Why is it that so many women don’t ask for help? I find this particularly true with strong women. I've seen it over and over again where high-powered women are so overwhelmed and overloaded with juggling their career, family and relationships that they barely have time to breathe. They run around doing everything themselves, not delegating, and certainly not asking others to do things for them. You know the old saying, “it takes one to know one?” Yes, I was one of them and know this behavior all too well.
There was a time when I was not willing to ask for help. I was doing this in all areas of my life, not just surface level help with the kids and work, etcetera. I was also not asking for help when my marriage was failing. I was not asking for help when I was in a dark place and didn't know how to get out of it. I was choosing to hide my pain and my suffering because I didn't want anybody to know that I didn't have it all together. I think this is a problem for all women, not just those of us who consider ourselves to be “strong.” But I also think that women who consider themselves to be strong hold themselves to an almost impossibly-high standard of perfection that requires the approval of others.
We are so afraid to have flaws because if we do, we won’t be loved or belong. So we work ourselves to death to chase perfection, to create an image of what society tells us our lives should be. We hide the truth so that no one knows, and we keep very dark secrets about things like abuse, affairs, financial crisis, addiction, and mental health issues. And these secrets keep us isolated and victimized. It’s hard to open up about these secrets because we’ve been told for so long that we shouldn’t talk about them. We carry these burdens and they weigh us down and all the while we’re expected to keep on smiling and pretending that everything is fine and dandy.
I worked so hard and endured so much that it ultimately caused me to have a breakdown in my physical health and become isolated from friends and family. I just kept telling myself to keep going and to be strong and so I continued running in that hamster wheel. By the time I knew I couldn’t go on this way any longer, I had kept such a good image going that people didn’t believe the truth when I finally told them! They thought there was no way that I could be having so many problems. They were wrong. I had mountains of problems, but I was really good at keeping up the charade.
At the time, being a strong woman meant showing up in ways that didn’t feel natural. It meant acting like a man when I was the only woman in meetings so that I would be respected. It meant always doing more and depending on no one. It also meant feeling shame when I didn’t know an answer or made a mistake. It meant hiding my pain, my guilt and my fears. It meant not asking for help when I needed it the most. It meant being someone that I wasn’t. I didn’t know it at the time, but being a strong woman was really my weakness.
So, how did we get here? And how do we get out?
As women, traditionally we have been raised to be self-sacrificing good girls, to keep quiet, to take care of other people, to put our needs last and to be everything to everybody. Whether you know it or not, this underlying consciousness permeates our veins and creates a lot of confusion, especially for women who are now working in traditionally male-dominated roles. It’s like we have been living in the space between ever since the women’s rights movement waiting for the pendulum swing to regulate. We try to be strong… but not too strong, because we don’t want to be perceived negatively, as a threat.
Sometimes we shame ourselves for wanting more out of life. Sometimes we allow others to shame us, and we don’t speak up about it. Sometimes we just want to give up, but we don’t. And sometimes it’s hard to not feel like a fraud, to constantly have to wear a mask of perfection as we walk a man’s walk.
But we’re not men. We are women. We are mothers and daughters, sisters and wives. And there is strength and power in these identities. We shouldn’t be ashamed or feel less than what we are. And we shouldn’t feel pressure to be anything different either. We’ve come a long way, even in the last 30 years, but we have a long way to go, and all the progress hasn’t seemed to make it any easier to navigate!
The first thing we have to do is get honest with what we want and stop living someone else’ dream. Dropping the veil and following our own dreams is truly life changing. I’m not going to lie, this takes guts. If you have been living the life someone else has prescribed for you, you will have to do some soul searching and experimenting to figure out who you are and what you truly want, but it will be worth it. When you do this, it will automatically cause you to start acting like your authentic self and do it for long enough, it will feel good and the thought of going back will not be acceptable to you.
Not only do we need to get honest with ourselves, we also need to get honest with those around us. We have to start speaking our truth, stop keeping secrets, stop lying and get vulnerable. That is a scary thought, right? Being vulnerable is not something we’re used to. We don’t like being vulnerable. Vulnerable usually means weak, and we can’t afford to be weak, right? Well, I think we can, and we need to open up and let the ones we love in and be honest with them, and ourselves.
We have to support each other as women. We need to cooperate with each other instead of competing against one another. We need to share our stories of both triumph and failure with each other so that other women will feel safe to do the same. We have to normalize imperfection and accept ourselves and each other for who we are. This will create the space for women to ask for help. And we need to be open to helping, to being the support that other women need.
Personally, I have found that the best support comes from friends, true friends. Not Facebook friends or Instagram followers, true friends. The kind of friends you could ask to help you get rid of a body and they offer to bring the shovels, no questions asked. You may only have one or two of these kinds of friends, but the more you open up and be YOU, the more your tribe will appear. Take a moment right now and inventory your friends in your head. How many of them can you be authentically yourself around?
Lastly, we need to shift our perspective on what being a strong woman means. A perspective that honors women for who they are. My perspective on what a strong woman is has truly evolved from five years ago. To me it now means feeling confident in being a woman and knowing who I am and what role I'm willing and not willing to play in life. It means supporting other women in their dreams and sharing my failures openly. It means showing up in my masculine and my feminine. It also means being kind, honest and vulnerable even when it’s hard. It means not asking for permission, giving with all my heart and asking for help when I need it.
The best way to alter your perspective, though, comes from cutting out the toxic elements from your life, the people who bring you down or hold you back. I know that it’s hard sometimes when these people are your family or coworkers or boss or neighbors or anyone you have to see on a regular basis. When you take out the bad, you make room for more good. And the good is so much better. Like, way better. More importantly, the way you see yourself will change. You will feel stronger. You will be stronger.
I know that I’m making this sound easy. I mean, I wrote it. But, I also lived it, just like you’re living it. Being strong is a very difficult thing, especially when curling up in a ball and crying seems like the much easier choice. Trust me when I say that it may be the easier choice, but I can confidently say that it is not the right choice. I feel very strongly about this, as you should. As we all should. If you’re reading this, no matter where you are or in what stage of life, you are not alone. You are never alone. And, it takes true strength to reach out to your loved ones and ask for help, and we become stronger with their help.
I would love to hear your story of triumph or failure! Let’s connect. Please reach out to me via email or social media (info can be found at the top of this article).