Strength – moral power, firmness, or courage; power of resisting force, strain, wear, etc. (As defined by dictionary.com)

This word has been synonymous with African-Americans for years. It is our strength that got us through slavery, civil rights, and even some atrocities that we still face today, but I can’t help but wonder if this same strength has also become our weakness. Have we become to bent on appearing strong that we don’t acknowledge our mortality and realize that it is okay to be vulnerable?

Being a SBW or SBM (Strong Black Wo/man) has often been something of a badge of honor, but what happens when that badge causes us more harm than good? There has been a very mixed perception of strength that says strength means you never show weakness. On the contrary, a person of true strength allows themselves to show weakness when it is merited. For example, admitting when you are wrong and being strong enough to say you are sorry. This is an act that some view as weak, but in actuality it takes a lot more strength to admit when you are in the wrong than to ignore your faults. Those who are taught to never apologize have actually been taught to be cowards because “I’m sorry” can be the most powerful words you ever say. It took me a while to realize this myself, but the moment I did was the moment I truly began to mature into the woman I am today.

Forgiveness is another form of strength that many of us in the African-American community have been taught is a sign of weakness. We are taught that by forgiving someone we are letting them off easy for what they have done. This is indeed false. When we don’t forgive others we are really harming no one but ourselves. I know this has been said many times before, but it is true. Think about it. While you are angry, hurt and frustrated about what has been done to you, the other person is enjoying life. While you are wasting time thinking about them, they are enjoying life not thinking about you. Let go and let God. If you truly believe that we all will reap what we sow then there is no need for you to hold a grudge. We only have one life to live and we MUST live it to the fullest. The one thing we can never get back is time, so don’t waste it on people or situations that are not worth your time.

To be strong, brave and courageous are wonderful traits to have, but they mean nothing without honor, kindness and some form of vulnerability. Not everyone should be privy to our softer sides, but trying to mask pain and hurt behind “strength” will eventually break us down instead of build us up. Another distortion of what strength is says strength means never asking for help. It says you have to deal with your issues on your own because anything else is seen as fragile. The reality is that not asking for help when you really need it can cause you to break and everyone will wonder what went wrong because you “appeared” to have it all together. Recognizing that you don’t have to deal with EVERYTHING on your own is where real strength begins.

At the end of the day, you have to live with yourself. What others think of you should be the last thing on your mind. They don’t have to live with your problems, issues or pains…you do. Even superman had his kryptonite and had to ask for help. What makes you any different? Being strong doesn’t mean always being self-reliant. Being strong doesn’t mean ignoring every emotion you have. True strength means finding a balance and knowing when you have had enough mentally, physically and spiritually.

My strength used to be my weakness until I realized that understanding that I don’t ALWAYS have to be strong is really what strength is all about. What society has defined as strength has caused stress which eventually led to death. Be strong enough to admit your faults, let go of anger and ask for help. This kind of strength can make a world of difference.

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