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February 14, 2021

Why the “Strong Ones” hide their Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms.

Your strength makes them comfortable.

“The fairies won’t help you because they only help good people,” my sister said as she bopped my new stepmother on her head with a poster.

It wasn’t the first or last awkward moment that trip. I won’t forget when my dad made a giant heart in the sand with their initials and my sister promptly drew a giant break through it. That’s actually where the awkwardness started. I was 13, and Tara was 11 or 12.

My sister has always been more outspoken than me. I thought it, she said it. My sister also had a natural confidence that I didn’t possess.

My dad was so mad at my sister. He praised me for managing my emotions and being so grown up. That’s very likely the beginning of my “bottle it up and move on” coping mechanism.

Remaining calm and “grown up” became my value as a person. It became the way I lived my life.

Through my parents’ divorce, I pretended I was fine.

Through a rape, I pretended I was fine.

Through a relationship filled with mental and physical abuse, I pretended I was fine.

Through my first divorce and my second divorce, I pretended I was fine.

Through a toxic relationship where I subconsciously punished myself, I pretended I was fine.

My weight crept up. 180, 190, 200, 250, 300, 350…385…

“You’re a strong woman,” they said.

“You handle stress so well,” they praised me.

“I’m proud of you for your success,” they said. “It’s okay that you are overweight…you are healthy and you’re dealing with so much. Don’t worry about your weight,” they advised.

They praised my strength.

My ability to handle my stress so well and be successful was my badge of honor. I took pride in it.

No emotional outbursts or breakdowns from this woman. Just work harder, ignore it more, and move on. No dwelling. I should get a medal for how well I handle stress.

But really, looking back…

No one actually praised me because I had healthy coping mechanisms. They praised me because my “strength” allowed them to remain comfortable.

It’s not a negative. I actually am strong and I think there is some pride in that. I think people really do value that in who I am. It’s part of who I am. It’s also part of what I love about myself.

But emotions make people uncomfortable, and our friends and family are usually not equipped to handle it. We (you and I) aren’t equipped for it either. So this “strength” makes them comfortable.

Humans don’t know how to deal with emotions. Whether we are going through it or watching someone go through it, we don’t know what to do. So, someone bottling up their emotions makes us comfortable.

So as I face my healing journey, I’ve had to look for healthier coping mechanisms:

>> Have a voice. Speak up when it’s necessary.
>> Don’t use food (or drugs or alcohol) to numb your feelings.
>> Take a walk.
>> Take a nap.
>> Seek counseling.
>> Realize expressing emotion isn’t weak.
>> Don’t dwell on it but don’t bottle it up either. Accept it, analyze it, and move on.
>> Remind yourself often you have value just because you’re you.

I also think it’s a good time to remind ourselves how we can show up for our loved ones going through a tough time:

>> Listen more, talk less.
>> Hugs.
>> Show up and check in.
>> Let them cry.
>> Don’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing. Sometimes we stay away because we are worried about saying the wrong thing.
>> Understand everyone handles tough times differently.
>> Offer help in practical ways (cook a meal, clean a house, run an errand).
>> Be okay with sitting in silence.

Emotions aren’t easy. But you have to deal with your bullsh*t. And there are many ways to “deal with it”—just make sure your way is a healthy way.

You got this!

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