This is the thing about me: I’m independent, I’m tough, I’m practical. I act rationally and practically 90% of the time, rather than responding emotionally to a situation. I don’t cry in sad movies. If you ever have a lever and you want to move the world, I’m the rock you can stand on.
And being strong sucks.
I’ve had a lot of reasons to think about strength lately. Mainly because this has been probably the worst summer of my life, beating out the previous record-holder due to sheer volume of misfortune. And partially because someone I knew pretty well has had to find his own strength recently, and in doing so face his own weakness: this post is for him.
Per my usual method of dealing with misfortune, I’ve used the opportunity to do the introspective thing. This is how I see strength. And this is how I deal with problems.
Warning: this gets pretty personal. But I wouldn’t put it on the Internet if I didn’t want it to be read.
Logical Strength: Self-Awareness
This is where I shine.
First: there are many different types of intelligence. There’s social intelligence, academic intelligence, intelligence about your surroundings. Using that intelligence in a difficult situation, no matter what intelligence it is, requires self-awareness. It requires the ability to remove yourself from whatever difficult position you’re in to think about it logically.
This does not involve pushing emotions down or ignoring them. It means setting them aside: feeling them and dealing with them (as we’ll cover in a second), but not letting them influence your rationality.
Logical strength is difficult. It goes against the grain of humanity: so much of the human experience is what we feel, so how the heck do you put that aside? And in some situations, why should you? If your husband leaves you for his secretary and takes all your money, leaving you penniless, why the hell shouldn’t you be angry?
Well, you should be. But logical strength is what keeps you from beating him to death with a tire iron. There’s a huge difference between “don’t feel”and “don’t act on it”.
A few weeks ago I wrote about how to deal with criticism. That deals with emotional strength: the ability to let yourself feel and explore it.
Fairly often, I see people recognize their feelings and make a snap judgement: is this feeling right or wrong? Is it good or bad? Should I be feeling it? If the feeling is right or good, if they think it’s how they should feel, they stop there. If it’s bad or wrong, they push it away and tell themselves they shouldn’t be feeling that way. And they leave it at that.
Announcement: if you think you may be crazy, check out therapy. Actually, check out therapy anyway: it’s beneficial for everyone, not just “crazy” people. But 99% of the time, your feelings are a reaction to something genuine, and telling yourself it’s wrong or bad or that you shouldn’t be feeling that way doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help you, it doesn’t help the person it’s directed toward, it doesn’t help your friends or family or anyone else who may notice you’re feeling off.
So instead, take a moment away from everything. Take a walk, take a nap, take a sit on a bench somewhere. And think. Why are you feeling that way? What causes that feeling? Something’s bothering you– think through the aspects of the problem and notice what gives you a tangible emotional reaction. Ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you need. Trace it back to its roots.
And do this until you A., feel better, or B., can step back and use that logical intelligence we talked about earlier.
Keep in mind: this isn’t always (or usually) such a smooth thing. If your reaction is strong, you need to let yourself cry or rant or run until the blisters on your feet make it impossible to stand. You need to allow yourself that reaction. It’s okay. It’s valid. Let no one tell you otherwise: even if that reason is chemical, it exists.
If you don’t let yourself feel, you can’t get there. It helps no one.
And seriously: therapy is amazing.
So if that’s strength, what’s weakness?
Weakness– to me– is the inability to handle yourself. It’s found in poor decisions and misplaced or shut-in emotions. Weakness is anger directed at yourself, anger directed at the innocent, and anger deeply buried inside. Weakness is band-aid solutions and ignored problems.
Weakness isn’t bad.
Because here’s the thing: everyone is weak. Take it from someone who deals with kids on a near-daily basis, we all start out as a whirlwind of weakness. Elementary school teaches children how to handle their sadness and their anger and their affection appropriately, but by middle school we teach our kids the greatest lie of all time.
“You’re a big kid now, so you should be able to handle this.”
Bull. Shit. Never cease your introspection, kids. Never stop figuring yourself out. Adults need to think about their behavior just as much as kids do, if not more. But I digress.
This is what happened.
A week or two ago, one of my best friends had a moment of weakness. He’s been dealing with depression for a while, and my family sort of took him in. In his weakness, he snapped and said some incredibly hurtful things. I was absolutely destroyed for a decent chunk of time. I was furious and I was heartbroken and I lashed out. I said some stuff I regret: that I’d do better without him that he would without me. That he was no longer family, when I’ve called him my brother for years.
Here’s the thing: you can’t choose your family.
You can’t ask someone to be a part of your family for ten years and then expect your blood relatives to just drop him when something bad happens. Family doesn’t work that way. You fight, maybe at worst become estranged, but you still hear about each other. You still care about each other, despite it all. It’s not like you want to, mind. You just don’t have a choice.
I have people I’m related to for whom this does not apply. They aren’t family. They may be married to family, or blood relatives of family, but that doesn’t define how I love them. Nor does the blood. Nor does the bond of whatever god they worship. Just love.
Weakness is contagious. One uncontrolled reaction breeds another, until it spreads like a virus through your people. Strength, on the other hand, is more of a vaccination. It’s something deliberately made and deliberately nurtured and deliberately given. Unlike a vaccination, there’s only so much an outside force can do for you. Once they’ve given you the tools to be strong, you have to keep it alive all on your own. That’s what makes it so hard.
My brother has those tools. Now he faces the hard part: going out and keeping the weakness away, guarding his strengths against all the shit the world throws at you. And partially because of his weakness, he’ll be doing it in a far more lonely way than he needs to. But it’s also partially because of his strength: tools only take him so far before they become a hindrance. And knowing that is only going to make him stronger.
So I wish him well. And good luck. I hope his journey sends him where he needs to be.
And I’ll be waiting when he gets back.