The other day, I asked my clients to write down what it means to them to be strong. Then, if they chose, they could share what they had written with the group. I was blown away by the insight and intelligence of these women, and how many of them dug beyond the standard or expected definition of “strength” to encompass so many different traits and experiences. Their answers got me thinking and so, I asked myself, “What does it mean to be strong?” And this is my answer:

Being strong means admitting when you’ve made a mistake.

Being strong means not being afraid to ask for help when you need it.

Being strong means knowing your own limits.

Being strong means sometimes being weak.

Being strong means allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

Being strong means being honest, both with others and with yourself.

Being strong means learning from your mistakes.

Being strong means getting up after you’ve been kicked down.

Being strong means letting yourself cry.

Being strong means being flawed, and being okay with those flaws.

Being strong means always working to better yourself.

Being strong means sometimes bending but never breaking.

And then I asked my clients, “In what ways are you strong, right now? Do you currently fit your own definition of what a strong person looks like?” And if I was to ask myself that same question, I would say that yes, I do. I am a strong woman. Yes, there are strengths that I’m still building and working on, but for the most part, when I look at what I consider to be characteristics of a strong person, they’re very much in line with the person that I am today. And if I look at the person I was as little as 6 months ago, I know that I wasn’t nearly as close to my definition of “strength.”

One client raised her hand and said, “Looking at what I wrote, I realize that my idea of what it means to be strong has changed from when I was younger. I used to think that getting in a fight made you strong, but now I know that walking away from that fight is what makes you strong. I used to think that being ‘bad’ made you strong, but now I know that I was weak, because I was ‘bad’ because I didn’t have the strength to stand up to peer pressure.” And so, we talked about that. How has your idea of “strength” changed and evolved? Thinking back to who I was in the past and who I am know, my idea of what it means to be strong has changed, too.

I used to think that being stubborn made you strong. Now I see that it was really an inability to see any way other than my way, which actually made me a weaker person.

I used to think that being the person to not get hurt in a relationship made you strong. Now I see that I was dating people that I had no interest in to avoid ever getting hurt, and in turn was treating those people like crap and hurting them very badly. Being afraid of commitment, emotionally unavailable, and using emotional sadism as a defense mechanism actually made me a weaker person.

I used to think that not having to ask for help made you strong. Now I see that by not asking for help, I never got the help I needed and my problems became worse. Now I see that being able to admit when you need help and not being afraid to ask for it is what makes you strong.

I used to think that doing everything right, not making mistakes, and appearing as “perfect” as possible made you strong. Now I see that if that were really the case, then no one would ever be a strong person, because all humans make mistakes and no human is perfect.

I used to think that being able to get your way made you strong, regardless of the means it took to get it. That included lying, manipulation, and cheating. I now see that I was not only lying to others, but also to myself, and that made me a weaker person.

It feels good to be able to say that I’m a strong person and to truly believe it. And often, when we’re feeling our weakest, we can’t find the strengths we do have. It’s so easy to focus on what we’ve done wrong that we forget about what we’ve done right. At the very least, the fact that you’re still standing, even after being kicked down (because every single one of us has been kicked down at some point in our lives), is in itself a strength.

What does it mean to you to be strong? And how has your idea of “strong” changed over time?

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  1. MargaretNo Gravatar
    Posted December 15, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Permalink

    I really like this post. It’s so relevant to some things I’ve been thinking about lately. Thank you for posting this.

  2. JanieNo Gravatar
    Posted December 18, 2010 at 5:12 pm | Permalink

    I wish I could share this post with a friend of mine. So many things that you have talked about – hurting guys and not caring about them, manipulating people to get her own way. It was really pissing me off but this has helped me see things a bit clearer.

    And everything you say is so true – being strong is actually about being able to be weak and to ask for help if you need it. Those are things I’ve never had a struggle with, but I have the opposite problem of not being able to assert myself when I need to. It’s something I’m getting better at, but for me being strong means not crying when someone criticises me (unless they do it in a mean way), going after the things I want and not worrying what others will think.


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