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Giving Up Our Strength To Gain Our Power

"See, when you’re powerful you don’t have to be strong. You just let things happen. When you have to be strong, it means you can’t let things happen; you have to take charge of them [...] What you want to do is give up your strength, and gain your power" - Gabor Mate


I swivelled and turned and paused and contemplated. Give up our strength to gain our power? What does this mean? To be strong is courageous, admirable.

Isn’t strength a good thing? Isn’t this something we all strive to be?


Let’s be honest, we live in a society that narrow-mindedly perceives a lack of strength as being weak, and we’re taught this is not who we want to be. To be weak is to lose. To be weak is to fail. And who wants that?!


To be strong is something many of us are familiar with. In a high-achieving, busy environment, to be strong is to be resilient. We keep going, and pushing, and going and pushing because that’s what we know. For many, this gives us a sense of control. If we can be strong and hold it all together then we won’t lose control in the face of adversity. In other words, we won’t show weakness. It’s a skill we learn to master. However, this mastery comes at a cost. Upon reflection I realized it’s our strength that disconnects us from the beauty of living. To be still, to be with, to accept, to soften. Inherently, to experience all these things is to experience life. So, if our “strength” is disconnecting us from all that allows us to live deeply, then what are we doing?


We are surviving. To be strong, I realized, was to survive. When we are living in survival, we can’t experience vulnerability. And why is it important to feel vulnerable? Vulnerability is essential to savour our own existence. It’s essential to connect with our community. As Brene Brown eloquently states,


Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity 


For those of us that have used “strength” to move through unpredictable events, transitions and uncomfortable emotions, the thought of softening this part is unimaginable. If our strength softens, what are we left with?


It would be unfair for me to speak for all of you, so I’ll share a bit of what came up for me. When I asked myself what I would be left with if I didn’t have my strength, a tsunami of shame-induced statements flooded my mind and body. Not smart enough, not accomplished enough, weak, not pretty enough, NOT ENOUGH. It was a visceral feeling of emptiness in my heart, and I couldn’t bear to turn towards it.


So, if my “strength” was coming from a part(s) that held this deep-rooted fear of not being enough, then maybe my strength wasn’t actually strength. While it’s true we may temporarily have an illusion of control, when we turn towards ourselves and compassionately inquire, we may see that the desperate attempt to remain in control to things external to ourselves is simply a reflection of the lack of connection and control we have within ourselves. And rather than us controlling it, it ends up controlling us.


To begin a self-inquiry process, simply ask the question, “what do I notice about myself when I’m being strong”? To experience strength, for me, was to experience internal chaos. High energy, anxiety, worry, fast-paced, perfectionism, untrusting, and always preparing myself for the next catastrophe to hit. I was in a constant state of survival. It saddened me to realize I had few memories of laughter, love, calm, relaxation, curiosity, and silliness. I was unable to connect to myself or my loved ones.


Objectively, I would often hear things like “I don’t know how you’re doing it” or “wow, you are so strong”. Which inevitably fuelled this desire to keep things in control, otherwise as I realize now, I feared being exposed for who I thought I was.


True strength and power is not in the pushing, worrying, anticipating, fighting, and numbing, but rather in the vast softness that’s within ourselves. To be empowered is to let things happen and know you can and will move through it. It’s unconditional acceptance of the ebbs and flows of life, the gentleness within ourselves, and the power to move through it.


Softening your strength doesn’t negate the goals you create and your ability to achieve them. In this context, softening your strength is to allow you to move towards your goals AND experience the vast beauty that is within you.  


Ask yourself this, if you didn’t have to be strong, what would you have access to within yourself?

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