The burden of being the ‘strong one’

It was Tuesday. I had had a rather difficult day and came home wanting nothing more than to be by myself and forget the past day. There was me, kicking off my shoes, slowly undressing, brushing my teeth in a tired haze and just about to crawl under my cozy sheets. That’s when my phone rang. The caller-ID told me it was a friend of mine – a friend I hadn’t spoken to in a while.

Maybe I am a bad person for admitting this but my first instinct was to let it ring. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk to my friend, I merely didn’t have the mental strength to do it right now. You know what I love about a sense of responsibility and obligation though? You can never turn it off.

So I did what I always do for that friend – listen. And this is where this delicate silver lining comes into play; Because you see, even as I am writing this, I am unsure of how to properly phrase this. Let me make one thing clear: I love being there for my friends. In fact, I pride myself in being someone they can depend on when they are having a rough time. That evening however, when we hung up after two hours of them unloading all of their feelings onto me, I felt even more drained than I had before. Being there for my friend put an even bigger mental strain on me… and that wasn’t the first time I had felt like that.

“I am strong, but I am tired (…), tired of always having to be the strong one, of always having to do the right thing.” 

Brenda Joyce, An Impossible Attraction

The problem is that I still do not know if I even have the grounds to bring this up or feel the way I do. Because a big part of friendships is being there for one another. Isn’t the whole point of a friendship to have someone with whom you can share your burdens with? Oftentimes however, I will be in friendships where the balance of doing so can be off. Some people will dump all of their problems onto me without a second thought. They unload everything, so much so that I start to feel overwhelmed. If I even attempt to do the same, they act like this is an abnormality. This to me shows that amongst some friends, there is a general expectation for me to always be the “strong one”. I think this mainly comes down to me not knowing how / being afraid to communicate that I need someone to lean on too.

Why is it that so many of us tend to fear expressing our emotions, especially the negative ones? Is it because that mask of being that strong, dependable person has become a habit? Have we become so used to being the support barrier, that we do not know how to let ourselves be the support case for once? Or does it come down to feeling that our problems will be an unnecessary burden to others?

It is like some friendships morph into a play of some sorts, where we both take up fixed roles. And in order to fulfill that role, I can’t break character. I am the strong one. The supportive one. The tough one. They however take on the role of the main character, the one that shows vulnerability and delivers heart-wrenching scenes. But what happens when you are left to navigate a scene solo? The answer of being the “strong one” suddenly doesn’t cut it when it comes to your own problems. There are times when you simply can’t suck it up and be done with it.

I have always been one to deal with my problems by myself and a lot of the time, this will work just fine. In a way, I tend to choose to suffer in silence, as opposed to letting someone in. Yet I feel as though the continuous internalization of my feelings has been getting to me lately. The truth is that I haven’t been in the best place this past month. In fact, I have been feeling – for the lack of a better description – really, really shitty. A lot more than I have been letting on to the majority of my friends.

Cracks are starting to show in my facade and I am so transfixed on patching them up that I keep doing that I do best – keeping everything in. So I continue playing my role while the build-up inside of me is slowly reaching a boiling point. I feel tired of continuously feeling that I have to act strong when in fact, I am at one of my weakest points.

Luckily I have a couple of special friends who have really been there for me in the last few weeks. They push me to confront my feelings more often and have shown me that my own problems are just as valid as theirs. They have created a safe space in which I feel as though I can come to them when I am in need of comfort. And maybe most of all, they have shown me that it is impossible to be strong all the time.

13 thoughts on “The burden of being the ‘strong one’

  1. Ahh Fiona this hit me so hard! I often find that it’s usually the loud funny ones who are also the ‘strong’ ones and that’s exactly my role in majority of my friendship groups, so this hit the nail on the head in regards to everything I’ve gone through myself! I found myself genuinely making myself sick over other people’s problems, probably towards the end of 2018 and I spent so much of 2019 trying to put less pressure on myself to be the shoulder to lean on for every single person in my life, as much as I really wanted to be – and more often than not, most people are super understanding about it, especially if you’re delicate about the way you kinda remove yourself from problems that aren’t yours if that makes sense? I literally made the mantra for 2019 ‘remove yourself’, and when things got too intense and out of my control that’s what I did. It took a while to get used to, and there’s always this lingering guilt, but sometimes you have to put yourself first and it’s taken me years to learn that.

    It’s a super fine balance I’ve found, being a really good friend, someone who’s supportive and there for everyone when they’re needed, but then also becoming a dumping ground for other people who aren’t willing to realise that you’re also a person with problems and emotions and things you’d like to talk about. If you ever wanna take a break from being the strong one I’m always a message away angel! Love you lots xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have also found that to be true in many cases. Oftentimes the ones who don’t show their serious side as much, are the ones who often are also using their humor as a way to hide distract from their own problems and worries. It’s a pressuring place to be trapped in, being the one everyone perceives as “strong”, seemingly not a single worry on their mind – trying to live up to that image sure is mentally draining.

      Also, I LOVE your mantra. I might just steal it, hehe. I applaud you for realizing that you needed to put your own well-being first sometimes.

      “It’s a super fine balance I’ve found, being a really good friend, someone who’s supportive and there for everyone when they’re needed, but then also becoming a dumping ground for other people who aren’t willing to realise that you’re also a person with problems and emotions and things you’d like to talk about.” — YES YES YES! I couldn’t agree with you more. Seriously, I need to get this tattooed on my forehead or something. Right now it would read “dumping ground” but one day I hope it will read “healthy human being”.

      I think what we all need to come to terms with is that it’s completely okay to not be there for your friends 100% of the time. There’s this general perception that you’re a bad friend if you are not constantly available 24/7 and that simply isn’t the case. A person who knows it is equally as important to take care of themselves is a STRONG person. I have been trying to drill this into my brain for the past month… but it’s easier said than done sadly. As you say, there is always a sliver of guilt that comes along with putting yourself first.

      Thank you for sharing your own thoughts and experiences with this, I genuinely appreciate it so much. Your insight and continuous support mean the world to me, you have no idea (in other words: I got big luv 4 u). And same goes for you – we can found a “strong one” support club or something haha! xxx

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  2. This post reminds me of a text screenshot that was circling Twitter a little while ago. The screenshot showed a conversation where one of them had said to the other that they were not in the right mindset to help the other person and to be honest, that really stuck with me. Obviously you always want to be there for others but sometimes you are not in the right mind-set to be helping other people as it can make you feel worse and THAT IS OKAY. I think society in general has this attitude that we all have to suffer in silence and be strong but it is okay to break down sometimes and admit that you are not okay. We are all human after-all and honestly by showing this, it makes me care for the person more because I can see that they are not perfect and it makes me feel better because I am not either. This was a very long rambly way of saying that it is okay not to be okay (so over-used but also so true) and to make sure to take time for yourself as well as for others. xx

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  3. I relate to this so much that my heart was aching reading this. I have a mini story, a friend and I have a night class. Mine ends at 8:40 and hers ends at 9:40. I decided to wait for her and texted her so we could go home together since we live by each other. 9:50 rolls around and I’m still waiting. She texts me saying she already left. Usually I’m “strong” in the sense that I don’t voice to people when I’m hurt by something they do. But this time I did and even then I assured her she had done nothing wrong and I hated myself for sparing her feelings when mine weren’t even thought of when she left me waiting. Overall your post was so relatable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Annette – though I am oddly glad/ reassured by hearing that I am not the only one who has felt this, I am sorry that you know this feeling all too well yourself. Thank you for sharing your own experience with this topic with me!

      You have no idea how much I can relate to pushing your own feelings back as a way to spare someone else’s feelings… I do it all the time and, just like you, I regret it afterwards. Because not standing up for yourself truly sucks. In the last couple of weeks I have come to realise that maybe I am not strong at all for hiding my feelings. Maybe being brave enough to SHOW them is the equivalent of strength…here’s to voicing our feelings more often in the future.

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  4. Oh, this is so relatable. I completely understand where you’re coming from, and I’ve felt the same way only too often. There are times when you need to understand that taking a break from being the supportive friend is something necessary to your mental well being.

    And there may be times when those friends might not take it very well that we cannot be there for them in that moment, but as long as we understand how important that mental space is, it’s alright. Everyone needs time and space to heal and recuperate.

    My friends and I have taken to consciously being aware of our own need for mental space and talking about it openly, so if I’m going through something and rant about it, my friend would just say that she supports me and is there for me, but isn’t in the right mind to actively help me solve a problem, or be an active listener. And even that little bit of moral support goes for miles in a relationship where all of us know we care about each other.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are lucky to have such an open/honest/aware/understanding friend group! I have a few friends who would understand this 100% but with some… I am not too sure. Dynamics between yourself and friends can be so drastically different from each other at times. I have friendships where we first bonded over me simply being the listener for most of the time. With those friendships in particular, with the balance / dependency always being slightly off… I do wonder how they would react if I were to directly tell them that I simply can’t handle listening to them at the moment (but that I love them of course). I will try to ease them in to it, we’ll see how it goes. Thank you for sharing this wonderful insight and your own experience with this. It has given me a lot to think about and I really appreciate it, Arshia!

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  5. Love this so much Fiona, it’s so relatable (as your posts always are). I think sometimes you do need to put yourself first and realise that you’re entitled to a break and a little healing too, we need to stop feeling guilty for “letting others down” because we’re so used to being strong for everyone else, sometimes we need to be strong for ourselves and allow others to be strong for us too. If people are true friends etc. they should understand and I hope we’re all in a space where we’re surrounded by those types of people .xxx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “we need to stop feeling guilty for ‘letting others down'” – Chloe, you are speaking from my soul. I struggle with this all. the. time. So often I feel like I am disappointing someone because my priorities are somewhere else at the moment. The guilt that goes along with feeling this way is horrible. It’s the kind of guilt that eats you up from the inside. Realistically I know that I cannot tear myself in half in order to be there for everyone at the same time but still… Being aware of the fact and actually believing it in your core are two entirely different things. xx

      Liked by 1 person

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