I know that people have the best intentions when they say, “you are so strong” however I really wish they knew how damaging that phrase can be.
I know it sounds like it is an encouraging thing to say and that I probably seem ungrateful for not appreciating it however I have a number of problems with the word “strong”
To me the word strong should be attributed to someone that is powerful and brave – I am none of those things and when someone calls me “strong” I feel like a total fraud.
What I am is a person who has to lock myself in the bathroom to hide the fact that I am trembling, sweating and struggling to breathe for absolutely no good reason and that is not what a strong person does. Calling me strong makes me feel like I shouldn’t do this, makes me feel that it’s not ok to be wobbly because that’s not what a strong person would do. When someone describes me as strong I feel I need to put on my fake smile and hide the fact that I am falling apart for fear that I will be “found out” and everyone will be disappointed in me.
Years ago when a reporter attempted to get me to speak to a national newspaper about my story I was told that most of the other victims were deemed to be “inappropriate” to be interviewed for the story they were running as many of the other victims had turned to substance misuse to cope with their lives. Somehow I was considered to be the acceptable face of a sexual abuse survivor and they were not – they were considered to be weak and I think that is very unfair.
Society only ever wants to see the success stories – they want to see someone rising from the ashes, victorious in life despite the horrible things that have happened. No one is ever comfortable with the fact that actually every day is a struggle, a horrible, messy struggle and use of the word “strong” can be very harmful.
So what to say instead?
The absolute best thing you could say is, “It’s ok to feel nervous/scared/freaked out.” Just recognising that things can be hard is a big help towards helping me feel validated and not feel like such a useless being for failing to live up to expectations.