This can’t be everyone’s ‘how-to’. I have no background in psychology and the only books I remember reading in high school were my great Aunt Marg’s Barbara Cartland romances.
My education beyond high school was in IT and that was only because there were no more spots open in cosmetology. I gave up my plan to cut hair and now I program computers instead because I registered late for school. No one wanted to be in the data processing class. I kind of get that now. Either way, I’m not educated when it comes to psychology.
Even my practical experience isn’t impressive. I haven’t stuck with any therapist long enough to give an expert opinion on being a patient of psychology.
What I do have are decades of experience being a human. I have decades of experience being a human who has been bruised and broken and damaged. Just like all of us. It’s a matter of degree.
The following is what I’ve learned about how to be strong. This is how I’m still learning to be strong. Please keep in mind that some of the beginning steps will seem counter-intuitive to gaining strength but they are still the ones I took.
I’m going to skip ahead and just cover the last three decades.
1. Make sure your overriding thought, the one above all others, is worrying how others see you. This is more important than current political and social events. This is more important than your education and your relationships. Make comparisons and assumptions about beauty and set your own personal standards based on unreasonable and unattainable standards. Worry about how others see you. There is nothing else. Except for some awesome music. I’m always going to be an 80s girl.
It’s important to note that making really bad relationship choices helps with the first step. For instance, my only unrequited love: 19 years old, got hit by a train and already had a drug and alcohol problem? Yes! I am in love!
2. Trade all your values. Dress differently, read different things, buy the right shoes. Then maybe these things will change the way people see you because, still, the most important thing in life is how other people see you.
3. Get exhausted because everyone sees you differently through their lenses and their experiences and their values. Learn that it’s impossible to present yourself with so many different masks. The costume changes alone are tiring.
4. Project an image of strength and individuality. Speak your mind. Almost always speak your mind unless the person you are talking to is mean or obviously more intelligent because still, it’s how you look to others.
5. Shed some of the facade. It’s pointless to try to hold on to all of it. Speak your mind a little more often with a little less worry about how you look to other people.
6. Convince yourself that it’s all an act. You are not strong. You never have been.
7. Examine your life. You conformed and you wore masks. You allowed yourself to at least pretend you had it together. You were able to live the life of a woman with strength, but it didn’t last because you took it away. Convince yourself that your strength is a lie and your real truth, the one no one gets to see but you, is that you are weak.
8. Learn the difference between the truth and a lie.
9. Stop lying to yourself. Understand that underneath all the bullshit, the fear and the disappointment and the envy and the pain, underneath all that you are strong. You are a strong motherfucker and you always have been. Even back at step number one.
Do you know what kind of herculean strength it takes to maintain a facade for years? Just because the strength is used in ways that aren’t ideal, doesn’t make the strength any less strong.
I’ve always had strength. I’ve always been strong. I just haven’t always used it to my benefit. I let it work against me. I’m working toward learning how to use that strength to make my life better.
This is not to suggest that I don’t spend some bouncing around on this list of ‘how-to’. I do. Some days I don’t feel strong. Some days I put all of my self worth into what other people think of me. On the darkest days I put all of my self worth into needing approval and acceptance from people who will never give it to me. I still own an impressive number of masks, but these days, I’m just as likely to paint them as wear them.
Over all, though? Over all, I am strong like bull.
How about you? I bet you are stronger than you’ve ever admitted to yourself.