She has spent nearly 60 years surviving multiple traumas, yet her faith is unquestionable. She is quick to point out the positives of life and is full of gratitude.
His eyes are kind and he is genuinely interested in hearing about my day despite his intense grief over the death of his son.
She tucks her hair behind her ear as she hears them call her “weird.” It would be far easier to blend in and play it safe, yet her heart will cry if she is anything less than authentic.
As a counselor, I have the honor of sitting with people in their pain and witnessing strength every day. As a fellow human being, I am amazed and awed to see their courage in action. More times than not, when I point out someone’s endurance, my comments are met with surprise. It seems people do not really see strength in themselves in the midst of displaying it.
My definition of inner strength has definitely evolved as I have also grown. I am embarrassed to admit that there was a time that I related strength to stoicism, control, and toughness. I aspired to be the fiercely independent woman who did not need anything from anyone. In fact, by working toward this persona, I felt defended against potential pain. Well, it turns out that formula backfired. The fact that I focused on avoidance of vulnerability ended up causing additional agony. And by the way, this realization did not occur overnight. In my stubbornness, I refused to admit I was doing anything wrong. Of course, I could not be responsible for adding to my problems. Through continued work and connection, it dawned on me, “What if control is part of the problem, not the solution?”
So, let’s see, I was going to have to follow my own suggestions with clients, friends, and family? I was going to have to “trust the process.” Yuck! Who wants to do that? Maybe someone who has had enough experience with adding to her own pain. If I wasn’t going to be in charge all the time, then to whom could I delegate this task (and later blame) when life happens? It has been my experience that this thing, this force, this whatever you want to call it (God works for me) is far stronger than I am capable of being.
In order to actively trust this power, I have to believe love is the foundation in spite of the pain. I must consistently refuse to entertain the idea that I might be able to figure the “whys” in life and instead be able to sit with the idea of not knowing. For me, I am able to connect to that quiet whisper that says, “You can get through this. All will be well,” when I feel and release all the emotions that keep me from believing those very words. There is no magic formula for developing strength. It is my opinion that we can improve our emotional flexibility, but that strength comes from endurance and a belief in a higher presence.
Today, my idea of strength is best displayed by the vulnerable, exposed person, working through their feelings and doing their best to be true to themselves and keep moving forward despite not wanting to do so. Persevering through the aches of life, not alone, but with the love and support of fellow travelers. As mentioned above, I need to connect with loving spirits and know these sojourns of trouble will not last forever.
So, I have come to understand strength as the exact opposite of what I originally thought it to be. I now know (and must remind myself frequently) that the recipe for strength is to show up, be present, get messy, feel the pain, ask for support, trust something bigger, and breathe through the emotional contractions. I encourage you to explore, with loving support, your own recipe for strength. You truly are stronger than you know.
Alicia Kelly is the owner of Kelly Counseling and Associates and Mosaic: A Wellness Place. In addition to working as a counselor and public speaker, she enjoys spending time in nature, laughing with her husband, and spoiling her nieces and nephews. She was lucky enough to find her dream vehicle, a 1987 Jeep Grand Wagoneer (wood grain and all).
Featured Photo: freedigitalphoto.net, by Stuart Miles. Published on 11 April 2012
Stock Photo – Image ID: 10079748