How to Use Your Gentleness as Your Strength

How to Use Your Gentleness as Your Strength

photo of my dog in the woods

“Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.”
St. Francis de Sales

I’m not always gentle. But I love to be.

My mother-in-law was in town for a few weeks after we had our baby. My step mother told me that she warned her ‘not to be fooled by Liz, she may come across as sweet and shy on the outside but don’t think you can push her around, she stands strong for what she wants.’ 

The very next day my friend told me that one of her friends said to her, ‘I can’t picture Liz as a lawyer, she’s just soooo sweet.’  My friend quickly corrected her saying ‘she is, but don’t be fooled, she’ll take you down if you mess with her.’ 

While I found these back to back stories to be kinda funny, I wondered what the shareable message was. And which am I, sweet or fierce? Can I really be both simultaneously?

People don’t usually associate being gentle with being strong. And I get it. But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if there’s really anything stronger than being gentle

I used to think that to be a good person, a gentle person, I had to put up with everything, be nice no matter how I was treated, no matter how harmful the environment, no matter how unhappy I was inside. Now I know that in order for gentleness to be my true strength, I need to show it, and myself, the proper respect. 

Personally, I view gentleness as a choice, a powerful one. I choose to be gentle, but that doesn’t mean I’m a pushover. And by making gentleness a conscious choice, I am making it my strength, instead of allowing it to make me a victim.   

When I’m able to be gentle with others, I know I’m with my people, because I get to be me, at my best, at my most peaceful, at my most helpful, at my strongest.   

When I’m with those who make my gentleness fade, who place me on guard, who make me abrasive, or who transform my being gentle into a self-inflicting wound, I know I’ve strayed off course. I am no longer with my people, I am no longer in a healthy environment, and I am no longer at my best. 

I view gentleness as a barometer. Environments or people that don’t let it thrive get quickly avoided. Environments that allow it to flourish get indulged upon. But it took me years to respect my gentleness in this way.

Like most people, I haven’t always been surrounded by gentleness. And in many ways I’m grateful for that. Maybe you can never fully appreciate the power of something if you haven’t experienced it’s opposite. It’s because of this that I choose gentleness whenever possible, always knowing that fierceness has got my back if I need it.     

One definition of “gentle” is being “free from harshness, sternness, or violence.” When people are harsh, stern or violent with others, they’re coming from a place of weakness. Weakness that leads them to try and control, manipulate, overpower, condescend, criticize, demean, etc. 

When you’re gentle, authentically gentle, you’re not looking to gain power over someone or something, you’re just you, being you, at your best, at your happiest, your most helpful, your most supportive, your most giving, your most inspired. 

I meet so many women who seem to find shame in their gentleness. Shame in their sweetness. And unfortunately many of them have developed their gentleness because they were treated harshly or felt like an outcast at some point in their life. And because their gentleness arose from something bad, it gets casted with the shadow of shame. They forget that gentleness was their choice. 

It’s so easy to be harsh and mean, rash and cold, belittling and demeaning, dark and manipulative; in fact, there’s a laziness to it. It’s a lot harder to be kind; it takes more effort, more restraint, more consistency, more patience, more thoughtfulness, more determination, more soul.

gentleness is beautiful

There’s no shame in gentleness. Gentleness is beautiful, no matter how it arose, as long as it’s accompanied by self-respect. If you were treated wrongly by someone, that’s where the shame lies. The harshness was the disease, your gentleness is the cure, not the other way around. And it must include being gentle with yourself.   

Being gentle doesn’t mean being a pushover, or a pansy, or a doormat. It doesn’t mean letting someone hurt you, manipulate you, control you, or push you around. 

It means putting your best side forward, treating others with kindness, and using your unique strengths to help others. It means accessing all of your potential, all of your grace, all of your ability. It means tapping into your patience, your ability to forgive, your limitless supply of love. It means working hard to rule over your ego, instead of letting your ego rule over you. 

Being gentle is a muscle that you have to strengthen, nurture and respect. It takes work, patience and discipline. But tone that muscle and you’ll learn to appreciate the depth of the strength it can provide.

Being gentle because you choose to be, because you’re in an environment that lets you thrive, because you trust and believe in yourself, that’s when gentleness is a true power.  

Gentleness is a choice. A brave one. And in choosing gentleness, and respecting it, you are boldly accessing your most authentic strengths.

Have you often thought of your own gentleness as a strength or a weakness?

 

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20 Responses to How to Use Your Gentleness as Your Strength

  1. So, how do you be gentle towards someone who is not gentle with you, and you have to be around them? I love this post, but it seems this one question always remains for me.

    • Liz says:

      I understand what you mean Stacey and my response would be that you have to find ways to set boundaries. Emotional boundaries, physical boundaries, mental boundaries. It sometimes takes a lot of work to emotionally separate yourself enough so that you don’t get hurt by someone else’s behavior but it’s necessary in order to protect yourself and so that you don’t lose who you are and who you strive to be in reaction to their behavior. Hope that makes sense. xo

      • Jan says:

        Good advice. I was recently around someone like this. She would ask questions and when given an answer she didn’t agree with (or didn’t understand)she would get angry and abusive. I found that asking her “Do you really want an answer?” was somewhat effective. It tended to calm her (somewhat) or at least let her know that I wasn’t going to be her ‘yes’ girl, and…that I WAS going to give her my answer, my way. If you don’t want to know, don’t ask.

        • Liz says:

          Good tactic Jan! Sometimes we have to get creative in how we deal with others, so we can stay true to ourselves, like you did!

    • By working with dignity and patience. Gentleness is an incredible strength and even if someone is not being gentle with you, you always try to be gentle. In time the persons attitude will change. But be patient in trying to get to this stage. Sometimes when we want something, we want it now, yet in the fullness of time many other things are revealed as to why we need to wait. And when someone is not being gentle, then cloak yourself with dignity.

  2. Jan says:

    Can’t wait to read some wise answers to this question. Thank you for putting it out there.

  3. Kate says:

    This is a wonderful read. Gentleness IS powerful, and it takes strength to own it and utilize it as self-respect. Thank you for that reminder.

  4. Suzanne says:

    Beautiful post (and timely, for me). Part of gentleness also involves approaching someone who has hurt you in an honest, sincere attempt to strengthen your relationship with that person and perhaps allow the other person to heal. (The opposite of gentleness in this case would be to storm off and fume indefinitely or publicly rage against the person who caused the harm, neither of which would help anyone.)

    My husband and I have three people (sadly, his family) who have been increasingly hurtful to us over the last three years. (They are master scapegoaters.) We assume they think they can overpower us since we are gentle, kind, giving, and forgiving people. The more honesty we’ve given them and the more boundaries we’ve set, the worse they’ve become, and we are now backing away from these sadly toxic relationships. We remain open to the possibility that they will change some day, but it’s clear to us that they have their own serious emotional issues to work through, and we are no longer interested in being a target for their bad behavior.

    My hope is that our distance will force them to look more deeply and honestly at themselves, so we can reconcile. In the meantime, we choose to protect ourselves, our own family, and yes, our gentleness, as it truly is one of our greatest strengths. It’s a difficult decision to walk away, especially from family, but we know it’s necessary and right.

    Thank you so much for this, Liz!

    • Liz says:

      Suzanne, thank you so much for sharing this story. I hear so much bravery in your words and in your decision to create a distance with your husband’s family. You clearly put a lot of thought, love and patience into that decision, as opposed to just storming off with anger like you said. It’s so hard when it’s family but protecting yourself and your own close family and who you are as people has to take priority. You clearly made your decision with love, not ego, and I think that makes you incredibly wise and brave.

      Lots of love to you and your husband!

  5. Metta says:

    Using “gentleness as a barometer” is not something I’ve thought of before, but it makes complete sense (for me). I can see when I feel in a safe environment I don’t feel prickly or on guard, yet when I’m not in a safe environment I feel the need to defend myself at every turn. No gentleness there. Food for thought…

    In those situations where I can’t move into gentleness, feel the peace and safety I need to be my true self, I can use that knowing to create the necessary boundary to maintain my peace of mind without losing integrity by my tendency to get prickly.

    • Liz says:

      So glad this made sense to you Metta. The more we see gentleness as a powerful choice, the easier it is to create that boundary that let’s us stay true to ourselves even when we’re in environments that trigger our prickliness – great word & love your name by the way! xo

  6. Dawn Lanham says:

    So I just found your blog through a google search earlier today, researching stuff about being introverted…I totally resonate with everything you have to say! I have been trying to be someone I'm not for so long; trying to be more outgoing and extroverted, and less quiet in general but I love how you believe in embracing these things and using them to be best version of the person you are! I seriously am feeling so much less stressed about trying to change my "flawed" self. I have realized that I am a true introvert and I cannot function without my alone time, and I will learn to embrace my gentleness. thank you and your blog is wonderful 🙂

  7. Nisha says:

    “You don’t” gentleness would also include choosing environments and people that support it. It is a life path, not just a personality type. That’s my opinion at least. I have tried to maintain myself when in hostile environments and I am yay going to say pretty much point blank that it is almost impossible to do. You have to join forces with others who support the effort. Although I have seen some people with a tremendous amount of inner strength who do find ways to ground themselves in the midst of the storm, so I am not going to rule that out. Both seem to be options. The world needs more love in it, period. I think that’s for sure, and gentle people are NOT weak, at all. That’s just western bs.

  8. Nisha says:

    And Suzanne yes, when placating a narcissist be prepared for the backlash. You are going to see your gentleness transformed into hatred tenfold before your very eyes. You cannot win that game. You have to cut ties with people like that, period.

  9. In this situation, it is time to use those who you have been gentle to as weapons and make your friends fight for you but if that fails then I suppose it's time to unleash the beast. 😉

  10. Kanwar Kang says:

    Thankyou . . . especially for ". . .It’s so easy to be harsh and mean, rash and cold, belittling and demeaning, dark and manipulative; in fact, there’s a laziness to it."

    Am going through a tough period in my relationship . . . your well written article has given me a clue on where to put the effort. . . and how to stop being lazy.

  11. […] I lose my patience, snap, and feel nothing but bitterness, I know I’ve deviated from the softness that I long for and long to give. And I try to find my way […]

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