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Why Being Weak Is Actually the Key to Becoming Strong

Open Heart

“To share your weakness is to make yourself vulnerable; to make yourself vulnerable is to show your strength.” ~Criss Jami

“You have to be strong.”

Those were five words I heard without end after my father was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer on Black Friday 2012—a day that couldn’t have been more aptly named.

In the months following, I marched, ran, skipped, crept, stumbled, crawled, and dragged myself through the darkest valley of my life. This was uncharted territory. This was an unprecedented season for us.

My dad was a fitness junkie, after all; running and biking every morning, daily performing aerobics like a champ, and going for the occasional swim when the mood struck. The possibility of cancer had never arrested our attention—why would it?

Like so many others, I believed I’d have my dad for decades to come, that I would see his salt-and-pepper hair gradually transform to powder white as the crinkles stretching from the corner of his eyes grew in number.

The usual questions that plague souls affected by cancer surfaced, as if some clarion call had gone out to the nether world. Questions like:

Will the surgery be successful? (It was). Will the oncologist order chemotherapy? (He did).

When will this end? When will my dad know peace and strength again? When will our lives go back to normal?

The answers to those questions were a long time coming, until my dad was moved to ICU and put on life support in early September 2013, his organs failing.

“Be strong,” came that ceaseless whisper. “Be strong,” well-wishers said. “Be strong. Be strong. Be strong.”

And in the nine months leading up to that ICU transfer, I had been strong. I had remained unmoved and unaffected by any bad news, choosing to believe in a different outcome—besides, one must yet hope.

I was like the unshakeable lighthouse tower you often see in paintings, standing tall in the midst of a tumultuous storm, gray skies, roaring waves, and angry sea breeze everywhere.

Then one day, the feat of being that strong tower was simply too much to bear. I’d built a dam to keep back the emotions that threatened to overwhelm me but that dam couldn’t possibly stand the weight of those emotions forever. It gave way.

I sobbed like I’d never sobbed before in my mother’s arms. And so long as we’re being honest, I’d say I sobbed every day thereafter.

This expression I’d so feared, this display of vulnerability I had for so long resisted and avoided had at long last caught up with me. Yet I felt no shame or embarrassment. I felt no anger with myself or disappointment in my supposed weakness.

Instead, I felt other things.

Release.

Freedom.

Peace.

Love.

It was then that I realized that in my efforts to be strong, I had been denying myself the very feelings I’d wanted to experience all along.

Too often, we build walls around ourselves in the midst of grief, pain, or challenges, inflating ourselves up to be proud people who don’t need anyone’s help, people who are getting by just fine, people who are strong enough to weather the storm on their own.

We close ourselves off to feeling anything in the name of self-preservation. We distance ourselves from emotions that by all means scare us because of how weak, vulnerable, incapable, or unable they may make us seem to our loved ones.

However, it’s only through allowing ourselves to embrace that weakness and it’s only through allowing ourselves to feel those daunting emotions that we invite love in to strengthen us.

It’s actually a beautiful thing for someone to be weak for that reason, because in that weakness, we rely and depend on others to build us up again, to make us strong, to comfort and encourage us.

An incredible bond is established between you and another person when you embrace your weakness. In that moment, transparency, honesty, and open communication win.

Not only have you both reached a new level of personal growth and grown too in your intimacy, but you’ve also given that individual an incredible gift: the opportunity to demonstrate their friendship, loyalty, and love for you by being there, by being a friend, by being present, and by enacting love.

When we bottle our emotions in and suppress them, however, never letting anyone see into our soul, then we are denying others an amazing opportunity to show up for us.

We are denying our relationships the opportunity to expand, evolve, and grow to a new level. And we are essentially stopping the flow of love between us and others—life-saving love that has the potential to give us more strength than we ever thought possible.

So I made the decision to embrace my emotions and whatever weaknesses happened to visit me, to welcome the vulnerable position that that would put me in.

If someone wanted to hold me while I cried, I let them.

If someone wanted to be a listening ear, I spoke from the depths of my heart.

If someone wanted to take me away from the hospital scene for a good meal, I didn’t decline the invitation.

If someone asked me how I was doing, I answered with honesty, even if it meant admitting that I was hurting and devastated.

Again and again, I felt the flow of love between myself and those around me. It was uplifting and intoxicating; empowering and encouraging. It was love like I’d never seen it in action before—the type of love that can only be perfected in our very weaknesses.

I had a role model throughout it all: my dad.

I don’t even wish I could tell you he faced cancer stone-faced and unmoved by the unending dirges of prognoses.

Instead, when the pain was too much to bear, when the figurative nights were blackest, when there seemed to be no light penetrating the all-encompassing darkness of cancer, my dad would cry, he would pray for one normal day, and most especially: he would openly talk with me about the weakness he felt.

But it wasn’t weakness I saw. In those moments, when he opened himself so entirely and became vulnerable before me, I saw only strength. I saw only courage. And on the morning my dad’s heart beat for the last time, the sun laying bricks of gold across his hospital room while I held his hand in mine, I saw only inspiring beauty.

Even now, as I write this, it’s with tears painting trails down my face. I embrace what we might call weakness because I know now that it’s in my weakness that I find strength. It’s in my struggle that I find determination; it’s in my challenges that I find perseverance; and it’s in my vulnerability that I find love, peace, and the will to go on.

Have you been spending too much time hiding behind walls in an effort to be strong? Have you been distancing yourself from others, fearing they will think you weak? Have you kept your emotions at arm’s length because they intimidate you, scare you, or fill you with uncertainties?

It’s time to give yourself permission to feel. It’s time to embrace the very vulnerability you shun and in doing so, discover the love, joy, and peace that waits for you on the other side.

In the end, it’s actually through our weaknesses that we become strong again.

In loving memory of my dad, ‘Bear.’ 04-01-1952 – 09-15-2013 

Photo by Bethauthau

Avatar of Lily Velez

About Lily Velez

Lily Velez is a Certified Life Strategies Coach, award-winning speaker, spiritual mentor, and the author of an upcoming novel about forgiveness. To find out what dead weights may be holding you back from the fulfilling life you want, Lily invites you to access the free quiz at her website (www.lilyvelez.com).

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  • mahesh

    mede my day….thanks for this….

  • Sahil

    May your dad rest in peace !

  • http://www.motivationmy.com/ Syafique

    Wow.. this is such an inspiring post… It’s true… sometimes we have to appear strong because it is expected of us to do so (by others) OR the very shame to appear weak in front of others. As I am entering my late twenties, I’m allowing myself to FEEL whatever I am feeling and going through and that it is ok to appear ‘weak’ in front of my loved ones… sometimes they’re more than willing to lend an ear or help.

    Tq for this post!

  • Juniper

    Though I greatly enjoy tinybuddha posts, I normally do no comment on them but this is such an important lesson that I had say thank you posting. Learning to show vulnerability and let others know I was hurting was something I had to learn when I lost my brother several years ago. The first few years I thought that as the only child living that I had to be strong for my parents, that my pain was nothing compared to their pain so I rarely talked about it. I worried that people would think I was a bad daughter & felt pressured to be ‘over it already’. Eventually the bottles up emotions poured out and I was amazed at the compassion, paitence and tenderness my friends showed me. It was only by letting myself show the pain that I began to recover & make peace with my lost.

  • Willow Lucas

    Thanks for the reminder, beautifully written.

  • Liz Molitor

    oh wow, beautiful in every way, both the story itself and in your masterful retelling of it and what you’ve come to learn. thank you lily, for being vulnerable and for being a model for us. <3

  • charliegriefer

    I had a very similar experience when my six year old son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. http://secondhalfcharlie.com/2013/08/22/the-power-of-vulnerability/

  • Laura Slakey

    Absolutely beautiful. Thank you.

  • Cat

    Thanks

  • Lily

    Juniper, thank you for sharing your story. I’m so sorry to hear about the loss you experienced but encouraged by the strength you had to become weak and begin recovery. Blessings to you!

  • Lily

    Thank you for your kind words, Liz. It’s an honor to share with the community. Be blessed!

  • Lily

    You’re most welcome, Cat. All the best~

  • Lily

    You’re very welcome, Laura. Thank you for such kind words. Have a wonderful day!

  • Lily

    Thank you, Willow. Be blessed!

  • Lily

    I just read your post. Beautifully written; brought tears to me eyes. I hope you don’t mind that I shared it on my twitter page. I loved the illustration of wearing armor since, after all, we’re supposed to be ‘warriors’ during times like this, right? I wish you and your son all the best. Many blessings to you~

  • Lily

    Thank you, Sahil. He’s certainly enjoying paradise now! :0)

  • Lily

    You are most welcome, Mahesh. Be blessed!

  • charliegriefer

    Hi Lily: I’m glad you liked it. Please feel free to share. I wrote it in the hopes that it would help people, so I’m happy to see people share it around. Thank you!

  • Lily

    Hi, Syafique! Thank you for the kind words. You’re right… we either try to be strong because it’s expected of us or because we’re ashamed to feel weakness. But we’re only human, and it’s okay to embrace our emotions. I think it leads to a more authentic and fulfilling life. All the best on your journey! :0)

  • growthguided

    Allowing yourself to experience the release from an emotional blockage is a joyous lesson to be learned.

    Well done Lily =)

  • Lisa Gardner

    {{{{{{{HUGS}}}}}}}
    This is the most eloquent and beautifully honest article I’ve ever read on Tiny Buddha. I once wrote an article for here and said the exact same thing: give your friends the gift of being your friend. After years of pretending I was OK and keeping up the facade that I could do anything, that realization changed my life. How could I say “I can do anything” when the one thing I couldn’t do was to open up and show my human vulnerabilities?? I’m currently going through a small loss — nothing like yours — and feeling the need to present the image that I’m OK. But deep down, I’m not OK. I will be eventually, but right now I’m sad and lonely. Once again, Tiny Buddha shows me the exact message I need to hear at the precise moment I need to hear it.
    {{{{{{{MORE HUGS}}}}}}}

  • sarvij

    I felt very sad reading about your Dad Lily. My Dad is my bedrock. I don’t even know you, but I feel like I would have hugged you and cried my heart out during the sadness.

  • Sean S

    This was a wonderful article to read today. I am bound to bed today having undergone brain surgery 2 weeks ago in attempts to cure the Epilepsy that has gripped my life for the past 15 years.

    Right now I am weak. I am vulnerable. I have to ask people for help. I can’t do it all myself. I must go down this path if I am to have any hope of being free and stronger than the Epilepsy.

    Thank you!

  • sarvij

    Similar feelings here Lisa, though definitely things aren’t unmendable for me. My friends have given me the support I never thought I would get. They help me stand up, feel better, smile and get to work. It is strange how people that you expect by default to understand you and your feelings without any effort fail to do so, but people who you least expect to be able to support you and know your situation know exactly what you’re going through, and help you and shower their kindness on you. It gives hope. It tells me that it’s all fine, part of life. Much love to you Lisa, things will get better, you will feel happiness. I hope and pray that it happens soon and often.

  • Katerine Luna

    Lily Velez: This post was perfectly timed… Absolutely inspiring for me at this moment. Thanks for writing this in such a beautiful way. May your Dad’s soul rest in peace.

  • Just A. Guy

    Beautiful! Lost my Dad in a similar manner last year.
    Too often “Be strong” means “Don’t trouble me with your emotions”.

  • Veronica Nguyen

    What an inspirational story. Thank sooo much for sharing and reminding me that being weak is okay.I am sorry about your dad. Sending you many blessings to you and your family!

  • Rodrigo

    This is one of the most important lessons in life. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words. They come to my life in the time when I need them the most.

  • LIly

    Exactly! And the waters that flow once the dam is removed are full of such healing! :0)

  • Lily

    Hi Lisa, thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your story. Being vulnerable is such a challenge, isn’t it? I think it’s a regular lesson and when we just allow ourselves to be weak, we grow so much! As well as grow in our relationships with others. It’s something I continue to learn. :0) I wish you the best in your current season! {{{HUGS BACK!}}}

  • Lily

    Thank you, Sarvij, for sharing. It’s amazing the type of support network that surrounds you when you allow yourself to express need. It definitely gives you hope. :0) Many blessings to you~

  • Lily

    Thank you, Sarvij. Isn’t that the beauty of life, that a story can connect two complete strangers and allow them to feel for each other? :0) Now we are friends, and I thank you for your friendship! Be blessed!

  • Lily

    Dear Sean, your strength is remarkable! I’m sending you thoughts of encouragement, strength, and healing. You’re right–in order to be strong, we have to be vulnerable enough to let those we love know we need their help. It’s an ongoing lesson. Keep being stronger than the epilepsy, my friend. All the best to you!

  • Lily

    Thank you for your kind words, Katerine. My hope is it will immortalize my dad’s legacy as he rests in paradise. Many blessings to you, and stay inspired! :0)

  • Lily

    Thank you, Veronica! I’m sending you blessings, too. You’ve got it: being weak is perfectly okay (and normal)! It’s all apart of the human experience, and an ongoing lesson. Let’s let love flow freely! :0)

  • Lily

    Very true, unfortunately. I rather embrace my weakness, because then I’m feeling my emotion and letting the love flow freely. I’m sorry to hear about your own loss, and I’m sending thoughts of encourage, peace, comfort, and hope your way. All the best~

  • Lily

    Hi, Rodrigo. Thank you as well. I hope the article is encouraging and uplifting to you. Be blessed, and stay well on your journey!

  • Jen

    I am struggling to recover from a lengthy battle with an eating disorder and often feel ashamed about the fact that I’m not “over it” yet. Reading this really helps– especially the paragraph reminding me that “it’s in my weakness that I find strength. It’s in my struggle that I find determination; it’s in my challenges that I find perseverance; and it’s in my vulnerability that I find love, peace, and the will to go on.”

    So I’m not a failure that I’m struggling– I’m strong and determined. Thank you so much for helping me to remember that.

  • Lily

    Hi Jen, thank you for sharing your story. You’re not a failure at all! Just by continuing to show up for yourself and try, you’re showing remarkable determination. Keep on moving forward, my friend! Many blessings to you~

  • Rose

    I am crying while reading this… feels like I am reading my life story. Thanks for sharing.

  • Oyster

    You certainly have the power of words, this was beautifully written. You will never know how much you words inspired me to think differently today. For that, thank you.

  • Jyotsna

    Beautiful indeed..Thanks for sharing Lily !!

  • Jhai

    The first time i felt the words to be closer was lori , i have read so amny articles this one was really close to my heart to find me answers inside myself removing my guilt ..THANK U SO MUCH LILY!! MAY GOD BLESS U MORE AND MORE HELPING MORE

  • http://www.woodlandmanitou.blogspot.com/ heidi.barr

    Thank you for sharing your story, Lily. A good illustration of how embracing what is, however painful, can be so healing, and so beautiful.

  • lv2terp

    Beautiful post!!!!!!! Thank you for sharing your story, and the importance of vulnerability! I love when you said…”When we bottle our emotions in and suppress them, however, never
    letting anyone see into our soul, then we are denying others an amazing
    opportunity to show up for us”. :)

  • suman84

    I always tell my parents to allow people to help them as they should allow their good karma to be returned to them. Too often they are there for others but decline help others offer them. Funny enough I find it hard to take my own advice and end up replicating them! This article beautifully shows and reminds me to allow others energies to help us heal and become stronger, that part about the dam built against emotions describes me so well, I find it hard to overcome this proudy bravado… :( yet am such an emotional person…

  • Jeevan/Mirthu/Gupt

    Sorry to hear about your loss…:(. This was truly touching & beautiful…Thank You for sharing!

  • http://www.livingaha.com/ David Bederman

    Lily’s right Jen! Nobody’s perfect and many spiritual teachings say that in fact this world was designed to be imperfect. This idea actually changed my life when i learned it because it changes our focus from thinking we need to be perfect, to understanding that the world was actually created as a stage for neverending growth and discovery. Our challenges are only the fabric for our discoveries to take place. Always growing and becoming better every day is the reason we are all here!

    Prof. Tal Ben Shahar from Harvard even says that striving for “perfection” actually makes us feel worse, because it’s unattainable. Perfection is a mirage, so your feeling bad for not being “over it” might be wishing for a perfect image of yourself?

    The people who should really feel “ashamed” are those who have created the distorted perceptions of “beauty” that drive so many people towards eating disorders in the first place!
    Anyhow, you my friend should be congratulated – and you should congratulate yourself every day (no joke!).
    “Look how far I’ve come!”. Not only will it help you grow stronger, you will become a source of strength for others who face the same challenge…
    Supporting your from afar!

  • onewithnature

    Thank you for sharing your energy.

  • Harmony

    A really beautiful and moving post. I cried as a I read it. This is the essence of what it means to be human–showing our vulnerability.

    It’s funny how whenever I read a tinybuddha article, it seems to be exactly what I needed to hear that day. I have been trying to be ‘strong’ for the last year and a half, going through sudden early menopause with symptoms which have been extremely frustrating. I felt I could not share openly and honestly with my friends, family and my husband. I felt that no one was really interested in hearing how I was really feeling and how I was really struggling some days.

    Now I am believing more and more that this belief was only in my head. Not showing my true emotions, I thought, kept me safe from the possibility of rejection. If someone saw my weakness, maybe they would love me less or worse–maybe they would leave. It takes true courage to open yourself and share real emotions and there is the possibility that someone may not be able to handle hearing them. But it is only by taking this risk that we can know the depths of love.

    Many thanks!

  • http://www.lifewhack.com/ Peter Ewin Hall

    It takes strength to acknowledge our weaknesses.

  • Jay Jack

    Wow…I can TOTALLY empathize with you!! My father passed when I was 15. I was also there watching his last breath. “It’s a Wonderful Life” was on the TV in the ICU unit (which was his favorite Christmas movie), and it was a sunny 45 degrees outside in the middle of what was a VERY cold Detroit, Michigan winter. As he lay taking his last breaths and the doctors unhooking the machines, I promised him to “take care” of his wife, and my sisters, as I was the only male child. I did for years; even prematurely, but desperately dropping out of high school and worked two jobs at a few fast food places to help around home. After years of doing for everyone else (family, friends, church leaders, teachers…seemingly everyone needed energy from me throughout my 20′s.
    I realized I put myself on the back burner. In that, I became depressed and harbored a lot of resentment towards others because I felt like I did soo much for others, but they never really looked out for me. I got bitter and that turned me “cold” towards life…

    Last week (I am now 30 years old), I understood that I’ve had to let that negative energy go…I’ve had to share very deep emotions with my wife-things that I was hurt, depressed, and angry about. Those emotions make me weak. To share them means I have to face my weakness–however, after I reminded myself, and found peace in the thought that those fears, weaknesses, and vulnerable moments didn’t kill me, I saw the light. Everyday is one step forward when strengthening yourself by being open about your weaknesses; continue embracing them, learning from them, and turning them into opportunities to grow in life. :-)