If one more person calls me a “strong woman”, I might scream. Not that I don’t appreciate you considering me capable and mature. But would anyone mind if I took a break and hopped off this pedestal? You’ve seen me demonstrate an ability to face life’s difficulties with unyielding strength and purpose. Because you thought I had endless energy and resolve, I embodied your particular image of a “strong woman” for a while. Eventually, however, I needed to challenge what was actually an impossible role as I felt pressured toward unhealthy behavior. It was time for redefining the image of the “strong woman”, not only for myself but also for the sake of other women who share the struggle. I’m sure you’ll see why and how I’ve chosen to give new meaning to the term.
The Power of Others’ Expectations
An Unhealthy Pattern Begins
Once I identified myself with this particular “strong woman” persona, I began to think I was accountable for handling every situation, no matter how difficult. I could never complain or ask for assistance because if I did, I believed I would let everyone down. Hence my I reputation for being the one who would always comfort the hurting, smooth the way for the weak, and take up slack for the irresponsible. I have to admit that the superhero image was pretty enticing – to a point. However, it didn’t seem fair that everyone else could fall apart and receive forgiveness but not allow me the same consideration. I began to lose confidence as I became even more confused about who I was and whether I would ever be able to live up to what others expected of me. This led to an unending array of unhealthy behavior patterns.
Falling Apart is Not an Option for the “Strong Woman”
For example, I remember telling a good friend about conflicts with my daughter and her bad choices. I mentioned my feelings of frustration, worry, and grief. What followed was a detailed account of the actions I took to resolve these difficulties, and all the complications that I encountered along the way. To this, my friend remarked, “You are such a strong woman. I could never have handled all that. I would have definitely fallen apart!”
Of course, I was flattered but I also felt that I did what most parents would have done. It’s true that I hadn’t “fallen apart”, not because the thought hadn’t crossed my mind. It was mostly because I knew that nobody would accept that if I did. And truthfully, if I’d turned my back on the situation, I would have felt like a failure. And then I’m sure I would have ended up criticizing myself for it. Sad to say, but this crazy pattern played over and over throughout my life, all because I wasn’t able to create healthy boundaries.
Putting an End to the Madness
Unfortunately, what seemed admirable at first became exhausting at best and downright toxic at worst. Feeling burned out and resentful, I desperately needed to stop the charade. I knew I had to reframe this faulty image of the “strong woman”. I had to create one that would resonate with my own abilities and intentions. And I had to show everyone that I wasn’t willing to play the role I had played for so many years. I would stand up for myself to maintain my sanity and self-respect. It took courage to do this, and some friends and family members seemed reluctant to let go of their former image of me. You see, for some, I served as a type of caretaker and shielded them from the inconvenience of having to make decisions or take action. Now I’m happy to say that I no longer answer to that job title.
The “Strong Woman” Redefined
So what is my definition of a “strong woman” these days? She is one who is honest with herself and others about what she’s willing to say yes and no to. To advocate for connections within her community, without losing sight of her personal values and goals. She strives to show compassion for others, unyielding loyalty to loved ones, and overall integrity in everyday life. But she also has boundaries that allow her to choose self-care without feelings of guilt. She’s vulnerable without apology, and can even ask for help when needed. These are the true components of strength. They stem from an understanding of one’s own assets and limitations, striking a balance between bold assertiveness and graceful empathy.
So I guess it’s not so bad if you want to call me a “strong woman”. If, of course, you understand how I will interpret that label. Sure, I’d still like for you to think of me as competent and responsible. But please see me as human enough to fail once in a while, because of course I will. By the way, if you are thinking of calling me a “strong woman”, consider what you’re really saying. I might not fit your expectations. You see, I like having my feet on solid ground. Everything seems clearer at this level. And it’s definitely a lot less lonely now that the pedestal is gone.
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