What is strength? For those who have been hurt in the past, strength means invulnerability. It means being impervious to harm, protected and safe. Physical safety is important, particularly for those who have been unsafe in the past. But emotional safety? It’s another word for isolation.
I have spent many years being strong, after
those vulnerable, painful years in which I felt physically and emotional victimized. Once I extricated myself from a victimized lifestyle, I didn’t want to go back. So I worked hard to be independent and strong. But being strong meant being alone, because opening myself to a relationship, to a new job, or to anything, really, meant taking a risk. Taking a risk meant being vulnerable.
Just the word made me anxious. I thought that being vulnerable meant that someone would take advantage of me, hurt me, or damage what I’d worked so hard to develop. Vulnerability was something I worked hard to avoid. But if I ever wanted to take a risk, it would result in being vulnerable. Without risk, though, life is devoid of learning, relationships, or stepping forward into anything. Any kind of progress means opening myself to the potential of failure, ridicule, and/or criticism. I’ve had plenty of that, thank you, and I actually wanted to minimize the amount of time I experienced those feelings again. But without taking the risk, I won’t grow.
So, I’m working on a different way of being strong. I’m developing skills in resilience. It is a trait to help me bounce back from “defeat” with new insights and ideas. It’s here to help me learn from my mistakes and understand that no matter what happens, I’ll survive. More important than invulnerability, it allows me strength of will without keeping me confined to a place of safety. I can encounter vulnerability and be strong enough to grow with it and enjoy it. I’ve reluctantly had to concede that a resilient attitude is more constructive and more helpful than holding old hurts, reliving my failures, and avoiding those who’ve hurt me. In the end, those attitudes have caused me more suffering than was necessary.
It’s taken me a long time to understand the necessity of being resilient. It has buddies, like creativity, adaptability, and creative-problem solving, which is okay — they’re friends of mine.