If you are like me, you may have been labeled fragile and weak. You may have even applied those labels to yourself.
It is time to face the truth.
Definition of fragile, when used to describe a person:
• not strong or sturdy; delicate and vulnerable.
synonyms: weak, delicate, frail, debilitated.
Definitions of weak:
• lacking the power to perform physically demanding tasks; lacking physical strength and energy: “she was recovering from the flu and was very weak”
synonyms: frail, feeble, delicate, fragile.
• liable to break or give way under pressure; easily damaged: “the salamander’s tail may be broken off at a weak spot near the base”
• lacking the force of character to hold to one’s own decisions, beliefs, or principles; irresolute.
synonyms: spineless, craven, cowardly, pusillanimous, timid
antonyms: strong, resolute
If we were fragile, we would have crumbled. We would have been crushed and destroyed. If we were weak — no trauma survivor would want to write this article nor read it. We would still be trying to escape into denial, and hide from the truth of what happened to us. We would lack the strength and courage to deal with it.
As trauma survivors, it is sometimes difficult to see beyond our own sense of brokenness. Cultural messages, as well as our family and friends, are often not much help. The enormity of rape and sexual abuse is often downplayed, treated as “no big deal”, or as “regrettable sex”, and we are impatiently urged to “get over it”, to “move on”. One husband said to his wife, “The fact that you were raped before we met was never a big deal to me, so I don’t understand why you can’t let it go and just forget about it.” Parents asked their daughter, “We got over what happened to you; why can’t you?”
While some minimize what was done to us, others try to define us by it. They expect us to be utterly and completely shattered, unable to ever recover, broken beyond compare. One husband blamed almost everything on his wife’s rape: if she was tired, if she wasn’t always eager for sex, if her hormones affected her mood, if she was sad, he assumed it was because she was damaged by rape — he redefined normal, human behaviors and feelings as pathology in her case, and as evidence of how “weak” and “fragile” she was. Sometimes people will label us as irrevocably broken simply because we react in any way to trauma, or do not remain unaffected by tragedy and suffering.
Many non-survivors who consider themselves strong, and us weak, are merely untested. Because of this, they recognize neither true strength nor true weakness.
Often we label ourselves as weak, convinced that a strong, resolute person would not have given way to the pressures of our rapists and abusers, and would have resisted effectively. It took therapy to help me sort out the differences between trust, vulnerability, and weakness of character and will. It also took the work of therapy to make me realize that, while I may have been weak in some ways at the age of 23, I had also shown strength and determination — and I had certainly become stronger since then.
Sometimes PTSD can make us seem, act, and even feel timid. In addition, I was — until very recently — a fearful person in general. I used to joke that I was world’s biggest chicken, and that I was scared of everything. I saw this as a major weakness until someone pointed out, “It takes a lot of strength and a lot of guts to face down your fears and proceed despite them.” Not everyone sees it like that. While some people thought — not knowing of my many fears — that I was sometimes brave to the point of near foolhardiness, another person often considered me overly timid and fragile — because he knew of my fearfulness. Apparently to him, strength would have meant an absence of fear.
It is, for many of us, a long and difficult — often painful and harrowing — journey from victim to survivor. We have to face the worst demons of our past head-on. The healing process has been likened to the most awful sort of surgery, to scraping out horribly infected wounds, to pulling thorns and daggers out of our flesh, to slaying dragons, and to a host of other painful and frightening ordeals. Courage did not drive me forward; desperation did. Perhaps that makes me weak and fragile in the eyes of some. They have not walked where I have walked, where we have walked. They have no idea.
Living a relatively sheltered life, never being the victim of a violent crime, never being abused and betrayed, never having to do battle with evil — these things do not make you strong. All it means is that you have been spared the harsher cruelties of life so far. You are untested.
But when you have known suffering and cruelty, when you fight against the demons of your past, when you rise above the evil perpetuated against you, when you refuse to let your abusers go on winning, when you do not allow trauma to define you, when you pursue the difficult task of healing — wherever you are in your healing journey — that makes you strong. And when you can finally stand and declare, “I AM AN OVERCOMER!” — that really makes you strong.
We can’t help the blindness of others. But it is important that we open our eyes to who we truly are. We are survivors. We are the ones who cling to hope. We are the ones who bend, but never truly break. We are the ones who put back together the pieces of our lives that are broken, and emerge even better than before. We are not fragile, or we could not endure. We are not weak, or we could not do the hard work of healing. We are survivors. We are overcomers. We are strong.
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