Thanks to the media, it’s a fairly safe bet that most people can picture what a strong independent woman looks like. Many of us will know someone who embodies this: the sort of person who doesn’t complain, gets the job done, and works hard. This can be women in the workplace, women being breadwinners, women taking care of their family, and more. The sort of woman you can turn to in a pinch. The sort of woman who backs herself. The sort of woman who doesn’t need to rely on others.
Strong women come in many forms, and all different shapes and sizes too: the quiet achievers; the brave advocates; the mums who teach their kids by letting them take risks; the friends who welcome you warmly in a time of crisis; and more.
I’ve seen women who hold so tightly to being strong and independent, that when a situation or environment became unmanageable, it was hard to change or adapt to the new demands. Some examples of situations that are hard to manage all by yourself include:
- growing your family and welcoming a baby
- losing someone dear to you
- major life upheavals, such as separating from a partner
- experiencing a traumatic event
- having an unreasonable workload
These sorts of events often require practical or emotional help. But: Are you able to ask for help? Accept offers of help? Are you able to renegotiate or delegate? Can you share your emotional pain with others? Or do you need to prove that you can do it all? Do you get busy, work harder, and get consumed by this, at the expense of self-care or connection with others? Sometimes identifying as strong and independent is a way of keeping others out- because you’ve been burnt, because you’ve learned you can’t rely on others, because getting close to others feels risky. Or maybe you need to feel like you’re not a burden or imposition. Or maybe it’s just safer to rely on yourself all of the time. It is important to know what holds you back if you are overwhelmed and feel unable to do differently.
I sometimes wonder if it would be more beneficial for women to hold onto a different identity: the Effective, Skilful Woman. Who changed according to what the situation required, and what the demands were. Who can graciously accept offers of help, and compliments. Who asks for help when a situation is unmanageable: this can take real courage when you’ve spent your life doing otherwise. Who can lean into a situation to move ahead, but also lean out of demands that unnecessarily drain you. Who can say no, without excuses or apologies, and maintain this position when others pressure you for a yes. We’re talking about flexibility, rather than a fixed identity or pattern of behaviour.
Say ‘I need help’.
Be open to the people who are worth trusting or turning to.
Be kind to yourself and honour your needs.
Invest less in people who have shown they don’t have your back.
Dare to take risks by stepping outside of being strong and independent, and into being effective and flexible… Because you need to come through difficulties whole and intact, rather than burnt out and exhausted.