When you think of being strong, what immediately comes to mind?
If you thought of physical strength, then you are not alone! The link between strength and the body is quite common (especially when you’re reading a Mind Pump blog post). The Merriam-Webster dictionary supports this assumption as well; the primary definition of strong is ‘having or marked by great physical power’. The listed synonyms include hard, rugged, sturdy, tough and vigorous; the antonyms are delicate, soft, tender and weak.
Paints a pretty clear and intense picture, doesn’t it? I don’t know about you, but between the main definition, synonyms and antonyms listed above, the only thought that comes to mind when I think of a strong person is someone who can lift heavy weights at the gym.
But what about those times when physical strength just doesn’t cut it? When life throws you a curve ball, chances are your max deadlift weight won’t get you that far. Physical strength is undoubtedly important and good for our health – but we need emotional strength too.
What is Emotional Strength?
I was surprised to find that there’s no entry for emotional strength in the dictionary. It’s similar to physical strength in that it equips us to handle what life throws our way, but emotional strength requires far different skills and attributes. Its qualities are often equated with those of physical strength, yet this assumption is misguided.
There’s often a toughness associated with physical strength. Consider the image of a body builder – strong bodies usually equate to hard (as noted in the synonyms list above!), taut muscles. Emotional strength, on the other hand, is the complete opposite. It requires a sense of softness – a kindness, if you will – toward yourself and whatever you’re going through. A tough girl or tough guy persona directly contradicts emotional strength.
One of my favorite ways to understand emotional strength is through a popular Confucius quote: “The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.” In other words, emotional strength is not about being rigid or firm. It’s best practiced through flexibility and the ability to handle whatever is thrown your way.
If you’re curious about how to cultivate your own emotional strength, then check out the attributes list of emotionally strong people below:
What are the Qualities of Emotionally Strong People?
- They know good and done is better than perfect and pending. Perfectionism is the enemy of emotional strength. It’s rooted in the belief that something can only be done one way – the right When we’re in the perfectionist mindset, we’re trying to control a situation. We construct a ‘necessary’ outcome in our head, and if it doesn’t happen then we think everything will be ruined. Perfectionism is the opposite of flexibility.
- They practice gratitude. Thanks to positive psychology, the empirically proven benefits of gratitude are more widespread and widely reported than ever before. A gratitude practice helps us strengthen the muscle of looking for the good in our days. It’s not a practice of ignoring the bad things; it’s a lens that helps us see the good alongside and in spite of the bad. A daily gratitude practice helps us garner awareness of the little things – the micro-moments – that positively impact our lives.
- They’re satisficers, not maximizers. A satisficer is someone who accepts things as they are, whereas a maximizer is someone who is always looking at what’s missing. This is similar to the concept of ‘good and done is better than perfect and pending’; a satisficer knows that life will never be exactly like they want it to be – and that’s okay. They practice acceptance and appreciate what they have.
- They commit themselves to being vulnerable. Vulnerability is associated with weakness in our society. It is hard – and scary! – to deeply and honestly share yourself with another person, especially when it has to do with how you’re feeling. I would argue, however, that vulnerability is a true sign of strength. Vulnerability allows you to be honest with yourself and with others about what you’re facing. It helps you to connect to those around you on a deeper level. It allows you to be seen.
- They focus on their strengths, not their weaknesses. People with emotional strength focus on what is going right. Rather than get caught up in everything they’re missing or what they could be doing better, they emphasize what they’re really good at. Again, why magnify what you lack when you can accentuate all you have? (If you’re interested in identifying your own strengths but unsure where to start, then I recommend taking the VIA Character Strengths Survey.)
- They have a growth mindset. A person with a growth mindset isn’t afraid of learning new things – in fact, they celebrate it! They are honest about not knowing everything and do not see this as a weakness. Someone with a growth mindset believes that there is always more to learn and always a way to improve. They embrace challenges and are resilient. Failures are opportunities for new growth.
- They practice self-care. If you’re not taking care of yourself, then you’re ill-equipped to handle difficulties as they come your way. People with emotional strength are in touch with how they’re doing and what they need to function at their best. They eat healthy foods, sleep well and know how to manage their stress well.
- They’re solution-oriented. People with emotional strength know that things will go awry. It’s impossible to control everything that happens! Rather than focusing on the problem at hand or whatever is going wrong, emotionally strong people redirect their energy on identifying the best solution with the facts at hand.
- They seek out meaning. Emotionally strong people have perspective. They focus on the big picture and take the high road with a long view. Rather than get caught up in the momentary setbacks or disruptions, they look for the meaning behind a challenge. They don’t harp on what they’ve lost or was taken away; instead, they look for what they gain from the experience.
- They embrace change. In short, emotionally strong people bend, not break. It’s true – the only thing we can expect from life, without fail, is change. Emotionally strong individuals not only know this but also embrace it. They don’t overlook the difficulties that arise from change, but they also know that what is meant to be will be.
In summary, emotional strength is just as important as physical strength, but the approach is completely different. Nonetheless, just like a strong muscle, emotional strength can be built over time with consistent practice and effort. How have you cultivated your own emotional strength? If this is all new to you, how will you start? Send me a note and let me know!