When I was a little girl, I cried a lot. It was the only way I knew how to deal with my big feelings. When I was fourteen and finally made it into the youth group at my church, that was the thing that was said to me at my first official youth meeting – I remember when you used to cry, all the time. And I did. I cried about everything – when I was angry, or sad, or frustrated, or to get attention, to get my sisters and cousins to play with me. And when I was happy or excited, or tired, or didn’t know what else to feel.
That never went away – even still, I cry in reaction to so many things. I’ve learned how to manage my feelings a little bit better but I still have to fight tears on a regular basis. I look forward to sad movies or books that will give me a cathartic cry. I have been known to schedule them in, to swap notes with my friends about what movies will provoke what kind of tears.
I am soft. I am sensitive. I take things personally. I compartmentalize poorly; I changed careers because I couldn’t handle the reality of what I studied. I will think about offhanded remarks for weeks or months or years. The old childhood comeback “I’m rubber, you’re glue” never applied to me – everything you say will not bounce off me and stick to you. I am the glue.
For many years I worked hard to present myself with hard edges. Big walls surrounded me. I hid my heart and my feelings as best I could because I was so afraid of someone noticing my softness and using it against me. And people did. It was turned into a weapon against me. So I doubled down. I worked harder to be hard. To be a “Tough”stiga. To not let anyone get to me. I resented my softness because it was weakness.
I didn’t know what to do, the first time somebody called me soft and meant it as a compliment.
It took a while for this to sink in. To hear this thing about me that I hated be celebrated was hard for me to understand. When I countered with “but what about…” there was always a response. It made me feel seen. It made me feel safe.
Maybe being soft does not make you the fluffy carpet that will be walked on but the warm blanket you look forward to snuggling with. Maybe it is not a failure to grow callous but a choice to keep feeling. Maybe it’s okay that my heart hurts so often, or that criticisms stick with me. Maybe my softness is not a weakness, after all, but the gentleness and compassion I admire in other people.
I am soft. I am sensitive. I feel deeply and take things personally. I cry, a lot, at everything. I work really hard to make my loved ones feel safe and cared for. I will keep your words close to my heart. I want to be someone’s warm hug and cup of hocho on a sad day.
Maybe I can be all of those things and be strong, too.
I’ve had a Metric song stuck in my head for days. “Hard to be soft/Tough to be tender.” Maybe that’s the truth of it.