When I’m with brilliant, accomplished, and experienced people, I ask questions. I want to know what they know for sure. I want to know what they would say to their loved ones if they knew they only had hours to live. I want to know what they stand for, and what they want to be remembered for. I want to know what they want to say publicly, but never will.
Sometimes their statements hit me like a slap in the face. Information I can’t believe I’ve lived my whole life and not known, like when I learned that all societal ills emanate from, or are exacerbated by, social isolation. Sometimes their statements light my hair on fire, meaning that I learn about something that grieves my heart and that I have to try to do something about, like when I learned that child sex trafficking is a huge “industry” right here in the United States.
Sometimes I have to noodle for days on what they say, like in the case of my friend who has been a psychologist for decades for children who have been severely abused. I asked her what she would say if she could speak to everyone who lived a life of sadness and pain because of the mistreatment they’ve suffered. She didn’t hesitate for a second before saying, “I wish I could tell them to be stronger.”
Wow... a psychologist who has looked into the eyes of countless children who have been mistreated, would essentially say, “Toughen up, Buttercup.”
I’ve thought a lot about that statement since the day my friend shared that with me. Part of me finds it insensitive. But the rest of me wants to encourage her to actually say it out loud, although I know she never will. I wish she would write a book to tell stories of how being stronger would empower people who have been mistreated, or about how being stronger might save relationships because the strengthened person has the determination to try one more time.
I was abused for the first 16 years of my life by my mentally ill grandfather and alcoholic and addicted grandmother. I could have rolled up into a ball and lived with my pain for the rest of my life. That’s what my grandmother did. She felt sorry for herself, she took her pain out on everyone around her, and ultimately, she medicated herself to death. The few people she had in her life didn’t empower her. They didn’t point out to her that she could rise up and do better. Instead they pitied her. And she ate it up. Pity didn’t help her. Pity held her down. Pity contributed to her miserable life and to her relatively early death.
My psychologist friend saying that she wishes people would be stronger emboldens me to build her advice into my life and to share it here. I have license to share her message because she said she would never say it out loud, and because choosing to reject self-pity and to overcome adversity by my own strength and power is what I did to overcome abandonment, abuse, poverty, and misery.
From a practical standpoint, the eventual result of being stronger is that we wind up happier. If you want to be happy, be strong. Strong enough to ignore insults. Strong enough to let insults roll off you like water off a duck’s back. Strong enough to see your own worth and value and not have to rely on others to build you up. Strong enough to stand by others when they’re at their worst. Strong enough not to throw in the towel on relationships when people let us down.
When we realize how strong we are, and focus on that rather than on our weaknesses, we’re better able to stay on jobs through rough patches and in relationships through the tough times. This is important because throughout this life, there will be tough times. We can go through them or we can GROW through them.
Let’s be strong. Let’s stop suffering through difficulties, and let's grow through them.
Rhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because Of What You've Been Through (featured on The Today Show), used the coping skills from her abusive childhood to create personal and professional success. She built two successful businesses, then turned her attention to helping others to find their purpose and their authentic success. More info can be found at www.rhonda.org.