what is is, why we see it as a bad character attribute, and why that’s not correct.
Weak. Weakness. Weakling. We’ve used this word and its many derivatives forever to describe something as being found wanting, as not good enough, as inadequate. It is the defining trait of those who fail, of those struggling, of those who aren’t going to or didn’t make it. It is the thing that you say to yourself as you’re staring back at your own reflection in the bathroom mirror while contemplating the entirety of your existence. The existence that is in no way what you thought it would be, what you wanted it to be.
“You are so weak.”
It is the thing you say about yourself when you didn’t succeed. It is the thing that is meant to further break you down. It is the thing you say when, at the very core of your being, you believe you deserve the failure. It is the thing you say when you don’t view yourself as worthy of being lifted up.
In short, it is the thing you say when you don’t love yourself.
Think about it. If you watched another person fail the way you failed, would you speak to them the way you speak to yourself? If they didn’t get the job they applied for, would you berate them and tell them how terrible they were for not succeeding? Chances are, if you’re a decent person, you would be telling them quite the opposite. You would be doing what you could to encourage them.
Why are we so accepting of other’s failures and weaknesses but we refuse to tolerate it in ourselves?
Weakness is not bad. Weakness is, simply put, imbalance. Imbalance is not a matter of good or evil, or moral or otherwise. It is just – just – a part of your life that needs strengthening.
And beating yourself down is the wrong way to do that.
Don’t get me wrong, I know that we all, logically, understand this. And I know that it’s easier said than done, especially if we’ve grown accustomed to a particular dialogue, regardless of how nasty or detrimental that inner dialogue is. (More on this concept at a later date.)
When we train in the gym, we start off with light weights because we are – wait for it – weak. Then, as we grow stronger, we increase the weight. When the weight gets to be even heavier and potentially beyond our ability, we don’t give up and we don’t talk ourselves down. Instead, we ask for a spotter. We ask for help. We ask for the assistance of someone else to make sure we don’t hurt ourselves.
When we start a new job, we come prepared with the skills we’ve learned from previous jobs. When we encounter a thing that we’ve never encountered before, we don’t sit in the corner of the office and tell ourselves how weak we are for not knowing how to do that thing. We – again – ask for help – we ask for training – we ask for support, and in fact, is it assumed that we will need that support. That assumption is not based on the fact that we’re “weak”, but rather on the fact that we are about to undertake a thing that we’ve never done before. That fact is not met with begrudgement. Neither is it met with disdain. It is simply addressed with the understandable expectation that you will need help.
Now, I recognize that not everything we experience weakness in can be fixed with a mere shoutout for assistance, but what I am saying is that when you do ask for help or even simply acknowledge weakness as a healthy part of life and that it is meant to make clear to you the things that you must strengthen, you allow yourself to address said weakness in such a way as to enable and empower yourself rather than beat your probably already low self-esteem even further into the ground.
A little bit about myself: I was married for eight years. To a very nasty human being. I was beaten down – literally and figuratively – I was cheated on, made to feel worthless, threatened, scammed, and manipulated into silence.
I didn’t say anything for years. Because I was weak.
And there were many times during my marriage that I looked at myself in the mirror and absolutely hated the human being looking back. I hated her because she wasn’t strong enough to tell her ex-husband to stop. I hated her because she was too weak to fight back (quite literally too weak, both physically and mentally). I hated her because she was too cowardly to stand up for herself, regardless of the consequences. I hated her because she couldn’t face her abuser and instead would curl up on the floor and bleat like the scared little lamb that she was.
The thing that got me out of this situation? I asked for help. I asked for a spotter. I asked for assistance. The only reason why I’m here today is because I finally admitted my weakness, both to myself and to people who could help.
Weakness can be extremely damaging, but I would venture to say that potential for damage is because we either ignore it or try to hide it – either from ourselves or others. When you’re diagnosed with an illness, you don’t ignore it, you address it and you tell your friends and family so you have help and support. You can ignore it, I suppose, and I know many people who do, but I think it’s generally understood that when you choose to ignore it, you’re also accepting that you’re going to sustain the prolonged and totally avoidable injuries that will result.
When I stopped seeing my weakness as a defining trait and rather recognized it as an imbalance in my life that I couldn’t take care of by myself, it did two things. The first thing it did was allow people who loved me to support me when I didn’t have the strength to support myself and two, it removed the shame that we so often saturate our failings in. When you talk about something and admit it, it does make it real, but it also helps to remove the hold that it had on you and allows others to shed some light on the situation and possibly even help you see it from a different perspective.
This alternative perspective can itself be quite challenging. I still felt the sting of my failures. Rather than accept my life as a failure, however, I have tried and will continue to try and challenge that mindset with an alternative perspective. One that says who we are in our moment of weakness does not define us. How we choose to move forward in light of the weakness is what defines us.
Athletes fail all the time – they lose races, they sustain injuries, they don’t make the team. These are their moments of weakness. What makes them not weak and what makes them athletes, is their choice to continue trying, to continue working towards a stronger self.
Artists fail all the time – they fuck up paintings, they don’t win competitions, they are told what they produce is not art. These are their moments of weakness. What makes them not weak and what makes them artists, is their choice to continue practicing, to continue making art, and to continue working towards a more talented self.
Writers fail all the time (yes we’re getting redundant, but I’m going to beat a dead horse for a little while longer) – they get rejected time and time again by publishers and agents who don’t want to represent them, no one reads their work, they never get published at all. These are their moments of weakness. What makes them not weak and what makes them writers, is their choice to continue writing, to continue putting their work out there, and to continue – you guessed it – working towards a more talented self.
I realize I’m going in circles at this point, but I’m trying to spiral towards the center.
Weakness is NOT bad – weakness is JUST imbalance
Weakness should NOT be ignored – weakness SHOULD be acknowledged and addressed
Weakness does NOT define you – how you CHOOSE to proceed in light of your weakness does
We don’t always have a choice in feeling weak. Sometimes it’s internal, something that hits us again and again, something that we’ve been fighting our whole lives. And it might be something that we’ll always struggle with. The traumas sustained from my marriage caused the weakness of damagingly low self-esteem. That is a major imbalance in my life, and one that I will most likely be addressing for the rest of my life. But, if I choose to treat that weakness as the imbalance that it is, versus treating it like the defining attribute of my life, then I can start moving forward with that new mindset and become stronger and less afflicted over time. And, to be clear, I have not achieved this mindset alone. I have never been able to do any of this alone, and while I will continue to grow stronger and more capable, I shall always choose to surround myself with people who provide my life with love and support.
I used to play racquetball all the time. Once, during a game, I twisted my ankle. Badly. I couldn’t walk on it for months let alone workout. I started doing Pilates to compensate for my lack of ability to properly bend the ankle. While there’s nothing wrong with Pilates, there is a problem with the fact that I didn’t properly address or acknowledge the injury. It wasn’t until 6 months later when I finally went to a chiropractor that I found out I had been limping around on a partially dislocated ankle for half a year.
The result? MAJOR weakness in my right ankle. I still don’t have the flexibility and strength in that ankle that I used to. It is my weak ankle. I acknowledge this imbalance in my life and by acknowledging it I am able to address it and move forward accordingly. It has taken years to undo the damage that was sustained in mere seconds, and in truth, I will probably never be fully healed from it. I shudder to imagine the kind of long term repercussions I would be dealing with had I refused to admit that something was wrong.
Weakness doesn’t have to be an enemy. In fact, it can be a very insightful and useful tool to help you recognize the things you must work on. It’s simply an imbalance. It is not evil. It is not good. It just is.
And it is not the thing that defines you. How you address it, how you move forward, is what defines you.
I’m sure for many this probably seems pandering, redundant, and simple. And if that’s the case, then I am so happy for you. Genuinely, truly and totally happy for you. Because it means you’ve already moved forward and beyond this concept. And I wish you all the happiness that you desire.
But if there is one person who reads it and finds some nugget of truth or help in my pandering, redundant and simple thoughts, then the time it took to write was well spent.