I love watching those Strong Man Competitions on TV. I just cannot get over the fact that these guys can pull cars just by their earlobes. Ok, that might be a slight exaggeration, but you know what I mean. These guys are big. They’re strong. They’re mountains that move mountains.
I know I’ll never be a physical specimen like that (because, um, do you know how much work goes into that?!), but, I do fancy myself quite the Strong Woman. And I feed that image of myself with a message that I tell myself on a fairly regular basis. It goes like this, “You will take on that emotional burden because you’re strong. You can bear it.”
To prove this, I start stretching and preparing when I see someone having a strong emotion. I am willing … able … to lift the emotional equivalent of a car for someone else.
A friend is sad? Well, I’ll bear her sadness FOR her because I’m strong. I can handle it. My husband is stressed at work? Well, I’ll bear his stress FOR him because I’m strong. I can handle it. My kids are worried about a test? Well, I’ll bear that worry FOR them because I’m strong. I can handle it.
There are several super interesting things about this habit of mine.
It is physically impossible for me to bear other people’s emotions for them. I mean, they’re OTHER people’s emotions. That should go without saying. But deeper than that, by saying “I’ll bear your emotions for you,” I’m essentially implying that you are weak, but I am not.
Ick. Writing that out sounds horrible. I’m not a bad person. Seriously. I just so desperately want to help that I can substitute my own thinking for yours because … well … it’s mine, so it’s easier to know what to do with that.
“I’m strong. I can handle that” is a mantra, of sorts, for me. But, I don’t really believe it. And that leads me to the next interesting point about all of this …
By concerning myself with other people’s emotions, I’m avoiding my own. For me, taking on someone else’s emotions is like putting on a warm sweater in the winter. My own feelings and emotions and reactions are like a cold wind. If I surround myself with the warmth of your problems, well then, I can ignore the bite of the wind for just awhile longer.
But the longer I’m out there, in the cold, the colder I get … sweater or not. And really, over time, sweaters become threadbare because they aren’t meant to bear the burden of weather day in and day out. Plus, they’ll start to stink if you don’t take them off and clean them occasionally. So, you have to be naked at some point in your life.
Which leads me to the most interesting thing about my “thing”:
By telling myself that “I’m strong” all the time, I’m failing to recognize that the real strength lies in what I consider being weak.
Oooohhh. That’s a hard one to admit right there.
Being weak, I’ve come to realize, is what I considered myself to be when I asked for help about ANYTHING (from laundry to professional advice). It’s ridiculous, really, to think that I am an island that needs to be self-sustaining. The times I have learned the most, been the happiest … they are the times where I have asked for help or had help or, at a minimum, had company for the journey.
I asked for help in a big way, recently. But I didn’t realize it at the time. I applied for a scholarship to Susan Hyatt’s BARE program. I thought to myself – I’ve tried other methods of weight loss, but this would be something new. Since weight loss hasn’t fully “stuck” for me at any time, I thought, “that is something I need to do.” So, I set about finding a way to do this program. When I was accepted, I thought: “AWESOME! Bye Bye saddle bags!”
But this is about so much more than saddle bags or a waddle. What I didn’t realize is that by asking Susan to help me sort out my weight issues, we’d have to get down to the REAL thought that is keeping me from progressing in all areas of my life. The thought that causes me pain on a fairly regular basis:
Asking for help makes me weak.
Ugh. I would never say that to a friend. I beg my friends to ask for my help. I tell groups of cancer survivors that the way to “make it through” is to rely on the people around you to help. In even the little ways.
And yet – I’m telling myself the exact opposite. I’ve been sending myself this message for years and years; that a strong, independent, smart woman (yes, such as myself) can’t be all those things if she’s asking for help doing the laundry.
I do let go of that crazy thought, sometimes. I ask for help. And when I do, I NEVER regret it. But I always relapse into that “to be strong is to go it alone” thought.
What. A. Crock. Of. Shit.
My mind is a fickle mean girl. And I’ve decided that we need to duke it out on the tetherball courts after school. So, here’s how this GIRL FIGHT is going to go down:
Upon the unveiling of this thought, I told Susan that I probably needed to introduce small acts of vulnerability into my day so that I could become comfortable with it. You know, asking the kids to clean their own rooms (because their space is NOT a reflection of my abilities as a mother). And asking for help in the kitchen (because I am a strange breed where cooking can raise my anxiety levels). And, definitely telling people the truth when they ask me, “How are you?” (because they probably actually want to know. And if they don’t well, then, they are in for a treat).
But as I was contemplating this, I realized that I had also told Susan, earlier in that conversation, that I do things BIG because I am BIG. So, there I am making a public declaration of my weakness. Oddly, big acts are sometimes easier for me than the small ones. And that’s because I expect a certain amount of rejection when broadcasting “to the world.” I actually celebrated when I got the first negative review of my book. That negative review meant, in my mind, that I was reaching broad audiences … not just people that agreed with me. That might seem counterintuitive, but it’s the truth. The BIGGER you are – the WIDER your reach – the higher the liklihood you’ll have haters. And I was prepared for that.
But exposing my vulnerabilities in small moments – well – that’s not quite as easy. I NEED my husband. I NEED my family. I NEED my friends. So, I don’t want any of them to dislike what I am or what I have to offer.
In typing that, though, I just realized something. By keeping my full self hidden … that self that needs help sometimes … I’m not fully present for the people that I need in my life. And that’s not fair to them. They deserve to know that they are needed and wanted and loved. So, I’m declaring an end to it. I will continue to be vulnerable on stage and in interviews and when I’m “out there for the world.” Because that’s important. Because that’s who I am.
But, I’m going to continue that good work at home too. In the small moments. Because being vulnerable will help me regain the strength I’ve stolen from myself all of these years.
Something I’ve learned in the short time that Susan has been my coach: these thoughts I have aren’t magically remedied by turning the light of day onto the dark recesses of my mind. Nope. There is no quick fix for feeling like I. Am. Enough. As. I Am.
But that’s ok. Because it’s worth it to cultivate this feeling of ENOUGH every day. And some days will be harder than others. What’s important for me to remember is: I’m not walking this path alone. You are walking the same path – in your own way. We’re walking parallel to each other, but forgetting each other because we have blinders on.
When I catch my breath, I peek to the left. Then, I peek to the right. It’s confirmed: We’re all in this together. And even though your path is your own and my path is my own, we can reach across space and time and fear and hold hands when the going gets rough.
As a mom, I hold my kids’ hands when I want to protect them (say, when we’re crossing the street), but also when I want to feel close to them. So, here’s my big moment of vulnerability today … as we walk these parallel paths:
Will you hold my hand?