Do you have a friend in your life you consider the “strong friend”? You may not use that label, but may have used descriptors such as reliable, understanding, problem-solver, gives solid advice, always knows what to say, and has it all together. This friend has your back, is your cheerleader, very comforting and supportive, and a good listener. All done without asking for reciprocation. Does that sound like someone you know or, does that sound like you?
I have either been told or assumed that I fall under the “strong friend” banner. Honestly, I would like to relinquish that title. As much as I feel that having these attributes is a blessing, I can’t help but finally realize the implications and burden it carries. Being the friend that one can depend on does not happen effortlessly. I may show my feelings and emotions differently, but they are there. I am as fragile as the next person. The emotional labor of being the friend you can count on comes at a cost. I am often left wondering, ‘what about me?’ I search inside my mind to find the words to share with you. I think about your culture and experiences and try to start where you are. I consider a lot of factors to demonstrate that I care and you feel safe and accepted. You may feel lighter, seen, and heard, but I feel bogged down, heavy with the weight that I helped unload. It’s a lot of mental and emotional energy that is most appreciated, but at times, overlooked and taken for granted.
I don’t make a conscious effort to come off strong; I don’t typically use that word to describe myself. Being a strong [insert noun here] was projected upon me by individuals and society. My outward appearance of strength comes from coping with the anxieties I have with the world. It comes from having to be resilient and survive. I may appear like I have it all together because I am afraid of embarrassing myself or not being in control. I am thoughtful and show up because I am fearful people won’t think I care about them. I am quiet and listen because I am choking on words to say. I come off as calm and peaceful, but I also have inner turmoil that I am fighting. I am human.
I need reassurance, consideration, affirmation, and a shoulder to cry on as well. I need to have a heart-to-heart here and there. I need someone to ask me if I am really okay sometimes. I need someone to ask me if I am available, not just expect me to be. I need someone to consider if I am in the right headspace for venting and not immediately open the floodgates. I need to be shown that someone cares about my wellbeing, my growth, and my journey. I can’t keep watering your soil, while my flower bed is dry. I’m not only a giver. I’m not only an attentive listener. I’m not a symbol of unflinching courage. I’m not always smiling. I’m not a punching bag. I’m not a well of endless emotional support. It’s unfair to only see me as such.
As I continue to grow and allow myself to truly feel things that have taken a lot of effort to ignore, I’ve made some realizations. Some people don’t know how to comfort me. Some people don’t know how to dig deep, make space, and learn about me. Some people don’t know how to reciprocate. I don’t need to expend the same amount of effort to everyone. And you know what? That’s okay. Being a “strong friend” is tiring and, often, unsustainable. I’m not bad or selfish for desiring the same qualities or questioning the relationships in my life. I need relationships that nourish my soul, not just go through the motions.
So, no, I don’t always want to be the “strong friend.” It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Like everyone else, your “strong friends” are a rich tapestry of experiences and emotions. Your “strong friends” would like to take off their hat and receive love and compassion, not only in times of utter chaos or when you see something that says “check on your strong friends.” Your “strong friends” most likely want you to see their whole humanity, rid the label they didn’t ask for, be vulnerable, and have a safe space. They didn’t have instructions on how to be your friend, can you make time to figure it out? If not, that’s okay. But don’t be too surprised if you start to see your “strong friends” distancing themselves; they still care, they probably adore you, but they may have finally begun to prioritize themselves and find the pieces they’ve been missing. That certainly takes a lot of strength.
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Categories: Introvert Life