-Submitted by Charlotte Johnson, RA/CE Alumni
After returning from a trip back home to Chicago, I woke up this morning thinking about the difference between tough and strong. We (my brothers and sisters) grew up tough. We grew up being able to take it and never flinch. We grew up having a high tolerance to pain – both physical and emotional. I think tough comes out of having one’s boundaries violated regularly – usually by one’s caretaker – and not having the right to express your needs or wants and certainly never express vulnerability lest it be seen and ridiculed and taken advantage of.
I know I grew up with a disdain for weakness and neediness – both my own and others. I never understood how someone was not mortified to show they were hurt – you could be hurt or needy but for god’s sake don’t ever show it to anyone. Even if you’re down and bleeding, get up and show everyone that you’re ok – that you can take it.
The tragedy is that by taking it, we become our own perpetrators. We continue to betray and violate our own boundaries and demand of ourselves what should have never been demanded of us in the first place. Under the toughness is all the hate and pain, fear and sadness that we were never allowed to express and consequently can’t bear seeing others express. In toughness there is no freedom to be or show who you really are. The mandate is to hold it together at all costs and we often expect and demand this of others even our children and so the cycle continues.
Strength, on the other hand, comes from having one’s boundaries and needs seen and validated. Strength comes from being seen and protected by ones caregivers. A child needs to be protected and loved and validated so that who she or he is can take root and grow into a strong girl/boy and man and woman. There is strength and trust in being able to say “it hurts” or “I need or want”. There is strength in being able to say “no” to what is not good for oneself, rather than just take it. There is strength in knowing who you are and not letting that be violated. There is strength and courage in bringing all of yourself into the world regardless of what others think because as a child what you brought forth was applauded and appreciated and loved.
When we are able to reconnect to our inner core and strength, rather than our false bravado or mask, there is no need to dominate or retreat from others. From this place we are truly free to open to all life and love has to offer – to be who we are and allow others to be who they are.
Interested in learning more? Join Charlotte at the Opening to Love workshop June 27-28!