A few days ago I saw a news report about the novelist Cara Hoffman's appeal to stop calling soldiers heroes. I immediately paid attention because for a long time now I've felt the same, and not only about soldiers. If we call somebody Hero we put them on a pedestal and don't allow them to be human anymore, with all the flaws and so-called weaknesses that all human beings have.
For example, if we tell someone who cares for a sick person, or suffers from an illness, or lost a loved one, or an overwhelmed mother or father, how strong and amazing they are, they usually feel that they have to live up to this image, that they have to be strong and amazing at all times. They feel they are not allowed to be exhausted, sad and fed up, let alone admit it to someone else or even ask for help. It becomes unacceptable and they will feel that they themselves become unacceptable if they show what they really feel. If we call soldiers Heroes we deny them the possibility to speak of their suffering, of the horrors they saw and experienced, whether they lost limbs or not.
If we call any person who lives in a difficult situation amazing, marvellous, admirable etc. we rob them of the chance to express how they truly feel and we push them into loneliness. Many people around us run on fumes and constantly live on the verge of a breakdown but still feel that they have to put on a brave face. They feel that they should be able to handle their situation better, and they feel guilt and shame about the fact that they can't really live up to the expectation to be strong and marvellous.
Maybe you are one of them? If so, don't put up with it anymore. Refuse the role of the Hero or Heroine, of the Superman or Superwoman. Give yourself permission to be honest and to ask for help. If you know someone who is trapped in the role of the Hero, let them know that you understand if they feel fed up and desperate sometimes. If we idealise people we push them into isolation. If we say: "I could never do what you do, I could never cope with what you cope with" we imply that they are stronger than we are. But they are not. We just make them feel that they should be. And if someone does show their true feelings, don't try to console them by pointing out the good things in their lives; don't try to make them feel better. If you show that you understand how they feel, the will feel a little better, just because you listened.
If you find yourself relating to the issues in this article, such as feeling trapped or as though you have to be a "pillar of strength", counselling can provide an outlet to help you explore your feelings and to find ways to move forwards.
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