Strength in Tears

I have spent most of my life ashamed of my propensity to cry.  I felt that it showed some weakness in me, some deficiency in my ability to be a strong, real person.  I’m not sure where this came from.  In looking over my life, I can remember trying hard not to cry in the face of conflict or challenge, but the more I tried not to, the more I cried.  In my poor sense of self it was just one more reason not to like me.

My sense of self is changing.  I am becoming more comfortable with things that used to upset me.  I am beginning to understand that things like my tears are not a shameful thing.  I am an emotional person who takes things to heart.  I care deeply and I feel deeply.  That is ok.  That is part of what makes me who I am, and part of what makes me so good at what I do.  My compassion and empathy make it possible for me to be able to make a difference in the lives of the older people I work with.  It makes me able to hear and understand my children and husband when they are struggling.  It makes me a better friend.

I read something the other day that kind of stuck with me, and I guess it is the impetus to this post.  I wish I could find it so I could reference it here.  Basically, it said that tears show strength and the ability to release tension and keep perspective in the face of troubles.  Someone who is able to cry is comfortable with their own feelings, comfortable being authentic and open, and able to express true emotion.  Crying cleanses the soul and allows a person to move forward free of strain.  It is a tool for those who are strong to stay strong.

I like this thought.  It is ok that I cry and it does not mean that I am weak or unable to cope.  I am me, and me is different maybe from you.  Me is strong and sensitive and empathetic and caring and able to navigate life in ways that are positive and effective in serving others.  It makes me a good mom, a good wife, a good sister and daughter, a good Gerontologist, a good Christian, and a good person.  My strengths are uniquely suited to my roles and my place in this world.

Even my propensity to cry!

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Body Image

I am 43 years old and yesterday I wore a two-piece swimsuit for the first time since I was about 19 years old.  It wasn’t a two piece that looked like a one-piece, it was a bikini top and a skirted bottom.  My belly was uncovered for all to see! (Ok, so all was my hubby and kids and two very good friends.  But still…)

I have struggled with my weight and with my own self-image for my entire adult life.  Swimsuit season has always been hard for me, just as it is for women everywhere.  My body flaws were exaggerated and even new flaws imagined.  My usual swimwear choice always covered me and was much “older” than me in style and color because I wanted to hide.  The idea of a two-piece was ludicrous to me!  I had two larger babies, and my belly sports the stretch-marks to prove it!

I have spent the last 5 years of my life working to improve myself.  I have been working on degrees and educational pursuits that have allowed me to see myself as a smart, intelligent person who is able to succeed at the things that I set my mind to.  I have also faced some health issues that were serious and gave me an appreciation for where I am today.  I am at a relatively good place in my life.  I am starting to actually like me!

This is translating into how I feel about my physical self.  Do I weigh what I want to?  No.  Do I still have health concerns?   Yes.  When I decided I needed a new suit, I decided to be open about what I would try on.  I decided that I didn’t need to make such a big deal of my “flaws” and I could decide what made me feel good and attractive and confident.  I tried on the suit I got and my husband and daughter both told me I look good.  I mentioned that you could see my stretch marks, though they are faded after so many years.  Hubby said, “So??”

So got the suit.  I took it with me yesterday as we went to our friends house to celebrate Independence Day and swim.  I had a moment when I put the suit on and went out in front of everybody.  It was hard at first because my insecurities tried to raise their ugly protests.  My friends both said they liked my suit and that I looked great when I joked about it in an effort to cover up my nerves.

We had a great time!  I felt comfortable and it was nice to be able to break through that barrier for myself and be comfortable in my own skin.  It’s been a long time!!

I think that women place too much pressure on ourselves to look skinny, young, fit, whatever.  I think that being a 43 year-old woman with a real body is the most common thing in the world, but many of us feel that we are somehow ugly and flawed because we are normal.  Is this due to our culture?  The media?  The pressure of our husbands or friends or others?  I don’t know why we feel somehow less when we are not some stereotypical image of the perfect woman.

I know I’m not the “perfect” woman….but that is ok.  For once, I feel good about my self.  That is everything!!

Why is it that when my husband pays me a compliment I get all weird and self-conscious?  I am a blessed woman in that my husband tells me regularly that he finds me attractive, beautiful, and desirable.  Part of me loves it, and I am very glad to hear it, but there is a part of me that pushes it away and hides from it.  Why do I have such a hard time believing it of myself?  Why do I struggle to accept it and be confident in it?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I have a daughter.  I have been thinking about the kind of mom I have been over the years and how I have modeled womanhood to her.  She is now 19 years old and is developing into a woman in her own right.  I see her struggling with confidence and I wonder how much of that is because she watched me struggle with my body image and with who I am?  Just what did I vocalize in her presence?  What response did I give to my husbands praise while she was listening?  How did I dress and carry myself in her presence?

I think that one of the many mistakes that I made as a mom was to model for her a woman who was not confident and who did not believe in herself.  A women who did not realize that my weight and my other physical attributes did not make up the whole of me.  Yes, I struggled with my weight for many years, but that did not detract from the beauty that I had (and have). When my husband looked at me he did not see a fat woman, but a funny woman, a beautiful woman, a loving woman, a desirable woman.  He saw his best friend.  I think I placed too much emphasis on the physical and not enough on the qualities that made me who I am.  If I could go backwards, I would show my daughter that physical stuff is not all important.  Even though I was a bit heavy, I was beautiful and I had a lot to offer.

I guess it isn’t too late for me to model a better attitude for my daughter.  The things that make me beautiful are not things like weight and my make-up.  It is my attitude toward life, my sense of humor, my compassion, my faith and my giving spirit that matters.

Self-Description

In responding to a comment made by her husband, a Facebook friend responded that she didn’t “self-describe” as pretty or motherly.  That comment got me to thinking.  You see, I think my friend is beautiful inside and out…not just pretty.  And she is motherly as in she loves her kids, foster kids, and other people’s kids and speaks positive things into these kids lives!  My own two children have benefited greatly from her motherly love!  It is interesting that my friend sees herself so differently than other people see her.

I started thinking about how I see myself versus what other people see when they look at me.  How do I self-describe?  Is it an accurate picture of me, or is it affected by my own insecurities?  I usually try to avoid any sort of self-description because I don’t always like myself.  I struggle with my weight, I cannot exercise the way I want to because of my Fibromyalgia, and I still feel somewhat awkward in my own skin.  I know that I am intelligent but I have difficulty in contributing to conversation because I feel like I can’t accurately vocalize my thoughts.  My self-view is very much tainted by my insecurities.  I know this.  I am working on this.  I have been making a lot of changes in the past couple of years, and have grown stronger and more confident, but I know I still have a long way to go!

What do others see when they look at me?  This one is harder.  I know my husband sees me as beautiful and sexy, whether I feel that way or not.  My daughter says I am pretty.  I hear people say I am funny, sensitive, caring, smart…all good and positive things!  I’m not always sure how to respond to this, though, because it often takes me by surprise!  I guess we are our own worst critics.

I was commenting to my husband last night about the need for affirmation in life.  I had received some very affirming comments from fellow students on an introduction post for our class.   Their words lifted my heart in many ways, even though these people are not a part of my inner circle.  I told my husband that I receive more criticism than affirmation, if I receive anything at all, from people regarding my goals and calling.  It’s not a mean thing or anything like that.  It is just life.  I am realizing how much words of affirmation can affect my self-perception. 

I am thinking I need to be more purposeful in my affirmation of my family and friends.  I think maybe letting them know what I see as positive qualities may be an encouragement and help them to see themselves in a more positive light.  I think I also need to accept the positive comments from family and friends and allow their feedback encourage me to see myself in a more realistic light.