How would you define a strong woman?
Perhaps you might use some of the following descriptions:
- Physically strong
- Hard to persuade
- In control
- Focused on her goals.
I used to think that being a strong woman meant being able to compete, keep up, control (i.e. hide) my emotions and show determination in working consistently towards my clearly defined goals. Never giving up. Not getting scared. Never letting people down. Not letting setbacks deter me from moving forward. Always knowing what to do. Being able to handle anything and everything.
From childhood, I slowly absorbed this definition through conversations, observations and role models. This was an important part of how I thought I would be a successful woman. It’s what the world expects from us and many of us are demonstrating our strength in this way.
In motherhood, this looks like supermum relentlessly working to make sure her children hit all the right milestones, ensuring she is the perfect mum, doing all the activities, saying yes to everything, putting everyone else first, staying silent even when she really needs help and soldiering on when she is sick, exhausted or completely fed up.
This is one type of strength but living this way all the time is untenable and unrealistic. It depletes us and requires us to suppress something that is naturally part of us.
It requires us to suppress a strength of a different kind. A feminine strength.
A strong woman also has feminine strength
The world often considers our feminine strength as weak.
The world sees weakness in things like these:
- Kindness, compassion, nurturing and leading with love.
- Crying, like when I cried on the kitchen floor recently because there was no flour left (I know you get it when I say it wasn’t really about the flour).
- Losing your temper at your children because there’s so much pressure.
- Changing your mind, for example, leaving your career to pursue a passion, or not finishing things you start.
- Admitting that things are hard and showing yourself compassion.
- Letting ourselves really feel and express our emotions, including fear, guilt, regret, sadness, and doubt.
- Resting or needing a break.
- Needing help or depending on others.
- Saying no to what is generally perceived as things successful people say yes to (like the time I opted not to take a 6-month contract overseas right after my first marriage ended and I needed the support of my friends and family).
- Forgiving people.
- Lowering your standards.
- Listening to your intuition.
- Not doing things every day, every week, or whatever consistent regular schedule is supposed to be adhered to.
- Doing less.
- Doing nothing.
- Simply being.
Have you ever considered these weak?
In the past, I would have, but I see them in a different light now. When I reflect on my own life, the things I thought would break me, didn’t. I certainly didn’t feel strong or look strong compared to the masculine version of strength, but I found a way through and I grew more from those experiences than any other.
What if the things we thought were our weaknesses were actually our strengths?
Can you see your feminine strengths?
When a woman is overcome with emotion and apologises to me for her tears, I see her strength in letting her feelings flow, facing some clearly difficult emotions, and being real and vulnerable.
When she explains how she told someone she just can’t take on anymore (even though she feels guilty about it), I admire her strength in recognising her limits and setting a boundary to protect her wellbeing, energy, and priorities.
When a woman tells me she really wants to walk away from her job because it just doesn’t light her up anymore (even though people are telling her she’s throwing away all her hard work), I see her strength in allowing herself to change direction, choose again and be true to her desires.
When she tells me she didn’t get through her to-do list because she needed a nap, I tell her she’s strong because she listened to and honoured her needs despite the world telling her she needs to earn her rest and put needs last.
What feminine strengths can you see in yourself?
A strong woman isn’t perfect
A strong woman is always learning about herself, releasing herself from expectations that don’t fit her, and staying true to herself.
She doesn’t have to have all the answers. She makes mistakes and she is growing.
A strong woman listens to her intuition. She changes direction where needed and stops doing things that are no longer serving her, even though to the outside world, it looks like she’s giving up.
Being a mother is a challenging role. We often don’t feel strong because we feel like we aren’t living up to the standards that society sets. We’re always being measured, assessed, offered unsolicited opinions, and as many women would express it, “judged”. We feel like we’re getting it wrong and not coping as well as others. This makes us feel weak.
But you keep going, don’t you?
You pick yourself up and figure out a way.
We are strong when we come back to the internal knowing that we will get through this even when our inner critic tells us otherwise and when we don’t yet know how.
We are strong when we accept that there will be hard times and that we will learn and grow through the challenges. We may not have done it the way we had hoped but we are strong when we forgive ourselves, stop comparing and judging ourselves and see that we did it the best way we could at the time. We are strong when we treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, healing what needs to be healed and giving ourselves the love and support we crave.
We are strong when we listen to our body and heart, our inner wisdom, and live in a way that is aligned with our values.
This strength is just as important as the other, worldly definition of strength. We have both. We need both.
Think about all the times you have thought you wouldn’t be able to get through and you did. You may have felt weak, but you did it.
You are stronger than you realise.