Do you Act at Being Tough?

I was checking Facebook this morning and came across a video of an interview with Al Pacino, I think it was from 1983, and he was asked ‘Are you tough?’

His response was that he didn’t know.

‘Getting through life you’ve gotta be tough I guess; we’re all tough.’ He said ‘How do you mean tough’ he asked the interviewer.

‘Coping’ was the response.

‘I think what comes from toughness is because you’re trying to cover something usually sensitivity, certain vulnerability, that’s toughness.’

I’m currently working on an on-line version of my Living a Life Without Limits programme, and an area I’ve been exploring is our feelings of self-worth.  Most of us have low levels of self-worth, which comes with thoughts that we could always do better and sometimes coupled with a good thrashing with the baseball bat of self-blame (my personal favourite).

I recently read a book called ‘I Heart Me’ by David R. Hamilton PhD and in it he shows three stages of self-love.

Stage 1 is ‘I’m not enough’ or ‘I’m not good enough’.  This is the stage that most people are in, although many of us don’t always realise it because it lurks in our subconscious; when we do realise it, we spend a lot of time trying to convince ourselves and others that we’re not in it, that we’re fine and have our shit together.  It’s the stage where we pretend, where we put on a mask to fit in, it’s also where people can take advantage of us because we give off subtle signs of uncertainty or a lack of confidence that can be preyed on.

Stage 2 is ‘I’ve had enough’, and this is the transition point; as it suggests, it’s where we’ve had enough of putting on the act, of playing small, and being taken advantage of.  This stage is usually accompanied by passion and sometimes anger; it’s kind of like releasing the Hulk!

Stage 3 is ‘I am enough’, almost a state of enlightenment, where we feel at peace with ourselves, we stop the charade, we’re more accepting and life seems less stressful; we accept challenges as part of life, and we don’t waste energy in putting on the mask that is the person we think we should be, or others want us to be.

So, where does toughness come into all this?

Basically, we tend to act tough to cover our perceived weaknesses; as Al Pacino said, we use it to hide our sensitive side and our vulnerabilities.

Most of us have grown up in environments where the belief is to not show emotions, especially those linked to sensitivity; boys don’t cry, man up, don’t be such a girl.

A lot of male role models are tough, muscular individuals who can kick butt and survive hardships with strength, shrugging them off with a quippy one liner.  Would James Bond have looked so tough if he sat and had a good cry when he was captured by the villain?  Would John McClane have defeated the bad guys if he was emotionally vulnerable?

This means that women are allowed to be emotional, right? Not really, it’s more accepted, but be too overly emotional and you’re branded as hysterical or a drama queen!  On the other hand, if a woman does act tough, they’re seen as aggressive and even arrogant.  Sometimes you just can’t win!

Why is it so difficult to just be who we want to be?  Who created these rules of how we should act?  Maybe our ancestors were worried that not having a social norm would lead to chaos?

The problem with putting on an act is that we’re not being true to ourselves; it’s exhausting having to perform all day, every day, we often end up sticking with it all the time because it saves having to remember who we need to act for and who we don’t.

As humans, we’ve been given this wonderful array of emotions which means they must all serve a purpose somewhere, so why have some become more acceptable and others in need of suppression?

The start of it comes from our childhood, where we learn from our parents and other adults how to behave, what’s acceptable behaviour and what isn’t; but hey, it’s not their fault, they’re just passing on what they were taught.

Those beliefs are then reaffirmed when we’re in school and even more so when we become adults.  After experiencing panic attacks at work, I was described by a manager as being more sensitive, and it wasn’t meant in a good way, she wasn’t applauding my sensitivity, it meant I couldn’t do the job as well as those perceived to be tougher.

Luckily, the conversation is changing and emotions like sensitivity are becoming more acceptable and the perception of words like tough are changing; I couldn’t do the work I’m doing now if I kept telling everyone to toughen up; empathy and understanding are just as important, if not more so.

Could you imagine what would happen if every time you went to the doctor, they gave you a slap and told you to toughen up!

Yes, we do all show signs of toughness, and it is important, but I prefer words like resilience, perseverance, and determination; you don’t have to be a muscle-bound alpha male to achieve these, you can just be you, and that’s the most important thing to remember, being you.

We are all created so differently, there is no one out there who is exactly like you, you are unique, so let’s celebrate that. 

Being yourself will relieve so much stress and pressure, imagine the freedom of being you?  People would like you for who you are, not what you pretend to be.  Have a look at your friends, I bet the closest ones have seen you at your best and your worst, and they have accepted both, that’s true friendship because it exists without the act.  How many friends do you have to act in front of?

I’m still in stage 1, where I feel I’m the king of not good enough, however it’s ironic that having a mental breakdown has helped me to be more honest about myself, simply because I find it exhausting and too stressful to pretend to be anything else. 

The thing is that we shouldn’t have to get to that stage before we give up the role of a lifetime.  Those struggling with poor mental health are some of the best actors out there and that’s purely because it’s not acceptable to show the types of emotions linked to disorders such as anxiety and depression, and that needs to change; break a leg and the plaster cast can be worn as a badge of honour, show your emotional vulnerabilities and your set aside until you can pull yourself together and join the show again.

So, how often do you play at being tough?  Is it time to say, ‘I’ve had enough!’

Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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