Why Your Need to Appear Strong Can Actually Hold You Back by Marwa Assar
Posted on Apr 20, 2017
I was going through a tough time once and was beating myself up for being sad about it. I was minimizing my struggle and comparing it to the greater trials of others around the world. I remember asking my teacher, “Is it okay that I am so sad, heartbroken or hurt about something like this?” What he said changed the way I view my emotions and reactions towards my trials from God. He said: “So what if a test (big or small, regardless of size) breaks us? We are so fragile, anything can break us. It is through Him that we gain any strength.” My teacher wasn’t concerned about the size or severity of the trial. His point was, why does the severity of the trial even matter when our very human nature is fragile by design? Instead of asking why my heart was breaking towards something I deem small, he suggested for me to say "yeah I am fragile, and that’s okay”.
I remember feeling so surprised by this because we live in a world where we pride ourselves on how strongly we can handle a test and how much of our weakness and vulnerability we can hide during the tough times, because God forbid we feel, cry, or show our real authentic emotions. It’s like we are out to prove to ourselves that we can carry our burdens to the finish line (if there even is one), without feeling the pain that comes with them. We are constantly judging our experiences and evaluating whether they are worthy enough to receive our attention instead of actually connecting with our emotions and what we can learn from them.
Personally, I was always a sensitive person who felt every fiber of my experiences and trials, but I always worked very hard to prove to myself that I am strong. I was often left crying internally while showing an outward appearance of strength. Doing so delayed my external response and my ability to experience and accept all of my emotions. This occupation I had with proving to myself that I am strong actually exacerbated the struggles I went through because I was oppressing my God-given freedom to feel. But time and time again, God taught me that the strength gained from my trials does not come from how much of its weight I can carry before I break down and cry. It comes from the way He mends me after I fully accept the break.
Our hearts break through all different kinds of hardships and trials. Sometimes the break is small. Sometimes the break is big. The problem is never the break. The problem is how much we equate the break with weakness. Equating heartbreak with weakness is like equating sore muscles after a workout with weakness. The sore muscles tell us that those muscle groups did some work and that our bodies are changing for the better. Similarly, the break we are feeling emotionally tells us that God is about to build us back up beautifully. Ibn Qayim Al Jawziyyah (ra) reminds us of this when he says:
“From the perfection of God’s excellence (ihsan) is that He allows His servant to taste the bitterness of the break before the sweetness of the mend. So He does not break his believing servant, except to mend him. And He does not withhold from him, except to give him. And He does not test him (with hardship), except to cure him.”
Our pain or heartbreak is never a weakness but a preparation for much strength. But it is our skewed understanding of what 'strong' looks like that holds us back from accessing the strength that can be gained from being vulnerable and accepting all of our emotions. It is only through acceptance that we can see things as they really are, and only then do we have the opportunity to learn from the reality of our experiences and not from illusions we create. By accepting and NOT denying our emotions, we are actually opening ourselves up to receiving the blessings that God has to offer us through the trial He put us through. Instead of viewing our pain as the end, we now see it as the means to a beautiful beginning for us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
This is how God designed our experiences; to reflect His love for us and His desire for us to benefit from connecting with Him and receiving what we need to grow and thrive. We need to remind ourselves that the trial exists so that we can seek the One who will heal and mold us beautifully.
Now, when I go through difficult times, I try my best not to waste my energy thinking about the size of the trial or whether or not it deserves my emotions. I try not to measure it. I try to accept my entire experience without judgment. If I feel pain, I simply remind myself that I am human, fragile, and in need of Him, and that becomes my fuel to run to Him and allow the real strength training to begin.
Marwa Assar is an educator and writer dedicated to providing mental, emotional, and spiritual empowerment through an Islamic Psychological lens. Marwa has a Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology and is currently a Doctoral Candidate in Clinical Psychology with a research focus on an Islamic Psychological approach to psychotherapy. She works to provide psychological and spiritual knowledge and tools that will empower others towards positive transformation. For more of her work, you can check out her website and Facebook page.