Ever since my daughter was 6 months old I’ve told her 5 affirmations: you are brave, strong, beautiful, kind and smart. One day, I realized I wasn’t sure I knew what any of those meant. Or at least I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue to define them in the way my old self did. I realized all these words were the opposite of things I had labeled and judged as “bad” – being afraid, weak, ugly, mean, and stupid. I started to wonder what seeds I was nurturing with these affirmations, was I watering weeds or flowers?
In the book Untamed by Glennon Doyle (must-read book), she talks about her own realization that she didn’t want her daughter to grow up thinking brave meant feeling afraid and doing it anyway – which was the exact definition my old self had assigned. The fear of failing as a mother starts early, doesn’t it? According to Doyle, another definition for brave could be “living from the inside out.” It could mean feeling your fear, acknowledging it, and then reaching inside for the awareness and knowledge of what to do next.
Then I started to wonder if I was okay with my definition of strength, which to me meant even when I felt like crumbling inside – march on, forge ahead, muscle through, force the outcome. It meant not allowing room for the deep and unhealed things or feelings of inadequacy to surface long enough to see them, or at least for anyone else to see them. Being strong had this rigidity to it. Don’t change your mind, take an unwavering stance, barrel through. I started to ask myself how I might redefine strength. What if I unhid and pulled the covers back on the hurt things I thought made me weak and embraced my full self and life experiences. What if being strong meant opening myself up and being vulnerable knowing there could be future pain? What if I stopped equating getting hurt or pain with chinks in my armor?
Let’s not forget kind, or nice. I was once asked why I was so diplomatic. Even when someone wronged me in the worst way, I could respond to the hardest questions in the most pleasant, excusing way. To be kind to others, I sacrificed myself, my happiness, my wants. Kind equaled people pleasing, or taking whatever thought you had inside about something or someone else and wrapping it in soft, whipped, pink paper dipped in sugar. I started to wonder what went through my daughter’s head when I told her to “be nice.” Perhaps we could redefine kindness as first kindness to ourselves. Being nice could mean honoring and acknowledging our feelings, evaluating their validity and truth, and then responding in an authentic way. Sometimes that isn’t always a way that suits others, but truth trumps stuffed sentiments.