Sweetgrl, You have the power to break the cycles that have been passed down to you. You have the power to dismantle them. To question them. To shift them. To no longer accept them. ~Anisah Amat
stay open darling, the world needs your kind of softness. ~s.c. lourie
stay soft. it looks beautiful on you. ~nayyirah waheed
There’s a lyric in Beyonce’s song Daddy Lessons that goes:
Came into this world
Daddy’s little girl
And daddy made a soldier out of me
Oh, oh, oh
Daddy made me dance
And daddy held my hand
Oh, oh, oh
And daddy liked his whisky with his tea
And we rode motorcycles
Blackjack, classic vinyl
Tough girl is what I had to be
Many of us grew up needing to be a Tough Girl™, even though we were (and still are) highly sensitive and emotional people. There was no room for tears or “weakness” growing up in our homes. Stoicism was rewarded and a Tough Girl™ I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude was applauded. Being soft, being sensitive, being emotional in any way was both ridiculed and punished.
Our Tough Girl™ persona has probably served us quite well through most of our lives. As teenagers it may have been required for us to survive those challenging years of adolescence. As we grew older our inner Tough Girl may have generally protected us from being hurt too much emotionally, mostly by not letting us actually get close to people or reveal too much of our actual inner workings (and emotions).
But our Tough Girl™ persona, is just that: a persona. And honestly, it is more than likely that plenty of people saw through it while simultaneously going along with it.
It is a form of our armor, for certain. It allows us to rarely feel sadness or hurt and to stay in anger and or defensiveness. And while this may have been a great survival tool growing up, it turns out it’s not such a great way to be if you want to be in an emotionally intimate relationship.
Softness does not come easy for many of us. It may be something we have been working at for years. It may seem whenever we begin to feel softness, we can only sustain it for a short time before the armor goes up and Tough Girl™ takes charge again. It can be a challenging journey, and even with all our tools and resources we may struggle to allow our vulnerability, our softness, to come through very often.
Softness, and vulnerability, is related to how we are able to trust. For those of us with complex trauma trust is rarely an easy thing. The entire time our brains were forming, we learned to not trust, or more to the point that there wasn’t anyone to trust and that people, particularly adults, were inherently untrustworthy.
And while this armor is incredibly protective in many ways, it is also lonely and even harmful. The armor, the Tough Girl™ persona, prevents emotional intimacy, which means, in short, that it prevents us from being truly seen.
If we can’t be truly seen, we are left feeling alone, and cannot meet our very human need to have a sense of belonging nor are we able to develop secure attachments.
What does this mean? Well it means that until we are able to be soft, to be vulnerable, appropriately, we will only ever be surviving and not able to to truly thrive.
Survival is important. It is actually mandatory, from an evolutionary point of view.
Thriving is vital, even though we don’t need to thrive to survive.
Many of us may not even know what thriving could look like, and we most certainly don’t know what it actually feels like (though perhaps we can imagine).
To me thriving looks like ease. It looks like softness. It feels gentle. It feels loving. I imagine there is much laughter in thriving. And probably a lot of tears too. And in the laughter and the tears there is a being held. Both being held by ourselves and being held by trusted, and trustworthy, others.
Thriving definitely does not include defensiveness. It does not include rigidity. It does not include blaming (ourselves or others).
It does definitely include compassion. Empathy. Love. Boundaries. Patience. Joy as well as grief.
Having the tools and resources to do this this work, this work of moving away from rigidity, from either/or thinking, into softness and the non-duality of both/and, is always one thing; utilizing them, practicing them, is something different entirely. Practice is key. Compassion is key. Patience with ourselves and others is key.
To softness. To emotional intimacy. To thriving.
This essay was originally written for my weekly(ish) newsletter in August 2018. It has been edited for publication here. To receive my most recent essays, you can subscribe here.