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Into The Light by Peter Kahrmann

The Courage and Strength Myth

It is often our savagely disfigured understanding of courage and strength that gets in our way of being strong and courageous. In fact, this disfigured understanding – the courage and strength myth, as I call it – creates a psychological disability that damages our ability to manage life in a healthy way. It seems to me that managing one's life in a healthy way requires an understanding of, and permission to have, our emotional experience.

However, from cradle to grave we constantly hear the message that courage and strength means not crying, not admitting you're in pain, not admitting you are afraid, not asking for help (because you're just so bloody strong you don't need any) and so on. In other words, not revealing your emotional experience is an act of strength because to do so, we are socialized into believing, is an act of weakness.

Not only could nothing could be further from the truth, but demolishing the courage and strength myth in an instant simply requires a series of well-aimed questions and a new look at giving birth.

The well-aimed questions go like this:

  • If it is an act of weakness for you to admit you're scared, then why is it so hard to do? Were it an act of weakness, meaning the act itself requires no strength, admitting your fear would be easy, but it's not, which is why it requires courage and strength.
  • If it is an act of weakness to ask for help, then why is it so hard to ask?
  • If it is an act of weakness to go ahead and cry, why is it so hard for so many to do so?

The discovery to be made is this: Real acts of strength are anything but pleasant or enjoyable or easy. Take giving birth, for example. There are few human feats that require more courage, strength and endurance. But I dare anyone in his right mind to get within an arm's length of a woman while she is in the throes of labor and ask her if she happens to feel particularly strong at the moment. I can promise you this: Whichever part of the questioner's anatomy she grabs, he -- after all, only a man would be dopey enough to ask this question in the first place -- will discover that her strength is Herculean.

I believe strength is found in your capacity to allow your experience of life, and courage is found in your willingness to have at it, emotions and all. Are the experiences of strength and courage pleasant ones? Not in the least. However, the all-too-common and insidious pattern of perpetually burying and stifling emotions will unquestionably damage the quality of your life and, in all too many cases, shorten it.

We are here to live our life in the healthiest way possible. Allowing the courage and strength myth to unnecessarily damage and disable our lives is to rob ourselves of the lives we deserve to have in the first place.

Peter Kahrmann is an advocate for people with disabilities and writes a blog on disability issues. He resides in New York state.

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