One of my friends shared an article with me a few weeks ago, written by a fellow military spouse and psychologist, about the struggles women face when trying to cope with stress and sharing their feelings with one another. It was truly eye opening and her words haven’t left my mind since. Sometimes it seems as though military wives, and just women in general, are forced to become unrealistic pillars of strength when we are told repeatedly, “Be strong for him” or “Don’t bother him with your problems, he has enough on his plate.” If we complain we must be ungrateful for what we have been given. That, or we must be weak.
I have had a few things going on in my life recently that I am struggling to cope with. My stress, the continued absence of my husband, the pressure I feel to help him cope with his own stresses, health issues, and a difficult new job. Onto my shoulders life repeatedly placed another weight, but I maintained my “Life is good, I’m doing fine” cover. I have always been the woman who would pick herself up and keep moving forward. If I complained, it didn’t last long and I’d push on and get the job done. Above all else, I never wanted to bother anyone with my feelings or my problems. I never wanted to be outwardly vulnerable because that to me, and I am sure to many of you as well, was a sign of weakness.
When I did feel overwhelmed and shared my feelings, I was told “just keep going, things will get better, try to relax, be strong.” And then I felt ashamed for not holding in my feelings in the first place. But when I was asked, “How are you doing?” or “Are things going alright this week?” I answered with, “Fine” or “I’m doing great!” I was not open. I was not vulnerable. I had the opportunity to share my weaknesses and my stress and my pain and I chose to fake strength instead. Now don’t get me wrong, the women I have become attached to are not unfeeling and mean, they are sweet and smart and so giving. I simply feel like this is the way we are expected to act. If we don’t, we must not be grateful for the sacrifices or our husbands or what the military provides us with. If mother’s complain, are they ungrateful for their children? If working women complain are they not thankful for a job that puts food on the table? The answer is no, but we tell ourselves these lies all the time. Followed by, “Just push on, just be strong.”
And I’m guilty of it too. I have said those same words to other women; I’ve even said them to my best friends. Never did I say, “I hit a real low when that happened to me” or “I am really struggling right now too.” Never did I complain about the lifestyle I was living or say living apart was unfair. If I shared my dissatisfaction, I would make jokes about it so as not to come off as being too serious. I felt as though I needed to be a role model for other women facing my same struggles, so instead I said, “Be strong” and I tried to model that strength.
This idea of suppressing vulnerability to promote strength is an issue I think many women face. We are told that we are strong, we can handle anything life throws our way, we don’t need someone else to make us happy, etc. And it’s true, I won’t argue with any of those statements. But in the campaign for women to be strong, softness and vulnerability and feelings were all somehow equated with weakness. Why can’t women have both the characteristics of strength and vulnerability and show them equally? Why can’t we feel proud for being vulnerable just as we are proud for being strong? Since when has sharing your feelings of anything other than joy and happiness become taboo? We can cry happy tears with one another but as soon as they become sad or angry tears, we are told to fix our mascara and move on.
This article I am sharing today has been the most difficult thing I have written. Not because I am sharing any overly personal information, but because I have felt compelled so many times over the past weeks to go back and edit out my feelings and my discontentment. I have wanted to change sentences so I didn’t sound too needy or delete paragraphs to make it sound like I wasn’t complaining. The one thing I am trying to encourage readers of Her View From Home to do and be open about, I was trying not to do. This front of strength and confidence has been so practiced that anything else feels extremely uncomfortable. But being tender and open is beautiful. There is nothing wrong with having emotions and there is nothing wrong with sharing them with others. There is not one thing wrong with not being strong. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable as well as strong, because God gave women the incredible capacity to do both.