Monday, January 9, 2012

Good Little Girls, Don't Let Anyone Steal Your Strength

I love the people in my life who help me feel my own strength. I'm not talking about those who make me fight them to demonstrate my own strength though they do serve a purpose as well. For the purposes of this post though we're going to focus on those whose mere presence in your life make you feel, understand, and embrace your inner strength without a moment of shame or the need to downplay it.

In the song What It Feels Like for a Girl, Madonna sings "Strong inside but you don't know it. Good little girls they never show it. When you open up your mouth to speak could you be a little weak." and later "Hurt that's not supposed to show and tears that fall when no one knows. When you're trying hard to be your best, could you be a little less."

I love this song. I'll concede that the video is weird, and the decision to leave out the lyrics wasn't one of her smartest because the lyrics to this song are awesome! They do such an incredible job defining the experience of so many women and girls. They describe the inner strength women often feel they have to hide or temper in order not to be seen as bitchy or emasculating. Actually, I would define Madonna's decision to allow her husband at the time to influence the video so much a demonstration of her trying to temper her strength so as to not emasculate him, but that's conjecture on my part.

I learned to downplay my inner strength to keep the peace many years ago. Eventually, not practicing my strength lead to me not knowing how to access it when I needed it. I knew it was still there. I felt it rumble and push its way to the surface from time to time. I found it easier to access when I knew it didn't threaten other people, especially the men in my life. I just wanted peace in my life even if achieving that peace suppressed my inner strength and eroded my self-confidence in the process. I had truly learned to be a little weak when I spoke and to be a little less when trying hard to be my best. I hadn't just learned it, I had embraced it. I began to avoid my eyes in the mirror. This wasn't the woman I wanted to be.

For a long time, I didn't even admit to myself I had allowed this to happen. I went about my days pretending I was still the strong woman I'd been before, but that I'd made choices to channel that strength in a different direction. I convinced myself that when others criticized my strength, they were right to do so. I convinced myself that my strength was "bad" "wrong" "too much" "bitchiness" or whatever other words my critics deemed it. After all, my critics knew better than I did, right? If they said my strength was hurtful to them, who was I to argue? I even convinced myself that when I felt weakened or less than my best, it was growth.

One day I could no longer avoid looking in my own eyes and seeing the woman I was meant to be struggling to get out. I could no longer stand being told my strength was unacceptable. I'm not sure what the final straw was, but a series of conversations with people who knew me before I suppressed my inner strength contributed to it. There were those who bluntly commented on the weakness they heard in my voice/words or saw in my actions. There were those who simply alluded to it. But, in the end, it was the look I saw in my eyes, the weakness I heard in my voice, the feeling of holding back for fear my best would offend someone else, the denial of my work and my potential for success to keep from being perceived as emasculating that propelled me to stand in my own strength and let what would happen happen.

I discovered shortly after reaching the decision to embrace my own strength again that I really liked being around people who appreciated my strength and loved me for it. The people who never asked me to be weaker than I was, directly or indirectly, were the people who truly deserved a place in my life. It took a while for me to find my footing in my own strength, but each stumble proved to me that strong was better than weak. Trying my best and failing was preferrable to being less than my best. Being great was better than being perfect. Being me was preferrable to molding myself to meet someone else's image.

Of course, not everyone liked me stepping into my strength. It meant relationships were redefined. It meant I no longer took every criticism to heart. It meant I stood up for myself when criticized unfairly. It meant I didn't allow words meant to weaken me to do so. It meant I set new boundaries. It meant I no longer conformed just to keep the peace. It meant I realized I could stand on my own without being defined by someone else. It meant I was no longer controllable. It meant I embraced me as I saw me rather than as someone else saw me.

Every day I realize more and more that I want people in my life who are strong enough to appreciate me as I am, a strong woman who loves herself and isn't afraid to admit it.

If you haven't found your own inner strength yet, I hope you will begin looking for it. It is waiting inside you ready to burst forth creating your best self!!

My book of poetry, Reflections in Silhouette, is filled with poems about the journey to grow into one's best self including The Mirror, a poem about the experience of looking at myself in the mirror described above, and Sound, about embracing my love for myself.

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