I think we get it very wrong when we believe that strength is the opposite or absence of weakness. Strength is instead the recognition, acceptance, and actions taken even with weakness.
“Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
Strength used to be seen as being physically muscular and capable; or fighting a good fight; or handling emotions; or a parent going it alone after the death of a spouse (etc.). All these are parts of strength, but they are not the definition. Instead, I have some other ideas…
This is perhaps my favourite word to help describe what strength really is. I used to think of myself as weak because of my anxiety, my high sensitivity, and how easily I’m hurt. But more recently, I’ve begun to see myself as strong because things haven’t been simple or easy for me.
I’ve been knocked down many times, sometimes by small things like social anxiety, sometimes by much bigger life events. But the thing is, I always get back up. My sister once said to me that she admires me because I keep on going even when bad luck seems to follow me around!
Now that’s resilience; that’s strength.
“Fall down seven times, stand up eight.”
Brene Brown has made me obsessed with vulnerability as a concept! As she says, vulnerability isn’t something to be avoided. That most of us don’t want to be vulnerable due to fear of rejection, criticism, judgement, shame, failure, or other.
But those of us who can step into vulnerable moments regardless are very strong indeed.
This is like going for that job that’s out of your comfort zone.
This is chasing your dream.
This is saying “I love you” first.
This is hopping on the plane all alone with a one-way ticket.
Of course, strength and bravery have often gone hand-in-hand. The typical hero type is a strong, brave person. Bravery is feeling afraid but doing something anyway (See the above quote). There is strength found in those triumphs, no matter the result.
Truth & Honesty
It takes so much strength to be able to seek the truth within yourself. It also takes real strength to accept it and work through it.
Honesty as a concept seems so obvious to us all (it being the best policy and all that!), but only the strongest among us can embrace the honest truth of themselves with a whole, loving heart.
It is so wonderful to be able to say with all honesty that you trust yourself. That you have enough faith in your own abilities to make the right decisions, look after yourself, and get through adversity. Getting to a place of trust takes strength, keeping that trust does too.
It takes real strength to love yourself. Most of us don’t, not really. But when we can accept the good and the bad and love ourselves regardless, not only do we empower ourselves but that also takes real strength to be able to do in the first place.
Showing up when it’s hard
It’s easy to show up when things are going well, but how about when things are hard? When you’re drained? When you’ve failed yet again? When you want to give in?
There’s value in rest, taking a step back, and analysing before moving forwards. But the strong are those who are not down for long. The strong are those without excuses, giving in to self-sabotage, or fear of trying just one more time (see the resilience point).
It is also so strong of you to show up for yourself each day.
This means getting out of bed when you don’t feel like it. This is choosing the apple over the chocolate bar. This is getting that email sent or that conversation done, in order to feel the stress slip away.
There’s a difference between confidence and arrogance.
“Confidence isn’t walking into a room with your nose in the air, thinking that you’re better than everyone else; it’s walking into the room and not having to compare yourself to anyone in the first place.”
Strong people know their worth. They have a strong sense of self-worth, meaning they don’t seek external validation or comparison. They know who they are, they accept it, and they love it; they walk tall not because they are better but because they have real confidence inside.
It takes strength to hold yourself accountable. To take responsibility for your own life, hold up your hands to mistakes, and keep yourself in check.
Most people would sooner blame the whole world for their problems. But strong people don’t do that, because it takes strength to be able to admit to something or look within rather than point fingers elsewhere.
Strong people set and respect boundaries. Strong people are confident enough to say “this is what I want or need and I want you to respect that.”
Setting boundaries is a difficult thing to do, because we worry that people will poke or prod or get uppity about it. But setting boundaries and keeping them not only takes strength to do, but it gives us strength back, too.
To walk alone if necessary is tough. We all have an innate need to belong, and so the fear of being alone and left out is very real and seems to threaten our livelihood.
But strong people have independence. They don’t rely too heavily on others. They don’t follow the crowd in order to fit in. They stand in their truth and do what they believe in, even if that means standing alone.
I couldn’t talk about strength without talking about mental health. Strong people care for and have an awareness of the health of their mind. They take care of it. They do the hard stuff when needed in order to achieve a better state of overall wellness. And a healthy mind in return is a strong one.
And lastly, it takes real strength to just be yourself in this world. With social media, cliquey groups in school, expectations, social norms, judgement, shame, and comparison, it is difficult to be who we are without hiding, shrinking, or downright changing ourselves to fit in.
But as Brene Brown says (yes, I love her), fitting in is the opposite of belonging. If we belong, we are our true selves accepted as we are. If we fit in, we are a warped self fighting for self-worth with the wrong crowd.
Being authentic, being wholly You, takes strength in our society. But god, do we love it when we see it!
“People who wade into discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses” – Brene Brown
Strength is not found in muscles and battle stories. Strength is in the mind and the spirit. It is how closely we are aligned to who we really are, what we really want, and what we are really capable of, no matter the cost.
How many do you tick off? Do you consider yourself to be strong by these definitions? Let me know!
If you need any help in bettering your mental health, or better coping with anxiety, depression, and stress, then my book “You’re As Mad As I Am” may be for you. Check it out here, and download a free sample to see what it’s all about.
If you want to hire me to write about mental health (or other), then don’t hesitate to get in touch!
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