I hope you had a relaxing and rejuvenating weekend!
For me the weekend was filled with some mixed feelings because, while Jason and I had our awesome friends in town, I was also battling a VERY stubborn cold all weekend.
I found myself bouncing back and forth between feeling joyful, laughing and having a great time with our friends, and then feeling completely crappy with my hacking cough and congestion headaches.
It was a weird battle to fight in my head because I had to find the balance between knowing when I needed to go be by myself and let my body rest and when I needed to kind of suck it up and make sure I didn’t let an awesome weekend with great friends pass me by.
I was in this perpetual state of limbo between feeling weak and feeling strong, which got me thinking a lot about how we perceive those two words in our lives.
As far back as I can remember, there has been a part of me that has felt weak. I’ve always been a highly sensitive person, someone who can’t help but express emotion and vulnerability, and therefore I’ve always been acutely aware of the perception that vulnerability is seen as weakness. I grew up with three older brothers and I remember being made fun of a lot throughout my childhood for crying or for showing I was hurt (which I was… all the time).
And yet, despite my sensitive tendencies, I also knew I had qualities that could be perceived as strength. Qualities like perseverance, work ethic, resilience, and integrity. These are the things I learned from my mom, a woman who definitely embodies this delicate and somewhat paradoxical balance of showing strength and vulnerability at the same time.
When I think back to those childhood moments that formed my definitions of the words “strength” and “weakness,” I realize that I learned (like many of us) that they carried with them very clear positive and negative connotations.
I grew up with the reinforced belief that ultimately strong is good and weak is bad. It appeared to be that simple to me.
Now I’ll ask you to take a second and think about how you define these two words. When you hear the word “weak,” what is your first reaction? Do you think of it as a good thing or a bad thing?
And now think of the last time you felt weak. In that moment, did you feel ashamed of it? Did you carry guilt for not being stronger?
I’m guessing you did.
I think we all have moments of immense strength AND moments of understandable weakness.
BUT, what if we didn’t associate strength and weakness so directly with good and bad. What if we saw them as two sides of a more neutral coin?
For example, when you think about the words hot and cold, you don’t necessarily think of either one being inherently positive or negative. You merely see them as two states on the same spectrum. The situation colors the context for how you experience each one.
In a freezing snowstorm, a cup of hot chocolate could be pretty darn positive. And on a blazing summer day, an ice cold water is what you might be craving. They are two ends of a temperature spectrum that is not implicitly good or bad; it simply IS.
This is how I want to start thinking about strength and weakness.
There are always going to be times in our lives when we feel “weak.” When we feel off our game. Maybe we get sick, or we’re emotionally drained from an unexpected loss or we’re exhausted and overwhelmed. And in those moments, our initial response can be to beat ourselves up. To feel ashamed for showing a chink in our armor.
But what if instead of looking at weakness as something negative to get OVER we looked at weakness as something inevitable to move THROUGH. Something that actually represented the wholeness of the human experience.
I recently read a quote on BrainPickings from the amazing and insightful David Whyte, who talks about vulnerability (ie. weakness) in these terms:
Heavy and dense, but beautiful words to be sure. Feel free to read that paragraph over until it really sinks into your bones.
I think what Whyte is saying there is that, in a way, to fully accept and inhabit weakness is also to fully accept and inhabit HUMANNESS. To be weak is, by definition, to be fully alive.
And so, as I mentioned above, we shouldn’t avoid our weakness or feel shame because of it or look at it as a negative thing to try and snuff out; we should acknowledge that it is a state of being just as strength is a state of being — just as hot and cold are two states of the same whole.
So my challenge to you this week is to try redefining weakness.
Think back to the last time you felt ashamed for feeling weak. Whether it was during that workout when you couldn’t muster one more push-up, or when you broke down from the loss of a loved one, or when you spiraled out from the weight of too much stress.
Now I want you to consider how that situation would have felt differently if you recognized your weakness as a temporary state of being instead of a self-defeating, self-defining quality.
None of us is only weak or only strong. We are BOTH. To experience vulnerability or what we think of as weakness is to experience what it means to be human, and so we should never feel shame for that.
I hope that this new frame of reference helps some of you let go of this negatively perceived label you may have applied to yourself in the past.
I may feel weak in this moment because my body is temporarily ailing, but I won’t let it color the way I see myself as a whole. And neither should you.