Why We Need to Stop Saying “Be Strong!”

Photo by Vicky Sim on Unsplash

In the wake of exigent moments, it’s natural to turn to others to seek help. As demanding it’s to offer it, it’s equally, if not more, taxing to reach out for help. It’s heart-rending to be denied of it when you seek help.

Denying it, is not just refusing to help. It’s also in the form of some words, that we all are guilty of saying to others when they demand some support, whether it’s physical or mental. One of them is “Be strong!”.

I understand that when people say this they mean to extend you some strength. However, it comes across as opposite irrespective of the intention behind it. It makes the suffering person pull away and hide their fallibility because here’s how it may sound to them:

  • I’m in a lot of discomfort seeing you crumble and rely on me for support that I need to say something that gives me closure that I solved it and relieves the pressure/burden off my shoulders.
  • I’m quite disappointment in your imperfection.
  • How can you let that happen or make that terrible choice?
  • I’m so uncomfortable with your display of vulnerability.
  • Things could be worse, you’re ungrateful!
  • You are exaggerating, your struggle is not valid.

When someone seeks support, please know that it took every thing out of them to ask for it. While you may disagree with the validity of their painful experience, please refrain from saying something like this phrase. It offers zero consolation to the aching heart and no solace to the wandering mind.

When someone shares their grief, allow them a moment to acknowledge that their soul is heavy right now (they know, temporarily!). While they might be “strong enough” to take it or “power-through”, let them be real, fragile and vulnerable in that very moment.

On some days, they might’ve the capacity to take it all, and not let anybody see them sweat, while on some, the weight might be soul-crushing. Please grant them a moment to show their frailty rather than pushing them to pretend to be “fully-functional” when they’re not.

Extend some consideration and compassion, your one sentence can make them mask their pain and never reach out for help again. They need your empathy, not sympathy. As Sheryl Sandberg shared in this speech:

“We retreat into silence just when we need each other the most. Saying to a friend, “I know you’re suffering, and I’m here with you” can kick a very ugly elephant out of the room. You don’t have to be something huge. You don’t have to wait for someone to tell you exactly what they need. And you don’t have to be someone’s best friend from the first grade to show up.”

I read this somewhere, here’s how you may offer some comfort:

“I may not fully understand exactly how you feel. While my scuffles might be different than yours, as a fellow imperfect human, I recognise your struggle and I’m here to sit with you in your agonising moments.”

Credits: This piece of writing has been inspired from this interview of Brené Brown with Oprah Winfrey and this article on TED.

A dreamer! QA Engineer @ KeepTruckin