I don’t like the idea that getting through difficult times should make us tough. Tough is hard, brittle, and unyielding.
In the Nanea Hoffman quote,
“NOTE TO SELF: It’s not always true that hard times make us tougher. Sometimes they just make you tired. And anyway, who says it’s better to be tough? Maybe you don’t want a leathery heart. Sometimes the pummeling TENDERIZES you. You become soft and pliant. This is also strength.”
Being hard and unyielding is not my idea of strength. I have always hated the idea that you need to make children hard and tough. I like the idea of becoming soft and pliant. Because we only thrive when we can be flexible, adaptable, malleable, and fluid, not tough, unyielding, and inflexible.
Strong and Flexible
Brené Brown says strong back, soft front and wild heart. It comes from Zen Buddhist Roshi Joan Halifax, strong back and soft front which is the idea that our strength comes from love not from fear. That a strong back is flexible and sturdy. A soft front is open and compassionate. She stated,
“The place in your body where these two meet—strong back and soft front—is the brave, tender ground in which to root our caring deeply.”
What is having a strong back? It is having strength, sturdiness with flexibility. It is being accountable, keeping boundaries, and living in integrity. Soft front is being approachable with tenderness. Being vulnerable with the ability to love and be loved. Staying open to yourself and those in your life.
I think if we somehow survive the toughening up process of parents or life in general, it is in spite of, and not because of it. In an earlier blog “Who Deserves Credit For Who We Are”, I wrote about how those who have made our life hard, don’t deserve credit for who we are. And we get credit for surviving but we deserve even more credit if we have managed to be a loving human being too.
If we cannot keep our front soft and open, then we will miss out on a lot of the good of life. And we also reduce our ability to be connected to others. There is a time to move away from just surviving to thriving and embracing life. If we allow ourselves to get tough, our heart becomes closed. It is about creating healthy boundaries, staying present with our feelings (even the hard ones). It is moving away from numbing your feelings and being with them.
Why is a soft front a good thing? If we look at the opposite, it is a defended, shielded, or armored front. There are many things in our life journey that can be difficult to get through. Nothing is more difficult than childhood trauma when we are at our most vulnerable. As humans, we will respond to suffering in the best way we can. Depending on just how much trauma someone has experienced the more difficult it will be. But we all come up with different behavioral adaptation or coping behaviors to get through.
Any coping or adaptation behaviors are an attempt to get through the best we can. These behaviors can be mild to extremely maladaptive behaviors. This includes a wide range of different types of behaviors (substance abuse, lack of identity, people pleasing, controlling, perfectionist, workaholic, avoidance, defiance, isolating, bullying, compliance, difficulty making decisions, and lack of boundaries). If we remain open then we can move to a place of healing and love, not fear. We will no longer need these behaviors to protect ourselves.
Depending on how much your behaviors are getting in the way of living the life you want, it may be time for healing old wounds. But how do we keep a strong back, soft front and wild heart? The importance of a strong back is to give us strength and keeps us moving forward, but why a soft front? It is about keeping an open heart and not armoring yourself against feelings which is what these behaviors protect us from, those hard difficult feelings. And this will also keep us in fear.
On the one hand, you need to honor those coping strategies/behaviors, which you did to survive; but on the other hand, by keeping these behaviors in place, you are keeping yourself protective and armored. And keeping yourself from feelings and keeping others out of your heart. You are protecting yourself which will keep you at arm’s length from others and yourself.
Putting It Together
Our strong back is our strength, and our integrity. Our soft front is what keeps us connected to love and other people. It is moving away from fear toward love and connection. Then there is our wild heart which is when we have courage to stay true to ourselves. It is where true belonging lives when we can belong to our self. To paraphrase Brené Brown, it is belonging to ourselves so deeply that we can share our most authentic self. When we can stay true and connect to ourselves.
I think this is where our joy lives. All these things will help us find our way back to good and the joyful parts of life even after we experience tragedy, grief/loss, trauma, dark moments, and hard times. When we can be vulnerable, transparent, and truly authentic. When we are living in our integrity, in our values, being authentic/staying true to ourselves, living with love and compassion, and being connected to ourselves and others. For me that is what strong back, soft front and wild heart means.
And to end with another quote from Joan Halifax,
“How can we give and accept care with strong-back, soft front compassion, moving past fear into a place of genuine tenderness? I believe it comes about when we can be truly transparent, seeing the world clearly — and letting the world see into us.”
Photo by Matthew Hamilton on Unsplash
Blog, “Living Your Values”, https://illuminationcounselingservice.com/2021/11/20/living-your-values/
Original Post February 1, 2022 on Karen Gentilman’s website Illumination Counseling Service.
Karen Gentilman is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) practicing in the State of Idaho, working for 30 years with many different medical conditions both acute and chronic conditions, the last 20 years in neurological rehabilitation including brain injury, strokes and spinal cord injuries. She takes a trauma-informed, integrated and holistic approach with utilizing multiple modalities which is individually based while striving to provide compassionate therapeutic environment. Call (208) 266-4642 or email KarenGentilman@IlluminationCounselingService.com to set up a FREE 15-minute consultation. Visit Karen Gentilman’s profile page.