Our myth of being strong

Power of Vulnerability
I highly recommend this TED talk.

I can still hear myself say, many years ago, “I’m so independent, so strong”, my voice full of pride. Gosh how wrong was I. I used to be proud that I was able to take care of myself, that I didn’t need anyone. I think differently now. I’ve realised that there is a difference between being too scared to open up and being proud of emotionally depending only on oneself.

I wonder…. Are we not depending on any one because deep down we are too frightened to surrender and let ourselves be truly seen by another person? Do we fear our so-called “negative feelings” are a burden or that people will dislike us if we show our inner struggles? And do we mask these worries underneath an act of independence and strength?

My new favourite hero Brené Brown came up with a different version of emotional strength. She talks about embracing vulnerability, and the power and courage of showing more of ourselves.

But what is your view? What does it mean to be strong?

What is your definition of emotional strength? The answers of some of my clients, when they first arrive, are:

  • to “man up”, be tough and deal with everything myself
  • not to cry
  • to ask for help is a sign of weakness
  • to totally rely on myself
  • sharing my heartache is a burden to others
  • never ever show my pain, difficulties, weaknesses or hurt. Always appear on top of it all. And if not, pretend.
  • never ever EVER loose control.

Fascinating answers. And yet they find themselves visiting me, a Life & Career Coach, Counsellor & Psychotherapist in London. So maybe deep inside they realise their philosophy is failing. That being strong as the above definitions describe doesn’t work for them. Or not any more.

Brené Brown talks about being vulnerable. A few of her own words: daring to show more of ourselves, to open up, to share our true colours. To acknowledge that we deeply crave love and belonging. To take the risk of saying “I love you” first. To apologise and feel true remorse when we’ve made a mistake. To be uncertain and exposed, instead of trying to appear perfect. She calls it an invitation to be courageous; to show up and let ourselves be truly seen, even when there are no guarantees.

I’m so proud when my clients dare to let go. When their holding on to staying composed and keeping it all in gradually disappears. Might it be that we pretend to be fine, because we don’t trust that someone will be there when we fall? That we fear people will stop respecting/promoting/loving us when they see what’s truly inside? And yet, when my client’s tears, or anger, hurt and disappointments come to the surface, sometimes rather messy… I feel so proud. Because I believe it really takes more strength, more courage, more bravery to let it go, to let it out, than to keep it in. To trust that, even after they have told or shown me the parts they feel most ashamed about, I will still care about them. And if I do, maybe they can love these parts of themselves too, and might that mean others might care as well…?


Or as Guru Pitka says in the movie The Love Guru:

INTIMACY = Into Me You See


For myself, I’m thinking now about the ability to contain. Not as in “suppress, hold in, restrain”, but differently. Let me try to explain. I’m contemplating that after the ability to let go and dare to cry in someone’s arms there comes a new phase. A phase where there is no need any more to share it all. Because a new type of inner strength has been build.

Imagine a child that unfortunately had no mother or no father (because they were for example emotionally incapable, too distracted with their own worries, ill or absent) to be with in the child’s moments of sadness and hurt. This child might go to his or her room and “deal” with the pain by themselves. Becoming “independent”, and learning not to need anyone any more. Growing up as an adult never letting anyone see their inner turmoil. Thinking how proud and strong they are, not to need anyone. But then something happens that makes this defence mechanism crumble. And after lots and lots of fighting against it, eventually the flood gates break and the hidden waves of repressed feelings come to the surface. Messy, painful, unpleasant and yet weirdly relieving, refreshing. And imagine someone is there, to care and witness and be with us through this process. A friend, a therapist, a family member. Who smiles kindly, encourages, holds you, simply present. Like a parent for a weeping child, reassuring. At times almost physically painful, from so deep the pain is released. And because someone is there for us, slowly a new inner layer gets build, over time. A layer deep in our foundation of Self. Psychotherapists call this the development of an inner parent, who can take care of our inner wounded child. We integrate the external person who is there for us as a part of our own psyche. It ‘s like, when someone else is kind to our distressed feelings, we develop the capacity to be kind to ourselves, even to our most messy parts. And further down the line, this inner parent becomes so calm and stable, it can contain the emotional turmoil. It’s not any more about blurting all the pain out, under the label “I’m practising being vulnerable”. It’s a delicate process of growth resulting in true inner strength. Which over time comes with the ability to choose, shall I share or contain? Not hold in due to fears of shame, exposure or rejection, but self-containment from a place of true, balanced, solid emotional strength.

I’m smiling now, no wonder this thing called “personal growth” is a life-time(s) commitment for all of us 🙂


Watch Brené Brown’s TED talk, read her book “Daring Greatly and decide for yourself if you’re intrigued to join me and many others to live more fully, to be more deeply connected to self and others, and to experience true intimacy by being more vulnerable.


Thanks for taking the time to read this. I wish you well.

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2 thoughts on “Our myth of being strong

  1. Feeling very moved by these words as I also have just placed a comment on the utube Song voor Na bestaanden, stating ‘sterkte’ I myself always give the impression of being strong and most people perceive me this way, but a few close friends and my sister. Margo van der Laan know different.

    Thank you for your comforting words and hitting home the truth about oneself.

  2. Dear Janneke,

    Thank you for your touching reply. I read this quote a while ago: “Intimacy = In To Me You See”. It stayed with me, and made me reflect on how special those relationships are where we let ourselves be truly seen. Sounds your sister and you are lucky to share this together!
    With love, Karin

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