I have a confession: I am bursting at my seams because I literally feel so filled with love. Why? Keep reading and you will find out. Today, I want to talk about a topic that is super important to me. I want to talk about what it means to be strong and how the definition of strength has changed for me over the years (which is also why I feel like a big fat bumble-bee of love right now). Consider this:
Having strength. Isn’t that something we all want?
Being strong. An objective applied to our physical, emotional, and spiritual existence.
When we experience life challenges –from heartache to work problems and identity struggles- we often tell others and ourselves to be strong. To persevere. To push through. To not let it affect us. When I was on my road to become a doctor and felt the most unhappy and exhausted I ever did, I told myself every day to get up and push through. When I subsequently started feeling severe back pain, I told myself to get over it and to be stronger than that. As if my emotions and my body weren’t part of ME…
While pushing through is one possible and at times even very valid way of dealing with certain situations (think, crisis situations that require immediate action, fight or flight type of responses), we have to be really careful to not estrange ourselves in this process of seeking strength.
When we attempt to “be strong” in this linear… and may I say narrow… sense all the time, we build up a whole body of armor making us feel the difficult parts of a challenge less harshly.
However, once the acuteness of a challenge subsided, we all too often forget to take down these iron shields we built up.
Think about how often people have tremendous difficulty really allowing themselves to fall in love because they have previously built up armor when they were broken up with or when they witnessed their parents going through a tough divorce. Think about how often people continue to sabotage their professional success because they have previously experienced negativity from their bosses or co-workers.
With a whole army of Roman soldiers ready to guard, we remain shielded and all the undigested emotions remain uncared for, unrecognized, and even denied. We end up being completely out of touch with our own authentic experiences and therefore can never actualize all the goodness that is within us.
Even more so: just because we don’t want to feel a particular emotion doesn’t mean that they will dissipate on their own.
In fact, and for those of us who enjoy a little backing by scientific research: there is growing evidence that the suppression of emotions can have detrimental effects on our health. Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the UMass Medical Center studied the repercussions of suppressed anger in women suffering of breast cancer. He found that
“the majority of women who were later found to have breast cancer had either a lifelong pattern of extreme suppression of their feelings (for the most part, anger) or of ‘exploding’ with emotion. Both extremes were associated with a higher risk of cancer. However, it was much more common for these women to suppress their feelings than to be ‘exploders.’”
It is studies like this that leave no doubt in my mind that “strength” cannot solely be defined in this singular fashion that suggests building up emotional armor.
So here is what I would like to offer as an addition:
THE TYPE OF STRENGTH THAT RESIDES IN VULNERABILITY AND HONESTY WITH THE SELF.
This type of strength demands the patience, endurance, and resiliency to hold, witness, and be with one’s full scope of emotions without running away. Without denial. Without force. Without victimizing yourself. It is the ability to admit to yourself that you feel hurt, sad, or angry AND AT THE SAME TIME being able to continue to move forward as your own closest confident and dearest advocate.
Being strong in this sense is the opposite of self-negligence. It is complete self-alignment and self-advocacy. It is the strength that results when you can truly see yourself for exactly who you are and still genuinely like yourself.
For me personally, it was by extending my definition of what it meant for me to “be strong” that I was able to open up and allow myself and others to see me in all my imperfections… and what a relief that was!
This past year, since I started my own business, I have allowed myself to be more vulnerable than ever before. Launching my website, talking to people openly about my most personal struggles, and being completely transparent about my passion to work with women who seek to go through these inner journeys to find their authentic voices and then setting goals to actively pursue their dreams, has demanded me to be bluntly vulnerable. This is what I did in order to pursue my dreams without regrets in NYC, in a country where I did not grow up with my family 1000s of miles away.
Looking at my life from this perspective, I can see that this last year, has been one of my strongest yet.
The funny thing is that form the outside it has probably looked like one of my easiest years. Why? Because I have been the happiest I have ever been. Sure, I had days of doubt, fear, and worry, but I never lost my connection with myself. I always bounced back quickly. I know that this was only possible because I re-defined strength to include my ability to be vulnerable aka. completely, utterly, unapologetically myself.
Through this journey of re-defining what “strength” means, authentic happiness could finally enter my life.
With no army of roman soldiers stacked up all around me, love has been able to flow freely and enter my life from all corners. That is why I am literally bursting at my seams because I feel so much love.
In the comments below, let me know how you have to re-define the term strength in order for your life to become full, authentic, and internally harmonious? What habitual beliefs about strength do you want to let go off in order to fall in love with yourself just a little bit more? What additions would you like to make? How do YOU want to be strong?
Want to discuss some of these questions in more detail? I am offering a limited number of FREE 30-minute consultations until next Thursday, February 28th. Once I launch my new website next week I won’t be able to offer free consultations on a regular basis anymore, so be sure to email me at Caroline@carolinezwick.com by this Friday, February 22nd to reserve your spot!
Here is to you and your journey. With Love and strength.