Have you ever been referred to as a ‘strong woman’ by a friend, relative or acquaintance or perhaps a therapist? Throughout my years I have often been referenced as a strong woman and in my younger years. Most notably the twenties and thirties. I accepted it as a compliment. I stood proud and tall whenever someone said it to me. Now in my fifties, there are times I feel, somewhat alienated and lonely.
Strong or Decisive?
From my personal experience as a ‘strong woman’ those who know me perceive me to be unbreakable. This perception I believe may be based on my ability to make a decision and follow through with it, to the end result. Accepting and dealing with the consequences if there happen to be any. From an outside observer, it may seem as though I do this with ease and zero effect on my wellbeing. However, this is far from the truth.
Whenever I have a decision to make I analyzed every possible scenario of consequences before acting. This enables me to be prepared for whatever consequences MAY result from my decision. For instance, when I decided to divorce the father of my children it took many months for me to take action. My decision not only affected me and my future, but it also affected three innocent children. I meticulously weighed up the pros and cons of the effects they would endure in the years ahead, as well as the effects on me.
It was important to me that our girls understood my decision. Not as children, but in years to come, as adults.
Our marriage was not as I perceived it should be, we were on different pages particularly with ideas on parenting our children. I was not happy in our marriage and I was not prepared for our children to grow up in a toxic environment. Continuing with the partnership would be more detrimental to their wellbeing than dissolving the marriage. I took action and dealt with the consequences as they presented.
As a child, my observations of a notable woman in my life, my mother, and the treatment she endured led me to consistently reinforce mentally, I would not accept such treatment. While observing my father often demean my mother I remember thinking, why does she let him say those things to her. Why doesn’t she stand up to him?
At the same time, I noted the fear on her face and understood she was just as terrified of him as myself, and my siblings. She would cower when he walked toward her. I thought, as an adult, she should not have that response to him. After all, they were a couple who were supposed to love each other. Fear should not be the response of a woman to the man she loved.
As a child, I had perceived my mother to be weak. As an adult with the aid of experience, knowledge, and wisdom my perception has changed. I know women who have endured similar experiences and I do not consider them to be weak.
My childhood experiences and the resulting perceptions impacted my future. The decisions I made were for my own protection and self-preservation. I was adamant I was not going to stay in a situation which would affect my wellbeing, mental or physical. Aware of the signs I used that awareness to change my circumstances. I have always trusted my instincts and acted on them. Does this define me as a strong woman? In the eyes of others, probably.
Being Available To Other People
I have always been receptive to other peoples feelings and emotions. Which has often led a passing conversation to an in-depth therapeutic session, of sorts? Mostly because people have experiences which they cannot process. They simply need to be able to talk about it out loud to someone to enable them to understand their feelings. I was happy to be that person many times throughout my life.
For instance, if I pass a co-worker in the hallway or anywhere I always greet them with a smile and say hi. Depending on their reaction, facial expression, tone of voice, I may stop and enquire, “Are you ok?” If they don’t want to talk that is ok, however, if they stop and show signs of interacting with me, I will always be available to listen.
This has often led to a friendship of sorts because this person feels they have someone to support them. Trust is an important part of an interaction with a virtual stranger. I will never discuss other people’s personal problems with anyone else. Somehow they sense this and they trust me with intimate information. Often people do not require an opinion simply an impartial ear. Once they have spoken their thoughts they have a noticeably different feeling about them. At least from my perspective. This makes me feel happy for them as well.
Loneliness and a Strong Woman
My personal experience of being referred to as a strong woman has me feeling lonely at times. In my fifth decade of life, I have few friends and the family I grew up with are completely absent from my life. This is a result of the decisions I made from the experiences I have encountered. I have no regrets about the decisions I have made, however, I do fail to understand some of the consequences of my decisions. But consequences which involve others are often beyond our control. I have endured some very difficult situations and as a result, there are not many people I can confide in. This leaves me with a feeling of loneliness at times. I work through the feeling by using positive affirmations and talking to myself until the feeling subsides.
Having had many friends over the years and as women do we seek to find refuge in our friendships. We help each other by talking through our problems often helping each other find solutions. Women understand each other and often a friends point of view helps us to deal with life. A chat with a friend is comparable to seeking therapy.
In my case, there have been few who are able to empathize with my experiences. I have no problem with this as I understand it is not possible to empathize with another’s experience unless you have had a similar experience. However, because I have been able to empathize with my friends, usually by having had a similar experience they often refer to me as a strong woman. Given I have found a suitable solution to a similar situation. A solution they themselves may not be able to choose. This immediately gives them the perception I am a stronger person than them.
Perception Is Individual
I do not believe this to be true. Every experience has an individual perception. If a friend has not had the same experience how are they able to know how they would deal with it. We actually deal with situations differently to what we think we may deal with it.
So upon hearing an experience they cannot empathize with, they often do not know how to respond. This results in them having to change the subject, or leave. As I am unable to respond this way so I feel abandoned, in a way. Like nobody cares. The reality is they probably do care. But because they cannot relate, having not had a similar experience they feel helpless.
I feel that they think they need to solve my problem, especially if I have helped them solve theirs. This is not the case I simply need understanding and maybe even a hug. Unfortunately, my personality leads me to distance myself from those who are unable to comfort me without feeling like they have to solve my problem.
I have felt they only want to be in my life for the comfort I give to them in their darkest moments. Reassuring them that life will get better in time and offering positive affirmations to ease their pain. When they cannot reciprocate I am left with a feeling of loneliness. So my defense mechanism is to distance myself from that person, usually until we no longer see each other. Therefore I have a few friends.
Walls We Build
These days I choose not to offer a friendship as I am unable to commit to longevity. I have constructed a coping mechanism, my wall. My wall remains intact especially in an environment I am present on a daily basis. Particularly the work environment.
The Wall Comes Into Play
Beginning a career change for me is daunting. Learning new things scares the crap out of me. I don’t handle change very well. My approach is methodical. I carry a notebook at all times much to the amusement of those training me. But I figure if I write the steps down I will have an instant reference without having to ask repeated questions of my co-workers. I feel too many repetitive questions tends to annoy people. Especially if they think the job is ‘easy’.
My wall is in place and my true personality is kept behind it away from the people I meet daily. As time progresses the wall comes down, little by little, and I become more personable. This takes time usually months. The reaction by my co-workers to ME is noticeable. I have had comments such as “You are really funny” or “You are so different now.”
After months at a new job, I have assessed my co-workers in a way. Their personalities, their trustworthiness, their reactions to scenarios, and their relationships with one another. I let my wall down according to my assessment and release ME to a degree. Many of my co-workers are much younger so they see me more as a mother figure than a threat. Which I am happy to accept.
Who Needs to Know Your Story
My co-workers do not know my personal story, there is no need for them to have that information. I do not want them to perceive me as a strong woman. On the other hand, there are a few of them whom I perceive in this way. Their personal stories blow me away and I have a great deal of respect for them as individuals. Respect for their life experiences and endurance throughout.
In the work environment, you are able to present any way you want to. Telling your co-workers your life experiences, especially if they are incomprehensible to them is not always in your best interest. Strangers may perceive you in a different light.
Often they will noticeably shy away from you because they are unable to relate to you. How can you go through that and smile and laugh every day? Then the strong woman brand is applied. Or, they feel sad or sorry for you because you have been through so much in your life. Then they feel they cannot confide in you because their experiences are not as comparable, or not as bad. From their perspective.
This is where a ‘strong woman’ may feel alienated or lonely. I know I have in the past. So the best defense is to stay silent. Listen to them be there for them, lend them an ear and offer a hug. The appreciation of this reaction is healing for them. They walk away feeling understood and noticeably happier.
Strong Women Understand
Empathy is a huge trait of a ‘strong woman’. If you have been identified as a strong woman by a female in your life. It may be a result you have had a similar experience to them and there is evidence they will survive theirs. They look at you and automatically feel secure in their life journey. The upheaval they are experiencing at that moment will subside and life will get better. Then one day they will look back and realize this moment was necessary for them. Their future needed the past for them to be exactly where they are meant to be.
I may have helped many women throughout my life and I may never know it. To me this a positive of being identified as a strong woman. If just one person has been given hope that their situation is not going to destroy them this is a huge positive.
I have been gifted with the ability to understand another’s pain and as a result I am able to empathize. There are thousands of people with this gift thank goodness. Empathy is a massive human response which offers hope to so many hurting souls.
Coping With Loneliness
Fortunately, I have a very supportive life partner. He and I are kindred spirits and enjoy each others company. He knows my story and has been with me during my toughest times. Although at times he has found it difficult to watch me go through some very testing and distressing times he has never abandoned me. I believe I have been able to get through some of my darkest times because he has supported and understood me. Just having one person in your corner is sometimes all you need to keep you going. Our relationship has lasted twenty years through all of the obstacles we have both been faced with.
Now in my fifth decade I realize all of the downs I have faced and dealt with have made me the person I am today. I don’t need a tribe of people to make my life complete. I am happy and grateful for having my partner my daughters and the couple of friends I have kept close.
The feeling of loneliness sometimes creeps up on me, however, I occupy my thoughts with positive affirmations. Reminding myself how lucky I am to have the people I have in my life and being grateful for them.
Strong Women Are Soft Too
A few months ago I was going through a difficult time. I had allowed negative thoughts to take over. While having a conversation with my youngest daughter, who was twenty-three at the time. I asked her why she wasn’t able to chat with me in my dark times. It was her response that helped me to realize how some perceive a strong woman. Especially one close to them. She said, “Mum, you are the strongest person I know. If I see you struggling to find the answers and you are in distress I find it hard to cope with. I feel helpless because you are always the person I think of to get me through my stuff. I really don’t know how to deal with your distress it just upsets me to see you not coping.”
This made me wonder if my daughters had always thought of me as a tough woman. I had always kept my insecurities hidden from them. When I was unsure of what path to take I didn’t let it show. If I cried it was always behind closed doors away from them. I didn’t want them to see me as I had seen my mother. At that moment I wondered if I had done the wrong thing by not letting them see me cry and struggle to find an answer.
The Strong Woman Legacy
As adults, my daughters are just like me. They find a way and they have all said to me at some point, “I don’t seem to have anyone that cares to listen to my problems or help me solve them. I am always there to help them, but everyone is always too busy to be there for me.”
Have I passed on the strong woman legacy to my three daughters? It seems that I have! I feel sad when they say they don’t have any friends, but then I think, the more friends you have the more people you have to be available for. That is a sad but common thought for me as a ‘strong woman’. Probably more defense though. However, I have found it to be a true and honest thought. I am always available to my daughters because I know all too well exactly how they feel. And not wanting them to feel lonely is now a priority in my relationship with them. Being available to my daughters is important to me, after all, I brought them into this life. I do not expect them to be available to me as some of my darkest times involve people they all hold dear.
Of course, they are all still available to lend an ear and helping hand to those who need it. They are all caring, understanding young women and it is their natures to be this way. Life has not hardened them as it has me. Thank goodness!
If This Is You
If you are a strong woman it’s not a bad trait. Keep reminding yourself you are a good and worthy person and you will find a way to get through your ‘stuff’, eventually.
We only need one person to be in our corner and we are always guided to at least one in our life. You will know who it is and you will treasure them. I am thankful for the quality of those in my tribe. Quantity is no longer my priority.
Be Her Strong Woman
If you have a woman in your life you consider a strong woman, give her a hug and be her comfort. She may tell you she is okay, but, it isn’t always the case. Words may not be needed, but a hug would be appreciated. If she has told you she is okay, sit with her even if it is in silence. And if she cries don’t feel helpless and change the subject or abandon her. She needs to know she is not alone. Sit beside her and help ease her pain because this is one of her weakest moments and she is sharing it with you. Be the friend she is to everyone else, the friend she feels she never has. Be her strong woman.