Well, if you have been blessed with a strong woman in your life, you know that she is the anchor to your whirlwind ocean; calm after the storm; agony aunt; cheerleader; protector and A-one advice giver. She gives and gives, always a call away, always one to lend an ear. Never asking for anything in return. She’ll show up with ice-cream, hold your hand while you sob on her shoulder and make things right. She seems wholesome, unrattled and unbroken—and so you believe what everyone around her believes: she’s got this.
She’s also exhausted you will never know it. Being a strong woman is like being a sponge. She’s expected to take in everyone’s problems, fears and anxieties—squeezing in every last molecule and resuming original shape.
What about her problems? Her insecurities? Her need to vent, to seek comfort, to lash out, to cry, to spend a day in bed? Is anyone checking in on her? Is she allowed a day off from being the strong woman?
What if she doesn’t have the physical or emotional strength to be that solid wall of comfort in your life in that moment? The internet has a great phrase for this: “I’m at capacity”. A gentle statement explaining politely but firmly that there is no emotional and physical bandwidth to take on anyone else’s problems. But the strong woman isn’t allowed to use this phrase. So she puts on a brave smile, picks up the incoming call and minutes later is on her way: armed with kind words of comfort, hugs and assurances. And yet, when the day is over, when she can finally be alone with her thoughts, she’s too weak to even think. She’s at the end of her tether, maxed out on compassion, desperately seeking to conjure up some for herself. There’s none left.
The strong woman argues with herself, tells herself she’ll ‘power through’ and things will get better, just like she’s trained them to. But here’s why she’s emotionally falling apart. And why she needs to remember that it’s okay to not be that strong all the time.
Sponge-ing in and never letting out
She is taking in your pain, remember that there is no outlet for hers. In her role as the strong woman in your life, she can’t be seen breaking down. How will she remain the wall of support if she has fractures in her own? Therefore, she doesn’t let herself break. She doesn’t outlay her problems to anyone else because that’s just not who she is, or who the world will let her be. Much like everyone else, she’s convinced herself that she can deal with any curveball thrown her way solo and that’s how it’s always going to be. She doesn’t know how to ask for help, only to give it. So she bottles it all in and wakes up every day, brushing yesterday’s problems under an already-mounting carpet. Like a volcano, when she erupts, not many will expect it or might be able to catch her when she falls.
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
She’s both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. She is her own worst enemy and harshest critic. As much as the world expects out of her, she demands even more from herself, not realising the physical and emotional toll it takes on her. In a sense she’s trying to live up to her expectations as much as anyone else’s, not realising the terrible disservice she’s doing to herself.
Also read: How To Manage Strong Emotions at Work
Trust in Who?
She is so hard-wired to have to depend on herself, that she doesn’t trust anyone else easily. Often, her endless care and compassion is taken advantage of, because human beings are selfish creatures, and so she’s learned to harden her shell and seek comfort...from no one. It doesn’t help that her loved ones assume that “she’ll be alright” because she is who she is.
In short, a strong woman is as guilty as anyone around her for putting the kind of pressure on herself that is enough to bring anyone to their knees. She settles for ‘powering through’ her struggles and darkest fears because that’s how she’s conditioned herself to be. But somewhere, deep in the throes of her psyche, her mental health starts to suffer and before long she’ll combust—struggling to grapple with the loss of identity: of being ‘strong’ for herself and for everyone else around her.
So, throw her a bone from time to time. Encourage her to talk about her problems, coax her into revealing her fears. Ask her how she is, even if she’s been holding onto a brave smile. Lend your shoulder to her for a change, show up at her door with ice-cream. Most importantly, tell her she’s allowed to say she’s at capacity and choose herself, for once.
(Edited by Neha Baid)