When do you think of an empowered woman? What first comes to mind? Perhaps someone who is confident in themselves and their cause. Someone who is dedicated to achieving their goals no matter who stands in their way. A woman who values herself over others and loves herself wholeheartedly. If that is the kind of woman that you are hoping to read about, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed. I am not that woman. I am not empowered in the traditional sense of the world. I may not be your personal cup of tea, but I’ve come to recognize myself as strong, nonetheless.
I have never once in my life been called strong. I suppose strength isn’t exactly something that I radiate. Although throughout my life, I’ve been relegated to being the wallflower. Not especially well-liked or disliked. I remember crying a lot as a child, sobbing at the most inane things such as being hit in the head or failing a test. I was shy, quiet, withdrawn: all the traits people would normally associate with weakness and fragility. Although I got better at regulating my emotions, this “fragile” nature would follow me around for the rest of my life.
Over the years, I’ve been called a coward, overly sensitive, overly emotional, hysterical, and a variety of other unflattering adjectives. Sometimes by the people, I love the most. I’ve been told that I should be better than this. After all, I have more opportunities than other people. I don’t have to deal with poverty, abuse, military conflict, or any of the hardships that other people have the misfortune of experiencing. What did I possibly have to be upset about?
“Psychological invalidation is the act of rejecting, dismissing, or minimizing someone else’s thoughts and feelings. It implies that a person’s experience is not important, wrong, or unacceptable.”ReGain.us
For years, this comparison to other people has cut deep into my self-esteem. It seemed no matter what I did, I could never shake the labels off myself. I could never reach the definition of strength that everyone else was touting. This shame soon gave way to depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation. I won’t pretend that I’ve had it worse than anyone else, but when you are your own worst enemy, you learn to deal with constant judgment and disapproval, and you learn to expect the same from others. I found myself always coming short of people’s expectations of strength, so I could only ever see myself as they did.
But What Is Strength?
Despite this, nowadays I have to question what exactly is strength? According to Oxford Languages, the literal definition of strength is “the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.” Strength can be attributed to the cliffside’s ability to stand firm in the face of an oncoming hurricane. It is found in the tree that has stood tall for centuries, weathering each year with an almost unwavering poise. We can find so many examples in nature that reflect our human ideas of strength, and it’s most commonly expressed as something that is unwavering in their fight against the elements.
“Our culture values a stiff upper lip. Showing emotion – particularly sadness — is seen as a sign of weakness and societal norms discourage expressing emotion.”Clarity Clinic
We as human beings are meant to emulate that strength we find in nature. For centuries, the traits of a variety of animals were immortalized throughout the years as virtues. The mighty lion, the steadfast bear, the loyal wolf: all these animals are synonymous with our traditional idea of strength. These are predators, capable of defending themselves and hunting for prey. Strength is hardly ever something attributed to the sprightly rabbit or the shielded turtle. But at the same time, don’t they also exhibit those core ideals of strength. The rabbit is strong because if its ability to survive. Although afraid, the rabbit doesn’t make the decision to hide in her burrow for the rest of her life. Instead, she swallows her fear, in search of her next meal. Although the turtle uses its shell for protection, it still ventures out, allowing itself to be vulnerable once again.
These are animals I’ve more often been attributed to. Much like them, my so-called “thin-skin” doesn’t constitute me being weak. When we think about it this way, what does the lion have to fear more than the antelope it chases? They realize their vulnerabilities; they are fully aware of their faults. And yet they open themselves up to these dangerous circumstances in order to ensure their continued wellbeing. Like them, I am always in a vulnerable position, and yet I persist. Whatever tears I shed do not weaken me as a woman. How weak am I for feeling the discomfort of my emotions, rather than simply pushing them away?
Find Strength in Your Vulnerability
I’m not easily broken just because you see cracks starting to set in. A cracked wall is still standing. At the end of the day, my sadness, my anger, and my fears are simply a show of force; an indicator of the battle that I am currently living through. They prove that I am alive. And for as long as I can, I will continue to endure whatever the world throws at me. That doesn’t mean I won’t cry, or withdraw, or question my reasons to go on. Because as long as I’ve still stood, I am still strong.
What makes me an empowered woman? Well, I find strength in the fact that I have chosen to continue to live. I am still breathing. I am still working. I am still alive. So far, I have weathered every store I’ve come across. I have fought the temptation to bring an early end to my life, and I wake up every day. (No matter how reluctantly.) This may not be an accomplishment for you, but it is for me. I am awake, alert, and aware. I realize I may not evoke the image of an empowered woman in your eyes. That persona has already been taken by people such as Michelle Obama, Malala, Susan B. Anthony, and so many others. They are the lions, and I am the rabbit. Not the same, but equal in their strength.
To other women who see themselves as rabbits in a world of lions. Don’t lose hope. Don’t close yourself off to the world in an effort to quell those raging emotions. And most of all, don’t discount your own inherent strength. Those who are naturally sensitive and yet continue to expose themselves to an unforgiving world are as strong as any lion.
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