I’ve had about 6 people elaborately talking to me about their depressions or related problems over the last two weeks. It didn’t surprise me, since it has been that way since I was… What? 14? Somewhere along the way I resigned myself to the fact that apparently I attract people with ‘issues’. For most of the last 10 years I’ve had people close to me who were diagnosed with anything from full blown depression to autism, people with a history of automutilation, PTSD and more. I could name so many people who have gone through something traumatic, lost their child, been abused by their parents and so much more that for a long time, I wondered whether the whole world had gone mad or that I simply attract these people (probably both). The worst thing is that these same people were often kindhearted people with good intentions so I was hardly ever able to tell them to fuck off and take their issues somewhere else.
On a seemingly unrelated note, since I was 18 years old or something, I got more and more interested in strength training and at some point personal development as well. The latter probably had a lot to do with my college background (Social work and community development, with a lot of psychology and stuff in there), but the former usually got most of my attention. My reasons for strength training have changed over the years. What started out as curiosity and ‘just losing a bit of fat’ turned into a mild interest for bodybuilding and powerlifting, as well as simply taking my health more seriously. Concurrent with my interest in martial arts and practical self defense (which I’ve taught to kids for a while) I also took it upon myself to become physically stronger through both self defense and strength training so that should it ever be necessary, I would be able to protect people around me. That has been one reason to get stronger for a long time and it still is to this day. There are more reasons that I don’t feel like getting into right now, but this leads me to something else.
Somewhere over the last few years, the above two points (attracting people with issues and the whole concept of ‘getting stronger’) seemed to come together. I became more conscious of this as I read up on the subject and came across different views on what ‘strong’ means. For example, I’ve quoted Paul Carter a few times, who’s pretty heavy on the ‘protecting people around you’ thing. There’s the famous “Weak people cannot forgive, forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” quote. Then there’s Henry Rollins, who wrote a well known, short essay on his experience with strength training where he relates strength to kindness and self respect.
All those points boil down to different aspects of strength, one of them being emotional strength. Yeah, I want to be able to snatch at least 1.5 times my own bodyweight someday, but more than that, I want to be emotionally strong to support the good people around me that need and deserve it. I absolutely love what I quoted from Leigh Peele a little while back and it sums my feelings up quite nicely:
“This world is at times so disappointing I find it hard to function. But, you know what keeps me from calling quits on the human race? The good people. There are kind, smart, and genuine people who need your help because we are screaming against a very loud bad crowd sometimes.”
I’ve found out the hard way many times that when I’m a mental wreck, I’m simply not strong enough to support people around me. I’ve said and done a lot of stupid things ending up with both me and the person I wanted to help feeling worse than before. In hindsight I found this unacceptable of myself.
I’m sure all this sounds really pretty, but ’emotional strength’ is a really vague term and actually getting stronger in that sense is possibly even harder to grasp. I do believe there is at least one concept to explore that is closely related to this and that’s something I’ve written about before – Equanimity. Mental resilience, emotional stability and control over your actions despite whatever emotion you’re feeling. It’s not about surpressing your emotions, quite the contrary. It’s about actively and consciously knowing how and when to express it so it won’t screw you over when you need to maintain your composure. A little soul searching and being open to opinions of people close to you can go a long way here, especially if you realize that even if you don’t think you’re being angry/sad/jealous/insecure/whatever people may still experience you as such and this will influence your relationships.
I wish I could give an easy fix for all this, but I don’t. Just a few key points that I feel are important in growing stronger in the emotional sense, both for yourself and for those around you.
- Take care of yourself. It’s hard carrying others when you can’t even carry yourself.
- Don’t trivialize your own issues for the sake of another person. It serves nothing but to feel good about yourself and your ‘selflessness’ for a moment.
- Accept your feelings and work with them instead of condemning or denying them. One of the first things I was taught in college was that “Feelings can’t be wrong, but the way you deal with them can be”. I’m not sure if I fully agree with that, but I do know that condemning your own feelings as wrong can lead to frustration and as most people know, letting that build up can lead up to hurting yourself and others.
- Put your pride aside for a moment and acknowledge your own issues. Pretending to be different from or better than the real you doesn’t make you very reliable and you’re likely to trip over your own issues sooner or later.
- Put your fears aside for a moment and reach out for help if you can’t fix things by yourself. If you can’t do this, you probably have trust issues and you may have to work on that before anything else.
- In most cases when trying to support someone, prioritize listening over speaking.
Squall: “What am I supposed to say about other people’s problems?”
Quistis: “I’m not asking you to say anything. I just want you to listen.”
Squall: “Then go talk to a wall.”
From ‘Final Fantasy VIII’.