about all those circumstances in her past - alone, unsupported, afraid to express herself, and angry that she had been so restricted. That’s where we had to apply the healing for her to move forward.
When we take the bull by the horns and power through difficulties, we feel like superheroes and that isn’t all bad. But, if we’re being honest, there are times when we would really rather cry, resist, scream, get revenge, or have a private little pity party, and those are legitimate parts of our growth experience. When we sweep those feelings under the rug in an effort to “be strong,” not only are we missing an opportunity to grow through them, we are allowing them to accumulate in the background. Eventually, those disregarded issues WILL find a way to express themselves…often in the form of chronic pain, disease, unwanted vices, or dysfunctional relationships.
The key is balance. When “being strong” is the only option you have for dealing with difficulty, that’s when it causes problems.
On the other hand, if you have the freedom to choose between several responses, like crying, retreating, communicating, OR fighting, then your balance is intact and you can choose the most productive response in each situation.
The next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, add some authenticity to your definition of strength. Acknowledge the struggle, recognize the emotional issues being challenged, and apply your strength to grow through them. Understand that these patterns usually have roots in childhood, they are usually based on fear of some kind, and addressing them at the source is the only way to really find freedom. With that genuine freedom, you will naturally move beyond the showy, superhero version of strength and develop a truer sense of power, enhanced by compassion, wisdom, and courage.
Remember…it’s not brave if you’re not scared.
How can you get your balance back? Here are some DIY tips based on my strategy with clients.
If you tend to use will power to overcome everything, identify yourself as a warrior or a fighter, or have a habit of arguing instead of listening, you may be over-using the “strong” tool and disregarding your underlying feelings. More discreetly, you might convince yourself that everything is OK when it really isn’t, or you might be overly cooperative for fear of burdening others.
Chances are, you have been developing this habit for years, maybe even since childhood. It is far more effective to resolve a pattern at the beginning than to try tackling today’s version. Let’s see how far back we can go.
Accept that you may be using “strength” to avoid uncomfortable feelings.
Identify the “strong” tools you turn to when life challenges you.
Do you get angry or argumentative and try to prove your point…even just in your own head?
Do you decide that you’re independent and can just do everything yourself?
Do you find a solution for every problem…even if it isn’t the best one?
Do you put on a happy face and ignore the problem?
What reaction do you choose when it’s time to “power through”?
Notice the circumstances that challenge you to “be strong.”
When someone treats you badly?
When people need too much from you?
When people aren’t listening?
When you aren’t in control of something?
Or maybe just all the time?
If you didn’t have your “strong” tools to power through these challenges, how would you feel about them?
Frustrated, overwhelmed, unappreciated, helpless, stuck, resentful, afraid, exhausted, left out, embarrassed, guilty…or choose your own.
Do these feelings remind you of anything in the past?
At home? In school? At work? In a relationship? When have you felt like this before?
Heal the issues at the beginning of the pattern.
Find the individual events that led to your fear of expressing yourself and clear the emotional impact from them one at a time. Tackling these issues with DIY tools is possible, but not always easy. I recommend EFT as the most powerful tool available, and my EFT DIY blog will provide an introduction.
However, it’s hard to see your own stuff and choose the right approaches to get through it. You’ll find the best results by working with a trained professional who can resolve those issues once and for all. Contact me for availability.
Either way, when you can get back to the beginning of the pattern, you are resolving issues at their source. This is where you find real change and the natural freedom to choose from a variety of responses.