Thoughts on Being Strong

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Bristlecone pine grove
This mountainside cradles a grove of bristlecone pines about 1600 years old. They epitomize strength to me; they are so soft yet endure in a harsh climate.
  • When you are strong, you get things done. Through grit and determination, you meet goals that others said were impossible. (Yup, I started law school as a single mother of three, ended as a married mother of four. And I still passed the bar exam the first time.)
  • When you are strong, others lean on you. If you are on a team with people who are not strong performers, they let you do more than your share and no one notices that they didn’t carry their own weight. (Yup, but I’m afraid to tell my teammates that I noticed their lack of performance. I did more than my share just so that the psychological beatings for all of us would lessen, if you know what I mean.)
Ancient bristlecone pine grove
Ancient bristlecone pine grove
  • You are given harder projects because others see you can do it!  Mostly, means I’m doing two people’s work. (This was true in previous jobs and in my home life. Bonus!)
  • When the tough gets going, you go it alone. (After all, everyone knows you can do it. They didn’t sign up for something that, so what did you expect?)
Bristlecone Elder
Strong and apart from the new young upstarts.
  • The best way to motivate you is to tell you that you can’t do it! (Your doubts are set aside as your determination doubles.)
  • When you can’t handle things, others get scared (Because you are supposed to be super-human. If you can’t handle it, then they know they are in trouble.) and try to extricate themselves rather than offer to help.

Bristlecone pine

  • When you speak your truth and it reveals your pain, people don’t believe you. They make excuses for you and figure you’re just having a bad day. (Because, after all, you seem to have no problems; that can’t be the way you REALLY feel.)
  • You take responsibility for everything that happens, only to find that not everything is within your control. After all, those around you are responsible for their actions, not you. (Yup, your feelings can still be hurt, even when you take care of yourself. The only other option is to never let other people into your world.)
Bristlecone Elder
This elder is experienced in moving with the wind. It stands strong and apart from the new young upstarts.
  • Weak people want to be near you, knowing that you will shoulder their burdens too. (Ex-husband proved this to me.)
  • Strong people want to be near you because they know you are low-maintenance. They don’t have to be strong for you because you obviously can be strong enough for everyone. (Vacation for them – even when it isn’t a vacation for you.)
bristlecone pine stumps
A field of weathered stumps are evidence of pines that succumbed to age and the elements. New growth aspens thrive in a depression in the slope.
  • Other strong people respect you because they know just how much it takes. (And you respect them in return.)
  • People think it’s okay to hurt your feelings because they know that you are mature enough that you will come to peace with what happened. (Yes, but then what? Trust comes harder and harder.)
ancient bristlecone pine
This tree elder is barely hanging on. Strong though it may be, it appears more dead than alive.

Rather than feel victimized by those around me, I see that I am a victim of my own strength. I have led others astray, and they feel that I am always okay with whatever they do (or don’t do). After all, I always soldier on. I always fall into line. I always excuse insensitive behavior by showing that it doesn’t matter – they can’t hurt me. Yet they can, and do. So why do I feel apologetic for a moment in which I feel very human?

My mother was strong this way, but different. Ditto for my daughters. How do we break loose from being so strong that we are unwilling to ask that our unfulfilled needs be met?

The strong, ancient trees continue to produce pine cones. Even these are old and touched by lichen. These trees are old, but still productive, contributing food for the squirrels and birds. When I tried to collect fallen pine cones from the ground, a raven warned me away. I could see that even the fallen cones were considered to be sacred space.


  1. This was a wonderful editorial! I am very pleased and proud to know you are so introspective and at the same time extra-prospective, if there is such a word…understanding relationships. You are giant sized!
    Strong is the word that I have heard most often when people describe or evaluate me. As you understand, there are many ways to be strong and there are times and issues about which we are not strong. That is called vulnerability. But vulnerability is a small part of our world and like strength, it changes over time. Why are we strong? The reason that comes to mind is that it is a matter of self respect.

    Keep up the good growth and the good work.


    1. That was such a revealing, helpful article. “When you speak your truth and it reveals your pain, people don’t believe you. They make excuses for you and figure you’re just having a bad day. (Because, after all, you seem to have no problems; that can’t be the way you REALLY feel.)” – was especially eye-opening. I hadn’t thought of it that way, but it’s so true! Also a good reminder was your point about strong people being drawn to your strength. It’s obvious (and exhausting sometimes) how many weak people come like the pied piper is calling. (It takes a long time and a lot of forgiveness of self to create healthy boundaries there.) But strength attracting strength – and the weight of that different responsibility – is important to consider in self care. This was wonderful. Thank you.

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      1. I find myself apologizing for having feelings, because no one expects me to. It’s inconvenient for them to have to hear my feelings; it might make them feel something about themselves that they’d rather not feel. I am strong. I will get over betrayed trust, being used, being forgotten, and being overlooked. I will deal. But it can make me less emotionally available with each hurt, less willing to be vulnerable. It becomes an act of personal courage to state what I need, relinquish my emotional independence, and speak my truth. I hope that I can be strong there, too. The strong people I love have been through the same drill I have. They have the same fears, the same prior abuse, the same experience that comes with strength. Within these relationships, I hope to have healthy inter-dependence.I want space where I can love with all my heart and not wait for the other shoe to drop. There must be a place where I’m not waiting for the stab in the back, the belittling of my need for love in return, and the abuse that often has come with “love.” I want space in which to trust and be trusted. I can only do that with someone just as strong as I am.


        1. completely! it was so enlightening to think of it that way. i catch myself isolating and closing myself to situations and people when i get hurt. of course, i remind myself to stay open and continue to work through it, as we do, but hadn’t thought of it in quite that context. it hadn’t occurred to me that people might not consider my vulnerabilities or the possibility of hurting my feelings, because i’m “strong.” i just thought they were rude, or that “there was something wrong with me,” etc. perhaps i don’t imagine that people see me as strong, haha! i went “the other way'” you might say – completely directionless, not career-focused, noncommittal. what’s strong about that? i hardly have my shit together, haha!

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          1. And yet you’re doing something you enjoy (acting, your drums, etc.). You didn’t settle down with an nice Mormon boy and have 8 children while you kissed up to the Bishop and his wife. You are doing what makes you happy as a single, Independent woman. And you don’t see yourself as strong? Think again.

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          2. precisely! i have to remind myself sometimes that it takes courage and strength to walk a path without a compass. i trusted my intuition and my truth. well done, Christie! 🙂 thanks, Karel.

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  2. Awesome post. i have the same problem in my life. Sometimes I think people need to see a little chink in the strength that we exude so that they understand us better. xoxo Sending you hugs. I see your heartlight shining! ♥

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  3. Your post is a great first step. Admitting all of this yourself (as you have already done) is another great step. I would start by acknowledging that you are already taking steps to change the situation.

    Here’s another perspective on strength and leadership. Warriors do not fight alone. They are most effective when they have a leader. The leader also has a second in command. This is a person whom he can count on and run ideas by and they lead together. The other people on the team now have a clear leader and know what is expected of them. They know they either perform to their best ability or they die.

    How can you create a model like that (albeit a less dramatic one) in your life? Is there an obvious “second in command” available to you? It may be a different person for different areas of your life. IMHO, letting the Universe know you are ready for your second in command and keeping your eyes open for possibilities would be a great next step.

    Sending you much love and peace always.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for this refreshing perspective! I’m not what you would call a “born leader,” but I’ve been stepping up in this role more and more in recent years. I thought I had a good team together, but it is rather fluid. The team is shifting, as is appropriate for their lives. I appreciate your view that a second-in-command could be coming!

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