The Tender Truth About Women Who Act Tough

car of flowers

You know a tough woman. right?

She’s not all warm and fuzzy. She’s the opposite.

The tough woman looks like she has everything under control, doesn’t she?

Heck, maybe she’s perfect.

A tough woman appears aloof and unapproachable — and she’s so darn talented!  Her standards of excellence are higher than a kite, and people look up to her.  She’s loaded with ability and has more gigabytes of brain power than three or five or eleven other people combined.

Wherever she goes, there is an queenly trail  of “Don’t speak to me darlin’ unless I speak to you.” 

Her unspoken message is very clear.

Like I said, she’s unapproachable.Lavendar Phlox 4

Maybe you’ve even tried to reach out to her, and your attempt is thwarted, awkward, or just awful.  It left a bad taste in your mouth or an ouchy feeling in your heart.

You vow never to do that again.  It’s just not worth it.

So you leave her alone.

That’s easier, right?

Yes, for a while.

And then the eyes of your heart go wandering again and you feel a tug.  You begin to really observe this woman.  You get curious.


Who is she?  Is she happy?  Having a good time?  Is she feeling alone in a sea of people?  Is she really that confident?   Does she have real honest-to-goodness friends?

And you wonder what this woman is like when the cows come home, when the day is over, when the sun sets, when she puts her head on her pillow.

You wonder who she is in her heart of hearts. 

Well, how do you even start a successful conversation with a woman like that?  I mean what do you talk about with that sort of unapproachable person?

Her.  You talk about her.  Of course.

So you get brave and come up with a compliment.  You thank her for something, you offer kudos about her last performance, her last public appearance, her last brilliant idea, her last extraordinary whatever.

She seems to receive the compliment and is gracious, like a queen is gracious, and then it’s over oh so quickly.

You think, “Now what in the heck do I say?”RedPinkOnGreen

She says nothing, of course.  She is waiting.  It’s awkward, and clearly that’s the end of the conversation, so you make it short and sweet and walk away.

You can’t just TALK to her, for heaven’s sake, you can’t ask about her family or a recent vacation.  That’s all too personal.

The whole thing is so unsatisfying.


For the longest time I thought these women were actually tough.  I thought they were thick skinned.

They are not.

In the last 5 years or so, I have had the privilege of knowing some of these tough women as friends, or have done private consulting work with women that would scare most folks.   In sessions, it is my job to walk past the outer protection, the thorny exterior — to see that these women are not who they appear to be.

Women who act tough are not tough at all.

(Neither are men, by the way, but we’ll get to that subject another time.)

Women who are described (or accused) of being tough, cold, aloof or “really together” are that way for a reason.


Why would someone need so much protection?  So much armor?  Why would she need a  personality shield to keep people away?

Well, let me begin with a disclaimer — not all tough women are as I am describing here.  I give you that.  But I have many hours of experience working with women who seem supremely confident, but who are seeking assistance in the area of intimate relationships.

These “tough” women are actually ultra-vulnerable.Sunflower and Black eyed Susan

Rather than allow anyone near their soft underbelly, they construct barricades to protect their sensitivity. They build crisp, clear fortresses around their emotional accessibility to say KEEP OUT.

These women prefer email to talking on the phone.  They might be a lawyer, entertainer, doctor or public speaker with a built-in position of authority or recognized expertise.   When she can turn someone into a coward, or intimidate them, she feels safe.

What a good plan, yes?

Tough women often have a plethora of rules — how life should be, what’s acceptable, and what qualifies as “a job done right.”  They are often opinionated about leaders, men, and how to run the world.

In a way, it’s odd that tough women often dread conflict and confrontation. But they do.  It’s too personal and hurts too much.   Your tough friend might be known for throwing grenades from a distance when her feelings are deeply hurt,  because she abhors hashing out a problem face-to-face.  It’s very scary.

It’s also totally possible that your tough friend might be known for handling conflict really skillfully.  At least on the surface.

When confronted about something personal, or asked to examine herself in a deep way,  she will often make fun of an inquiry, avoid it (not participate fully, sit on the sidelines) or bolt from the room, especially if other people are present.  If she knows it’s coming, she might choose not to show up at all.


There is one thing I know for sure about tough women.

They have hearts as big as the Universe.

B-I-G.    H-U-G-E.    M-A-G-N-I-F-C-E-N-T.   H-E-A-R-T-S.

And — they have wounds.  So they protect themselves with a fail safe firewall. Or ten or twenty.

Here’s the deal.

Tough and aloof is actually an indication of extra tender.

Under that iron-clad exterior is a little girl with a crushed dream.  A little girl who came here to planet Earth knowing who she is, but somewhere along the way, she got talked out of it.  She is often too much to handle, too loud, too determined, too out of control, too bright, too creative, too something-or-other for her parents or the family in which she was born.


So now she is the walking wounded and pretending nothing happened.  And mind you, she’s good at pretending, because she’s good at surviving.

She is brilliant, but harnessed.

She’s got her high beams on low.

She is a free spirit in a cage.3 Zinnias against pavement

She is a social being, a child of the Entire Wide Open Universe, playing a small game, exerting far too much effort and receiving far too little in return.

She spends too much time alone in her room reading.

She’s a diamond in the rough.

And she’s aging.  She’s either going to grab the tiger by the tail and go for it, or she’s going to die unhappy, and she knows it.

She’s a bright star of a person who is hurting, that’s all.  She’s sad or crushed while pretending not to be.

But for the terribly tender, it is easier and safer to put on the sassy hat of competency than to bare one’s soul to someone (or a world) who can’t see her.

She puts on a happy face and keeps the game of life going.  This survival technique keeps the lights on, even though nobody’s really home.


My advice?

Ignore the thorny exterior.  It’s not there for you, it’s for her.  Ignore the steely whatevers.  Smile at her.  Be warm.  Pay no attention to the mask.  Walk right on by.

Love her no matter what she does or how she appears or what she says.

Stand in your love and reach out to her.   You might invite her to do something with you.  If she says no, invite her a few more times.

Be soft about it.  When all else fails, talk with your eyes.  There is no woman on Earth who can’t see another woman communicating love through the eyes.

Love her.  That’s all.

The bonus?   It’s good practice for you.

It’s good practice to ignore the unimportant and pay attention to what’s important, which in this case is love.

It’s a lesson in focus to walk around the barricades with grace and ease.  You don’t have to lift them out of the way or try to destroy them.  Just walk around them.

And who knows — the two of you, yes the two of you — you might both decide to throw off the harnesses, unlock the cage doors, and shine!

And if the truth be told, we all have a little bit of the tough woman on the outside, tender girl on the inside, so the thing to do is wake up in the middle of being either one.  If we wake up, we are aware.  And when we are aware, we can make changes if we so desire.

And that is a very powerful thing.

Spring Boquet Pink Lavendar 1


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In Care of Relationships with Terri Crosby– Tools For Creating Positive Momentum.  Terri is a relationship mentor.  She helps create life-affirming, ever-evolving, happier relationships with those you love.

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In Care of Relationships, problems, relationship, relationships, Terri Crosby, tough women

Comments (12)

    • I love that you say that my writing feels like we’re talking to each other. It’s exactly what I hoped for, that it feels natural. So glad! And thank you for the feedback.

  • Thanks, Terri, you obviously understand our iron clad, oh-so-feel-everything Heart…and getting through.
    Love to you…

  • My goodness. That pierced right into my heart. You held a mirror up to my face; you are very talented and perceptive. Recently my tough exterior crumbled, and I’ve withdrawn completely from people. Sometimes I wish I could have a smaller heart, and a harder exoskeleton.

    • Thank you for sharing. Congratulations on your tough exterior crumbling. It’s OK. It’s good. I’m inviting you back out to the swings and the merry-go-round. Don’t spend too long in the snow fort. It’s gonna melt soon anyway, ’cause Spring is here. Bless you on your journey. If I can help in any way, let me know.

  • My goodness. That pierced straight into my heart. You are very talented and perceptive. Recently my tough exterior has crumbled away, revealing my softness, so I’ve had to withdraw from people entirely. Sometimes I wish I had a smaller heart and a harder exoskeleton. Thank you for this.

  • You NAILED IT! I came to this site because I am dealing with a tough woman— my wife— and wanted some means of resolution. Accept for the description of what career field she may be in everything was spot on. My wife does all of the things you said “tough” women do to protect scars and it makes more since now, especially seeing as she is a former abused spouse from her previous marriage. Job well done.

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