The Fear of Strength

One of the things I’ve never fully understood is the concept that someone could be afraid of their own strength or power. This is the kind of charge that’s most often leveled at minorities and women as a way to diagnose the ways that they’ve internalized submission. There have been times that people have suggested I might be afraid to be as smart, as strong, or as vivacious as I truly am, and I think this might be true, but I’ve always assumed that it’s because of internalized misogyny.

Maybe this is horribly obvious to others, but I don’t actually think that’s why I am afraid of being a powerful person. Rather, having strength and power make you dangerous, not only to people that you have something against, but also potentially against people you care about or don’t have any particular feelings about. Think about Godzilla. Even if Godzilla really likes most human beings, he’s highly likely to injure them because SHIT HE’S A GIANT LIZARD. His strength is magnitudes above that of the human beings around him.

Similarly, when you are highly gifted, exceptionally strong, or simply a very forceful personality, you find yourself afraid to act fully yourself because you are magnitudes outside of normal and thus have the potential to accidentally squish people. This might be too metaphorical for some people, so let’s use a more concrete example. My brain works quickly. Significantly more quickly than the vast majority of people that I’ve ever met. (note: this does not mean that I’m actually smarter). Sometimes, when I’m not paying attention, I will jump into a conversation and make an observation about how obvious something is, how easy something is, or how slow it’s taking for something to get done. Oftentimes there will be someone around me for whom these things are not easy or obvious or quickly accomplished, and my offhanded comment (which to me is a bit like observing that I’m currently sitting at a desk in its complexity) tells them clearly that they are smaller, littler, less than I am.

The realization that I have emotionally squished someone feels fairly miserable, and it’s not something that I want to do ever. This is why I have to always monitor myself in regards to my strengths. I think many of us who have one area in which we are particularly gifted do this: we know the ways that we inadvertently demonstrate to others that they are lesser and so we’ve learned to double check ourselves or simply repress our tendencies and natural abilities in order to make space for everyone else.

Part of this fear is simply the fear of being different, which is fairly mundane, but in part it’s something else: it’s that we don’t want to be Lenny. Especially for those of us who have some gift and also tend to love too hard, it’s far too easy to place the needs of others in front of our own. Why does it matter if I’m keeping myself from my full potential, or if I could contribute more to the world by letting myself be smart or strong or forceful? Those things would mean collateral damage. I cannot stand collateral damage. I cannot stand the thought of hurting someone.

Is there any way to be outstanding in some way without the potential for injuring, for accidental damage? I suspect that most individuals who are afraid of their own abilities choose the easy all or nothing route: quash those abilities. Deny them. Pretend they’re not there and when they start to show up then push them away. Much like emotions we deem bad, we can deem abilities fully bad, even if it’s likely that no ability is truly bad but simply can be used well or poorly.

But like emotions, there are more complex ways to interact with a talent that you’re afraid of. You can watch it when it shows up, and then choose how to react. Perhaps you see your brain reaching a conclusion much quicker than anyone else around you, and where you might normally blurt something out, instead you choose to act slightly differently: wait to see what others do, but take satisfaction in knowing that your ability is still there. You can monitor and adjust external behavior without forcing yourself to give up internal abilities or your internal recognition of a talent.

This requires practice though. Just like someone with a great deal of physical strength needs to spend a lot of time in the gym to perfect control of their physical self, so other innate talents require time and effort to perfect and control. My brain is easily capable of jumping from place to place quickly but that natural talent is fairly useless unless I work to put meaningful paths and connections into place in my mind.

This may be a small, and to many people obvious realization, but understanding that what I’m afraid of about myself is not an inevitability goes a little ways towards some self-acceptance. It’s like in Twilight (yes, I’m going there). I have the ability to rip people’s throats out, and a natural tendency towards it, but I can tame that ability. I can be the good vampire (like Edward!).

One thought on “The Fear of Strength

  1. […] it’s that it’s fairly isolating to be in that position, and as I’ve written before it often leads to inadvertently saying things that others interpret as making them look […]

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