What makes you strong? Think a second about how you define strength. Usually, people conceptualize a ‘strong’ person as someone who is independent, not overwhelmed by emotions, giving to others, protective of others, stabilizing to the social system around them, able to push through to a goal and get things done, focused on achievements, quick to forgive, low-drama, someone who thinks of others before themselves, someone who holds themselves highly accountable, someone with self-discipline. American culture particularly defines strength in these parameters and we are often taught habits at a very young age that perpetuate this view of strength. However, further examination reveals some critical downsides to the psychological and social habits of self-sacrifice and being fixated on achievements.
Your values, and how you define strength and virtue, will guide your interactions within yourself and within your relationships, which in turn determines your ability to meet your human needs. Pursuing “strength” can make a person more likely to sacrifice themselves for the wellbeing of another, protect people at the cost of protecting the self, refuse to ask for help or nurturing, and be unable or unwilling to express tender and vulnerable emotions. These ideals can cause you to overlook the value of experiences so that you may give more energy to the ‘worthier’ pursuit of serving others and achieving outcomes. Your ability to remain psychologically and socially healthy comes from your ability to meet needs mutually between self and others, as well as your ability to both meet your experiential as well as your achievement needs. Being too heavily focused on the needs of others and the achievements in your life can lead to unmet needs in yourself and a lack of experiential nurturing.
Remaining in balance requires you to allow yourself to understand and nurture your needs and to invite others to understand and nurture your needs. If achievements and doing for others is the only worthy goal, the only good use of available time and energy, what happens to your own sense of self-worth? If you always sacrifice yourself for someone else’s wellbeing (or convenience) what does that teach you about your own value? If you always expect yourself to be more accountable to others than they are to you, what does that do to your ability to remain safe in relationships? If you define your worth solely by the goals you accomplish and how much you ‘get done’, what does that say about the value of your living experience? Is being ‘strong’ getting you closer to loving yourself, if self-love is defined by the act of placing your needs as a priority in the greater social scheme? Are you merely defined by what you can do to serve and achieve, and if so wouldn’t you be better off having been born a robot?
Be careful with your ‘strength’. Bottom line, you believe everything you do. Chronic self-sacrifice and unemotional achievement-focus leads you to lose self-worth, and it leads to unmet needs. Unmet needs lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, PTSD, loss of relationship security and intimacy. There is no weaker way to be than caught in the ‘strength trap’.
Use the platinum rule as often as you us the golden rule. What’s the platinum rule? Treat yourself as well as you would someone else, and expect from them what you would give to them. Be fair to yourself as you are to those around you. Do unto self as you would do unto others.