"I’ve always been able to work through problems”, sighed Neil, “I can’t understand what the problem is now?”
It was our first session and Neil had sought out my help to overcome anxiety attacks. The attacks had suddenly come on the week before—he’d been convinced he was having a heart attack! At the hospital, they’d run extensive tests but there was nothing physical to worry about, It was anxiety, they told him, he should seek help from a therapist.
Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of clients who have come to me via this route. (Panic attacks can often mimic heart problems but if you ever have these symptoms it’s best to check it out with a doctor)
In our sessions, Neil described his life as often being fraught with stress. His way of dealing with this was to just struggle on “being strong” he told me.
It’s a very common thing to do- don a superhero cape and firefight through problems, but does this really help in the long run?
We get caught in an exhausting cycle
The problem is that always having to “be strong” means we’re so used to the idea that life is all about enduring hardships that we just carry on trying to cope with what’s in front of us, rather than stepping back and considering that there may be other ways of dealing with problems. It means we brush off people’s offers of support; saying things like ‘Oh I’m ok—other people are worse off than me.’
Then we get caught in a cycle: battling on, enduring hardships, unsupported, so life continues to be tough and therefore we feel the need to be strong all over again! For those of you who are familiar with my writing, you’ll know I call this a Struggle Loop — an endless cycle of reinforcing our own problems so that life always feels like it's hard work.
If struggling on has always been the way we've dealt with problems, it’s easy to think that that’s this is what strength is all about. But that’s not real strength: it’s suffering and in the end, it causes more harm than good.
But there is another way to find strength, a very different way!
The key to breaking out of the cycle is to recognise what true strength really is and where it really comes from.
- The enduring hardship type of being strong – that’s a limiting belief often picked up in childhood when perhaps enduring was the only option for your child-self to manage life.
- True strength, real strength, comes from within. It comes from the power that is your very life force – love, and the way we can access this power of love is to find ways to be kind to ourselves.
As Niccolò Machiavelli said
‘Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.’
So which kind of strong are you?
Here are some examples of the difference between enduring hardships and using the power of self-kindness
Enduring Hardship: Using addictions to help bear a difficult situation.
Self-Kindness: Seeking support to deal with the situation.
Enduring Hardship: Doing something you don’t really want to do to keep the peace.
Self-Kindness: Being honest and negotiating a compromise.
Enduring Hardship: Refusing to give up something when it’s clear it’s not working.
Self-Kindness: Letting go and accepting yourself just as you are.
Enduring Hardship: Working long hours to prove yourself.
Self-Kindness: Being clear on the limits you hold for work and enjoying time off.
When you give up the battle and take up being kind to yourself instead, you’ll find that you get such a sense of freedom. A burden has been lifted, and actually you’ll find that you can resolve problems in your life much more easily because inspired answers will pop into your mind as your creativity flows freely.
With a little practice to make these changes, you’ll begin to experience such a sense of loving well-being, you’ll never want to go back to the old ways of battling and struggling on!
So here’s a little homework:
The purpose of this exercise is to try it out, play with it, get your mind looking at it from a different perspective before you take action.
Is there a situation in your life today where you’ve been “being strong” for some time? If you were to look at this situation and approach it from a perspective of being kinder to yourself – what would that look like?
Write down the following and replace the words in brackets with your own. (There's a PDF print out if you want a copy to keep)
It may be a problem in a relationship, it may be at work or something else, fill in your own words.
In this (situation) I have been enduring (the hardship) for (length of time)
Overall this makes me feel (how you feel physically) and (how you feel emotionally)
If I was to be kinder to myself within this situation I would think about (what you would think ) and I would (what you would do) Looking at the bigger picture, in the long run, this would make me feel (how you imagine feeling)
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