Or “I’m not as strong as you think I am”
We all see post and self-help articles, memes and books, every day that tell us we are strong, that we are stronger than we believe, that we can find our inner strength in adversity.
Well, here I’m talking about the opposite.
Sometimes we do find that we’re stronger than we realised, but that shouldn’t dominate or overwhelm our weakness. “It’s OK not to be OK” (it’s OK to be many things), but sometimes a moment of “not OK” is inconvenient and we put on our outward show of being OK. Seeing an acquaintance carrying their week-old baby at school drop off is not the moment to fall apart, when you need to talk to your kid’s teacher about something. So you push down that pain and get on with the task in hand, you hide that weakness and stay strong to congratulate that new mum.
Finding your weakness
What is it that you just can’t cope with? That you find so so hard? Do you really dislike meeting new people? Do you find social media just too much? Is there a part of life that’s painful every time you have to face it?
For me, I find showing my real insecurities to friends really difficult. I’ve always felt like an outsider, like I don’t fit in. Right back at primary school, I have memories from when I was 5 or 6 of feeling different and being upset at being left out or excluded. We were an odd number of girls in my school year and I was always the one not in a pair. When 5 of us when up to high school together, the other four were paired off into forms together and I went alone to a form where I didn’t know anyone. Why? Because I was perceived as gregarious and independent, self-sufficient and friendly. Sure, I made friends but it was a really scary experience aged just 11 to spend all day with 30 girls I’d never met before.
The same thing happened when I went from high school to university. Someone, somewhere along the line, got the impression that I was independent and didn’t need to be housed with other first years, I ended up on a corridor with all third year students and I was thoroughly left out. Of course, I put on my armour of friendliness and went and made friends (or so I thought) with the next door set of rooms. Only to find come spring term that they were all getting a student house together, without me. I was still the outsider and I hadn’t even realised it.
Around the same time I met my “best friend”. We were on the same course together and we saw each other through breakups and arguments with other friends, through depression and exams. In my fourth year, I started to grow up. I chose to put myself somewhere as an outsider and went to France to study for my last year – met a group of other foreign students and made firm friends. My “best friend” was the only one to visit me there. In her, I thought I’d found that mythical beast of lifelong friendship.
Then, having known each other for 15 years, when small boy was a baby, out of the blue she ended our friendship. We’d grown apart apparently. The heartache was almost heartbreak, I cried. I miss her still. She knows that I will always be here for her. She could turn up on my doorstep in 10 years time and I’d welcome her with open arms.
The thing is that, the feeling of being an outsider, of being different, has never gone away. I’ve met and made new friends and many (most) of them only see the friendly, bubbly, gregarious armour that I wear most of the time. Only a very few see the real me underneath; the scared me, the lonely me knowing that most of them don’t realise how I feel, the little girl who never got picked for games or only so others could play tricks. Himself knows who I am, my work wife knows, a couple of close friends get it too. You guys reading this are getting the raw reality right now.
But that “best friend” from university? I’m unsure. Maybe she never saw beneath the armour and really believed I was strong, that I didn’t need her? Maybe she saw my weaknesses, but didn’t let that stop her cutting ties? Either option is really very sad. And realising that is what’s made me be more honest with the people around me now. I don’t want them to see me as this feisty, out-going, self-contained powerhouse of friendliness. I want them to know that its all a cover for being afraid of not being accepted, of being an outsider.
Seeing past the armour
So what I want to say is, look past someone’s perceived strengths and see their weaknesses, consider them and care for them, show your own and be proud to share what’s hiding behind the strong armour that you wear each day.
If we show those we care for, friends, family, even colleagues; that we see their weakness and we take it into account, we’re demonstrating “its OK no to be OK” instead of just saying it. No one is strong all the time, some of us have weaknesses that will always be there, that are unchangeable and that we should value for what they are – a sign of our humanity, our fallibility, our shared reality. The one thing that we all do share is that we’re all weak and we’re all strong – in different ways, but we all experience the same feelings of being not OK and, sometimes, of being OK. Whatever other things we have going on in our lives, wherever we come from, whatever we believe, however we identify ourselves; we all share a fear that our weaknesses will drive others away.
We shouldn’t try to conquer or correct or overcome our weaknesses. Let’s just acknowledge them, find a way to live with them and recognise and appreciate others’ weaknesses too. Our weakness make us who we are just as much as our strengths, they deserve to be celebrated too.
What’s your weakness? Share it and I’ll acknowledge it, appreciate it and it won’t change how I care for you.