In my friend’s church office, I sat. Tears were streaming down my face, as she quietly listened to my story. I told her things about my life I had never admitted out loud, and as I did, she watched my face. When I was finished, she was quiet for a moment, and then she said:
“You are tired of being the strong one.”
Though for so long I felt like the lesser and the weaker, my friend named me in that moment. For friends, for my family, I had worked so hard to be “the strong one” –the one no one had to take care of, the one who took care of everybody else. I was trying to be Superwoman, but I had come to the end of my reserves. No longer could I be strong for everyone else, because I couldn’t even be strong for myself. I was wrung out. Broken. Not just from circumstances I found myself in at that moment, but from already being worn down from years of trying to do it on my own (or for others).
A couple weeks after that conversation, I found myself in the front seat of another friend’s car. We had been running errands together and somewhere in the middle of it all, I found myself in tears once again. I was an overflowing well of exhaustion and pain.
“You don’t always have to be the strong one, you know?”
Its frightening when people see you as you are. Another friend was exposing the same truth of who I had tried so hard to become. I looked my friend in the eye, and answered her with a nod. I thought for a moment, and then said:
“I don’t know how to be any other way.”
A few years ago, on Grey’s Anatomy, Abigail Breslin played a little girl with a similar (yet more severe) issue. She was a foster kid who kept getting shuffled around from home to home. At some point, her character discovered that when she was physically hurt, she didn’t feel pain. She had a very serious nerve condition, yet thought she didn’t experience pain because she was a real live superhero with the responsibility to stand up for all the kids being bullied at school. Being shuffled around so much, she began to believe that she wasn’t very important to people, but that she could find her worth in being strong for others.
In a touching scene, one of the doctors, Alex, has to explain to this girl that it isn’t her inability to feel pain that made her a superhero–that made her special–but rather her concern for others who are in trouble.
Have you ever felt like you had to be Superwoman?
Maybe we get the message from society or from our circumstances, but it is not uncommon to hear women talking about the pressure they feel to be a Superwoman, Supermom or Superwife–as if its required for us to be Superhuman. (Maybe we think we have to become more than who we are, in order to be loved?)
For me, believing I had to be the strong one began with my circumstances as a kid. I had a sibling that was in the hospital a lot, and I didn’t want to add more to everything my parents were trying so hard to do to take care of us. But when the crisis passed, I didn’t know how or if it was OK to ask for help. I lived thinking I had to be superwoman, until I found myself in my twenties, in a heap of tears, and thankfully, in the presence of friends.
As I shared Monday, we as women are strong, but that doesn’t mean that we have to be strong all the time. Since that day in my friend’s car, I have been learning to ask for help. I have been learning that there are times to let others be strong for me. And I have been learning that people don’t need a superhero in their life, they need a friend for the journey.