Meaning Well Doesn’t Always End Well.
“It is hard to give what you do not have.”
The best intentions of well-meaning encouragement can often lead to some of the most painful wounds. To compound the situation, the well-meaning person rarely knows the pain they may be causing to someone struggling with depression, having lost a limb, a loved one, or a marriage.
Context is everything when it comes to statements like, “Be strong.”
Imagine the ludicrous suggestion that gold as a precious metal be strong under pressure. The nature of gold is pliable, and apart from the strength of non-precious metals, it crumbles. This analogy is fitting because a person, like gold, is precious, vulnerable and can also crumble under pressure.
Variables of Strength
There are many variables that contribute to mental, emotional, and psychological strength. These three areas of one’s health contribute to behavioral expression and suppression a person manifests in an effort to cope. Beliefs also factor into perceived strength.
The mind and body’s ability or fragility is generally impacted by previous and unresolved traumatic events. Pre-existing and unknown internalized wounds can plague a person’s belief about their own ability to “be strong.” This should be considered when thinking about what might be most helpful to say, but the general public does not think this way.
Instead, it seeks to build others up, and in complete ignorance, can actually cause harm. Words sometimes strike tender wounds and feel as though a gash has been ripped wide open and had salt poured in. Meanwhile, the well-meaning person is none the wiser.
To be fair; no one knows what they do not know. The one hoping to help the distressed believes that his or her advice will somehow help. On the other hand, the recipient may be crumbling on the inside, feeling helpless and further discouraged believing something must be really wrong, or they may feel frustrated because there is no way to live up to such an expectation.
When Strength Runs Out
To the hearer who has reached his maximum “bandwidth” of strength, managing the moment is about all he can do. It can seem impossible to muster strength from a place of pain, depression, or grief. At times, pain, sadness or discouragement can be so great that it physically affecting, so much so that it can even confuses the mind to process such a thought.
“Gold” it together
For gold to be refined it must reach the extreme temperature of 1,947 ℉ and withstand that heat for a specific period of time, yet it cannot exceed a second beyond the purification point lest it explode. If the heat is withdrawn too soon, the gold remains impure. In other words, if it is left too long it literally explodes. Telling someone to “be strong” when it is beyond their scope of navigating is similar and as absurd as expecting gold to hold itself together under extreme heat. When the world as one knows it experiences the loss of a loved one, a marriage, or a limb – grief is inevitable.
Imposing On Pain
Refrain from imposing personal expectations on someone else’s pain. The cost of imposing expectations that do not align with where a person is in their healing journey may be too high a price. You must consider the possibility of causing collateral damage.
Instead, take it in the other direction and invest in small victories. Sometimes breathing is the greatest victory in grief, as a deep breath can cleanse the body of the slightest amount of physical pain, tension or discomfort. If you have never experienced such a pit then this is all foreign to you. If you have, I have no doubt that you are tracking with this perspective.
For the well-meaning friend, invest in the person’s mental wellness. Do not focus on the loss, depression, or the absence of a limb. Focus on what remains. It will take steps toward wellness to find the way out of their “fiery furnace,” but when they do come through it, they can then be strong. Much like the way pure gold melds with other metals to take shape beyond what is currently incomprehensible, a person must align thoughts with abilities to progress toward health and strength.
Mental wellness is one of the best investments of focus. Striving for wellness is a reasonable goal, and one step at time it is attainable. Keep in mind that muscularly, a body does not become strong without many small tears of tissue, which heal one fiber at a time. It is upon the healed tissue that muscle is built and becomes stronger.
”Be intentional” is a much better thing to say and hear. It communicates a will to do something. Being intentional about making a choice toward improving strength is specific and is a goal. Giving yourself permission to be in the moments of brokenness, grief, and feelings of depression is not the condoning of one staying in that pit. It actually normalizes human vulnerability under circumstances that affirm and validate the person as the only one feeling the loss the way they particularly feel and experience it.
What can you do to take even the slightest step forward? Instead of asking someone to be strong, ask if they can make a choice to take one step forward. Sometimes making a choice for wellness is the best and biggest ounce of strength a person has to offer. Celebrate that victory! The little things will build strength. Start where the person is – not where you expect them to be.
Finally, suppressed feelings are much like a vigorously shaken soda bottle. Picture walking right up to that bottle believing and saying to yourself, “This is just what the person needs.” Unknowingly, the explosion is about to cause a big mess. Suppression in a person pressurizes in a similar way. The biggest problem with that is that the one impacted is the only one that knows the depth of pain a well-meaning statement can cause.