Help me frame my BA from the school of hard knocks.
January 26, 2010 5:50 PM   Subscribe

You know that expression "I don't know my own strength"? I've finally started to know my own strength, in an emotional sense. Now, how do I start LIKING (and using) it?

Something my partner said to me during my last breakup struck me - they praised my strength. And on reflection, they were right; I am pretty strong, considering. I've not had the best run of luck throughout my life - minor, low-level emotional neglect at home as a child, lots of teasing at school, financial hardship, bad luck with relationships -- but something in me has always kept me from curling up into a ball for good each time, and gets me to pick myself up and grit my teeth and stand my ground. I've had some therapy that's helped with some of the hard patches, and overall the stuff I've been through has indeed taught me that emotional resilience.

The thing is -- I've always kind of known that, but a little while after that breakup, it suddenly hit me that rather than being proud of that strength, I've always instead been bitter about it. Rather than taking pride in learning to be a human Weeblo, I've been bitter about the fact that "I had no other choice but to be that way," and that I had to learn that resilience in the face of all that hardship. And then I just gnash my teeth for an hour or so over the fact that I had to go through all that when I deserved better, then go read a book and feel better -- but no wiser. And I've also realized that don't use that reserve of strength unless I am in a crisis mode -- I've been looking all this time for a chance to not have to be that strong. But I've been thinking if I could learn how to use that strength more often, it could probably be a very powerful motivator.

Probably the fact that I've had the epiphany that "this strength isn't a bad thing" is going to start me getting past the bitterness, but how do I learn how to embrace that resilience, and use it?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (9 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think you just did. Congratulations.
posted by hal_c_on at 5:59 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

Go do something hard that's important to you.
posted by logicpunk at 6:02 PM on January 26, 2010

I have no idea if this is actually good advice or not, so take it as well. I've felt the same way about my own emotional strength, and it really helps me get through times when I'm feeling fine emotionally but going through some severe physical pain, such as non-contagious illness/broken bones/achiness/didn't take medicine with food (ouch!)/what have you.

Even if I'm feeling like crap physically, I remind myself of all the other things I've been through and use those memories to go to school/work anyway. When the pain passes, I'm always glad I stuck it out instead of laying in bed all day, and especially when it comes to school I'm glad I'm not behind afterwards.
posted by biochemist at 6:05 PM on January 26, 2010 [1 favorite]

meant to say take it as you will.
posted by biochemist at 6:06 PM on January 26, 2010

Oh, I should also add that what helps me during those times is reminding myself that if I can keep going after emotional trauma that tends to take awhile to get through, I can definitely make it through physical pain that only lasts a week at best. The body also never tends to remember it; I can still feel the pain of emotional situation XYZ but I can't (physically) relive having a muscle spasm.
posted by biochemist at 6:11 PM on January 26, 2010

OMG, go inspire somebody.

The best part is, it won't be that hard. Find somebody who needs help, listen to them, share your experiences, and just be you. They'll learn for themselves what emotional strength looks like and how to emulate it. You'll learn how to be there for others without compromising with detachment. That's a special kind of strength that gets you and the world through the tough bits. It's the opposite of fair-weather emotional fortitude.

You have given yourself a gift, whether it's dumb luck you stumbled onto, or a consciously selected coping mechanism - it doesn't matter. You got it now. The more you appreciate and cultivate this skill, the more emotional freedom it will grant you.
posted by iamkimiam at 7:52 PM on January 26, 2010

You are not a strong person because of the things that happened to you, you are a strong person in spite of those things.

You did have a choice when situations arose. You chose to be strong. It might not seem like much of a choice, but you acted when you could have been passive. You coped when you could have broke down. Celebrate that the 'something in you' was your choice not to give up. You say 'you had no other choice' but to be that way, but the truth is you do have a choice. It is a part of who you are; maybe it is something you do without really thinking about it, but there is always a choice.

I'm going to use myself as an example. I have really severe anxiety and depression. Everyday for me is a fight. A fight to get out of bed, a fight to get dressed, a fight to eat. Some days are harder than others, but everyday is a fight. I have kids who rely on me, so I can't just give up and stay in bed.

Actually I can. I could choose to just throw in the towel and stay in bed. Let the kids miss school, let the baby stay in a dirty diaper. However these choices would be abusive to my children and would probably lead to me losing my parental rights. I love my children, so I find the inner strength to get out of bed, get the kids up, and move on with my day. It might not seem like much of a choice (to a sane, responsible person) but it is still a choice that can be made. I don't think about it because it is something that I have to do. Not something that I have to do because I have no choice, but something that I have to do because the other options are unacceptable to me.
posted by TooFewShoes at 11:17 PM on January 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

I guess I would focus on how as an adult, you're not a victim anymore. The bad things that happen are unlikely to be harmful or neglectful acts of others, but the result of your own actions.

And since you know now that even if those actions put yourself into a tough situation, you can get through it, you can act more boldly. Since you have proven your ability to get through failure and hard times, you don't need to fear things like failure or rejection or overreaching. You can take whatever you throw at yourself. So, like logicpunk says, go find something really important to you and take bold action to make it happen.
posted by salvia at 12:11 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm with logicpunk - it's great that you know you're strong. Now you know you can soldier through tough situations, or pick yourself up if they end badly. So, what kind of situations require strength and resilience? Helping and mentoring others? Providing assistance in crises (natural disasters, etc)? Military, if you lean that way? Other challenging career? Starting a business? Completing a degree in something tough? You can do it!
posted by jetsetlag at 7:39 AM on January 27, 2010

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