In Essays on
January 1, 2017

Please Stop Telling Me To “Be Strong”

Please_Stop_Telling_Me_To_Be_Strong

 

 

I was having my hair brushed when they were brought to my attention.

 

Two of them.

 

Two bald spots.

 

Sure, they were well-concealed by the rest of my hair (thanks, Latin genes), but they existed all the same.

 

To some, it may sound trivial.

 

To me, it was near-enough the end of my world. At least for the night.

 

I proceeded to go to bed, have a good cry and torture myself with thoughts of bad wigs and alo-fucking-pecia.

 

“My hair is my best feature! I’ll never feel confident again! What if my head is secretly a weird shape? Why did this have to happen at Christmas? Why? Why? WHY?”

 

You get the idea.

 

It was only when someone told me to “snap out of it and be strong” that I started seeing sense.

 

I didn’t need to be “strong” in that moment, thank you very much. What I needed was to despair, allow myself to feel positively terrible and, in my own time, move on.



It’s the recovery recipe that has always worked for me.

 

Throw me adversity, and I’ll respond by going to bed. There may be junk food and bad movies. There will undoubtedly be tears.

 

I swear by allowing myself to feel sad. Experts have even created a term for it: “constructive wallowing”. Who knew?!

 

Embracing your sadness, at least initially, speeds up the healing process. 

 

Pretending to “be strong” and “brave”, on the other hand, is counter-productive.

 

My hair woes got me thinking about how often we romanticise the idea of “being strong” in the face of adversity.

 

So many people use “be strong” or “stay strong” as their go-to advice. And, contrary to popular belief, it’s not just men who are being told to, essentially, “man up”.

 

As women, we too have a tendency to idolise those who are brave and strong no matter what life throws at them. Boudica. Rosa Parks. Beyonce. Dr. Maya Angelou. Diane von Furstenberg. Hell, Samantha Jones.

 

These women are fantastic. But their public personas aren’t our reality (or even their reality!). I have no doubt they’ve turned their vulnerability into real strength, time and time again. Thinking that it’s natural to have terrible things happen to you and happily carry on is, quite frankly, bullshit.

 

Fuck having a stiff upper lip. Fuck not feeling able to cry. Fuck repressing your emotions. Fuck repressing your emotions to make other people feel comfortable. Fuck faking happiness. Fuck being “strong”.

 

If you feel sad about something, no matter what it is, you have every right to feel sad about it. Fact. And if you want to get over something? You need to go through your sadness, not around it. Double fact.

 

I woke up the next morning puffy-eyed, but feeling lighter. I’d cried a lot. For the situation, for myself and for my fears. My fears were real, you see, and no amount of denial could have overcome that. Having faced and embraced them, I was already moving closer to acceptance.

 

As for my hair, I took my teary self to the doctors and they’re confident it’s going to grow back. Slowly but surely. Like anything worth waiting for in this life.

 


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15 Comments

  • Walkiria

    Such an honest post, thank you for being so open and candid about your experience. I agree that it is vital to allow ourselves the full spectrum of our emotions in order to find our balance. Putting a brave face to the world slowly kills us inside and take us away from our own reality and truth.

    January 1, 2017 at 6:37 pm Reply
    • biancabass

      Thank you so much! The number of smart, kind and talented people I’ve seen suffer unnecessarily as they are unable to say how they’re *really* feeling, due to conditioning, societal pressures or otherwise, is so sad and it has to stop. Thank you 🙂

      January 2, 2017 at 7:37 pm Reply
  • Sarirah

    I’d never heard of the term constructive wallowing but that definitely describes how I deal with things in a way. Over the years I’ve definitely learnt that bottling up or brushing aside sad or negative emotions isn’t the way. I do thing though, that being strong is about being able to get back up again, acknowledging what you go through but still being able to push forward. The standardised notion of what “being strong” is, is quite misleading. It sometimes gives the impression that dealing with hardship is a weakness. Anyway, as always, I love how raw and honest your posts are. 🙂

    January 1, 2017 at 8:30 pm Reply
    • biancabass

      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment, Sarirah! I completely agree and hadn’t heard of the term either, but it’s changed my life ever since. There’s an incredible Mandela quote that really reminds me of what you’ve said here: “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

      Thank you 🙂

      January 2, 2017 at 7:39 pm Reply
  • Kirsty

    This was so nice to read such an honest post. I completely agree that allowing yourself to feel sadness is vital to recovery. I wasn’t aware there was an actual term for it, though. I tend to do the same thing, put myself in bed but I put earphones in and play music loud enough so that I can’t even hear myself any more. I can only recommend some movies I’ve found to be comforting in the same light – Ferris Beuller’s Day off, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Holiday and any Harry Potter movie. Although, my taste in movies is sometimes questionable! <3

    January 1, 2017 at 11:28 pm Reply
    • biancabass

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, Kirsty! I’m not going to lie, I was scared to hit publish but comments like yours makes me feel glad I did. Thank you. 🙂 PS The Holiday is a total classic. Kate Winslet’s friendship with her old neighbour gets me Every. Single. Time.

      January 2, 2017 at 7:41 pm Reply
  • Michelle

    Well said! I deal like this too and get sick of being told to “suck it up”. I know how I cope best. It also infuriates me when people tell my kids not to cry. It’s how they express their feelings. Saying “don’t cry” to a kid is like saying “I don’t want you to tell me how you feel”. I want to know how my kids feel!

    January 2, 2017 at 1:29 am Reply
    • biancabass

      A-MEN. I couldn’t agree more, *especially* what you’ve said about your kids. If our children can’t be free to express themselves, then honestly who can? Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment, Michelle 🙂

      January 2, 2017 at 7:42 pm Reply
  • Carol Henshaw

    It’s important to mourn a loss and OK to express any negative emotion in the face of adversity. There is too much pressure to be positive, be strong etc even for people with life-limiting conditions. Thanks for this very honest post.

    January 2, 2017 at 7:31 pm Reply
    • biancabass

      Thank you for taking the time to read and comment, Carol! I so agree and relate to this — the amount of pressure to be constantly positive, motivated and grateful at all times is crushing and I refuse to give into it any longer. It really is about going through your emotions, not around or over them. Thank you 🙂

      January 2, 2017 at 7:45 pm Reply
  • Jeanette Mundy

    This is a great post! I absolutely agree with you. As a coach I see so many women trying to suppress their pain, and it does the opposite to what they expect it “should”. That’s the key word isn’t it? That societies expectations of “should’s” and “must’s” have lead us to believe we have to be what humans are not designed to be – perfect and controlled. I’m going to share your post on Pinterest. Jeanette x

    January 4, 2017 at 11:04 pm Reply
  • Zoe Linda

    Yes! I completely agree. Being ‘strong’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘no tears/no fears’. To me, it means being strong enough to let your emotions run free and knowing when to have a good ol’ cry. <3

    January 5, 2017 at 12:20 pm Reply
  • Alexandra Moresco

    Thank you for being so open and honest about your struggle. I have been dealing with a health issue for the last year that has changed my body and I am still not quite use to some of them, as small as they might be to others.

    <3 https://alpluslex.com/

    January 7, 2017 at 7:20 pm Reply
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