Recently I’ve had the experience of a few people commenting on what a “strong woman” I am. These comments were meant as compliments and a reflection of “how well” I’ve managed in the midst of mounting stress primarily associated with significant changes to my parents’ functioning and the increased caregiving responsibilities this created. What was particularly interesting to me was the internal reaction I had to these comments.
My initial reaction was one of pride. You know, the feeling you get as you mentally merge your own image onto the image of a "Superwoman". I’m not going to lie, it felt pretty good….for a fleeting moment. It’s what showed up afterwards that was the interesting piece to me.
I found myself suddenly thinking all of the things “strong women” shouldn’t do, such as: they never ask for help, never show vulnerabilities, and always handle anything that life throws their way no matter how big/heavy the load. Of course, as mental health professionals I’m sure many of you noticed the “never” and “always” in my thoughts. And we all know, the terms “never” and “always” are never a good thing and always a sign of trouble. Fortunately, I caught them before they caused too much damage!
So, I decided to go to my bookcase and look up the word “strong” in my trusty Webster’s New World Dictionary (yes, I’m old school). Imagine my surprise when none of the definitions included the qualities I associated with a “strong” woman.
So, I decided it was time to break free from the Superwoman persona, and work on re-defining the term “strong woman”. Using Webster’s dictionary as a springboard, I decided to build on the concept of strong meaning durable (as in enduring stress or adversity) or healthy. With that in mind, here’s my new working definition.
Strong Woman (noun):
A woman who acts in ways that may, at times, cause discomfort, (e.g., asking others for help, setting boundaries, raising fees, sharing vulnerabilities with trusted friends and family, placing her own needs above others, etc.) but ultimately serve to promote resiliency and longer-term health and wellness. This discomfort is likely to be most intense in the face of events that trigger the Human Giver Syndrome. (Remember this term from part 1 of this series?) A woman who acts in ways that go against this syndrome is demonstrating exceptional feats of strength.
What’s your definition of a “strong woman”? Is it one that promotes courageous actions associated with health and wellness? We'd love to hear your thoughts - feel free to contact us and let us know how you have shown courage in supporting your own wellness.