When You’ve Been Strong For Too Long


When someone has had to be strong for a long time, the chance increases of feeling weary, overwhelmed, and, if only deep down, fragile. There are many reasons why people feel the need to be strong: it can be a way of preventing hurt, earning approval and/or supporting someone who’s depending on them.

Strength can be a good characteristic and it’s one that’s often admired. It’s about doing what needs to be done regardless of feelings. Someone who’s said to have a ‘strong will’ is not easily deterred, and strength of character is often linked to heroism.

However, like anything, strength can be misused and misunderstood. Someone who beats a helpless person is misusing their strength, for example. Someone who feels they have to do everything alone has also misunderstood what strength is. But we most commonly misuse it when we deny ourselves the right to have healthy emotions altogether.

There are three main examples of out of balance strength:

Refusing Help – The Martyr’s Syndrome

When someone is refusing help or unable to ask for it even when it’s the rational and practical thing to do, it’s likely they have a problem with appearing ‘weak’. They think that doing everything themselves, even at the expense of their own health and happiness, makes them ‘strong’. In reality it’s more about what they fear: something going wrong and they being blamed (causing them to want to control everything), and/or a fear of being vulnerable, for example.

They may have legitimate reasons for these fears – past hurts are usually on top of the list – but for a good relationship to function both parties need to be vulnerable on some level and accept the risk of mistakes. For a martyr who has these fears, they ultimately push people away, which then only increases feelings of isolation and weariness. People may see them as strong, but they’re most likely to see them as controlling and unreasonable.

Doing Everything for Everyone – The Rescuer’s Syndrome

Supporting others to the point where it leaves someone emotionally and physically drained also suggests their use of strength may have gone out of balance. It’s important to be strong for those we love when they are hurting and/or can’t be strong for themselves, but it should never be permanent or damage your health. If this is you, perhaps you feel the need to earn approval, are trying to distract yourself from issues in your own life, or have a false sense of responsibility.

You may have someone depending on you or who you are responsible for, but either way you can’t give what you don’t have. If you want or are required to give out, then you must make sure something is coming in. This means seeking support, staying connected with others and remembering that it’s okay, if not imperative, for you to have someone to turn to as well.  

Taking it Out on Others – The Bully’s Syndrome

Another example of out of balance strength is when someone, in an effort to maintain a strong image, resorts to taking things out on others. This may mean having a negative attitude, being overly critical, humiliating or dominating others, and/or playing ‘power games’.

While those with a martyr syndrome are generally defensive, bullies in this sense are more aggressive. This is still often to keep people away and/or to avoid facing ‘weak’ emotions such as sadness, fear, disappointment and hurt. What makes this syndrome particularly dysfunctional is that it causes others to feel pain even when they don’t deserve it. 

Strength in Balance

A truly strong person is resilient in tough times and an inspiration to others, but they also realise that experiencing emotions, being vulnerable, drawing the line when necessary, being open to making mistakes and admitting they need others is not a weakness, but in fact the very essence of their strength.

If you are feeling weary of being strong and/or you resonate with one of above syndromes, think about what changes you can make to maintain strength in balance, and you may find that not only do you feel more positive and healthier, but that people respect you more too.