When life gets tough, how do you respond? Do you struggle to stay grounded, feel overwhelmed, and try to escape your circumstances? Or do you stand strong, bounce back quickly, and learn from your experiences to keep growing and developing as a person?
If you’re the latter, then you possess the traits of an emotionally strong person. If you’re the former, no need to worry. Emotional strength is a skill that, like any other, can be learned, practiced, developed, and applied to your everyday life.
Even the most emotionally resilient among us at one point or another may have hit rock bottom but managed to develop this invaluable life skill and built themselves back up, stronger than before.
So, what is emotional strength? Can we be naturally emotionally strong, or is it a skill we have to develop? In this article, we’ll take a look at emotional strength, what it means, and how to be emotionally strong.
What is emotional strength? (Emotional resilience)
Resilience refers to the ability to cope with stress, both in terms of adverse life events like major accidents, death, or the loss of a job, or being in a toxic relationship. It also refers to how you deal with difficult emotions or feelings such as sadness, anger, fear, and above all, stress.
Understand that emotionally strong people do experience stress and difficult emotions, but the way they approach and respond is what separates them from less emotionally resilient people.
We are all subject to life’s twists and turns. Adversity and loss are pretty much inevitable at one point or another in human life.
Emotionally resilient people are those who can ‘take it on the chin’ – they can accept things are not going well or that they’ve suffered a major loss and try to remain grounded and healthy during whatever situation they are in.
The important thing to remember about emotional resilience is that it’s not a superpower. You don’t have to be born with this valuable life skill to learn and develop it.
Some of us indeed get a good start in life regarding our ability to handle emotions – emotional resilience can be seen in infants and young children when they have enjoyed a healthy and responsible child-caregiver relationship.
Still, if you didn’t have such a relationship, one in which your needs were met consistently, and you formed a healthy attachment style, that doesn’t mean you can’t become emotionally resilient now.
Why is it important to develop emotional resilience?
Life is inherently stressful and full of change and challenges. Developing emotional resilience is a means of strengthening ourselves against circumstances outside of our control.
If, instead of practicing and developing resilience, we allow ourselves to be influenced and swept away by difficult, stressful, or challenging times in our life, then we’ll lack the strength and confidence to make our own decisions and create our own reality. We’ll feel increasingly more helpless and struggle to stay calm and grounded.
Characteristics of emotionally strong people
Emotionally and mentally strong people understand themselves well.
Again, to be emotionally resilient does not mean that one doesn’t feel negative, confusing, or even frightening emotions. Such people are well aware of these emotions within themselves.
What makes them so strong and resilient is that they are paying attention to these strong feelings instead of suppressing or denying them.
They look at them with honesty and authenticity and don’t avoid admitting to themselves when they’re worried, confused, or frightened.
Openness to vulnerability is a hallmark characteristic of emotional resilience. If you’re not okay with being vulnerable, that may be because you’re worried that the consequences would be too much to handle.
You may put up walls around yourself to protect your heart and your feelings from being hurt, but often this leads to isolation, disconnection, and loneliness.
To be emotionally strong is to allow yourself to be vulnerable.
It means knowing that vulnerability brings love and joy. It also means that you’re confident and self-assured enough to have faith that if something or someone does hurt you, that you’ll be able to withstand the stress, sadness, or anger and bounce back.
Emotionally resilient people know that they have themselves to fall back on when things get tough.
They are self-assured, a trait that usually develops through experience. They may have been through tough times in the past and managed to get through, albeit perhaps with some difficult memories or emotional scars.
Still, they understand that everything they have been through has passed, that they’re still here alive and breathing, and that every time life got tough, they managed to pull themselves through. Such experiences lead to developing confidence and assuredness in oneself, which strengthens one’s ability to roll with life’s punches.
Discipline is a common trait among successful, mentally strong, emotionally resilient people. It’s the ability to focus one’s mind on completing a task and achieving a goal.
For example, if you want to reach a fitness goal like losing a certain amount of weight for your health, then discipline is a powerful tool to have in your arsenal.
Why is discipline so important?
Let’s use the fitness example above. If you want to lose weight and get fit in a healthy way, then any approach you take will involve healthy eating and regular exercise.
Yet, there may be days when you don’t want to go to the gym or lace up your running shoes. There may be times when you want to binge on unhealthy snack foods.
Whatever the reason for your reluctance to stay focused on achieving your goal, pushing yourself to get up and workout or prepare a healthy meal when you don’t feel like it may elicit some negative emotions and unresolved painful feelings.
Without discipline, you’re more likely to regress on your journey to relapse back into unhealthy habits. With discipline, however, you overcome your emotions and do what you need to do.
It’s not that you deny your emotions, but you remind yourself that they are temporary and need not get in the way of you creating your best life.
How to be emotionally strong and develop emotional strength
As mentioned earlier, you don’t need to be born with emotional resilience and mental toughness to reap its benefits today.
Sure, some of us get a head start in life when it comes to being emotionally and mentally strong as a result of consistent parenting, but resilience is a skill you can develop no matter who you are and no matter what your family dynamics were like in your childhood.
1. Believe that you can become emotionally resilient
Perhaps the most important thing to understand, one that is a prerequisite to all of the following tips and advices, is that you can become emotionally resilient.
You may have grown up and even lived much of your adult life thinking that you’re just not emotionally resilient or that you’re helpless. These are known as core beliefs and have a strong influence over our lives.
It’s crucial for your optimum health and well-being that your core beliefs are not necessarily the truth and do not have to be defined.
Anyone can learn to break the cycle of a negative thought, learned helplessness, and any other helpful conditioning and free themselves from it through positive thinking, self-talk, and mental strength.
If you don’t think you can become emotionally resilient, then you won’t. If you embrace positive thinking and believe that you can have emotional strength, you will learn to cultivate it.
2. Work on your self-awareness to become emotionally strong
You have more control over your life, your emotions, and how you respond to those emotions when you know what they are – when you know yourself. Developing self-awareness is not an overnight phenomenon, it’s a lifelong process because we’re always changing, adapting, and responding to life in unexpected ways.
Two proven methods of increasing our self-awareness and reaping the myriad of associated benefits are meditation and mindfulness.
These are inherently life-affirming and valuable practices to learn, and they offer a broad range of benefits, namely grounding, peace of mind, and emotional balance.
Meditate to become emotionally strong
Meditation and mindfulness are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Mindfulness is something we can practice in our daily lives that brings a quality of awareness and acceptance to what we do. Meditation is a practice in itself, much like yoga.
Meditation involves letting go of our thoughts and feelings. Like mindfulness, it’s not about denying or suppressing them, but rather turning our attention to the breath and bringing our awareness to the present moment.
3. Practice mindfulness
Any article you read about mental health, personal growth and development, and practicing self-care is going to tell you that it’s important to practice mindfulness, no matter who you are or what you’re going through, and for a good reason.
Mindfulness is a life-changing skill that helps people of all ages and backgrounds find a center within themselves, live a more peaceful present inner life, and increase one’s level of emotional resilience.
Since it’s a popular piece of advice when it comes to self-care, it’s easy to overlook it. Everyone’s talking about it, but that increases the risk of the real message becoming diluted. So, what exactly is mindfulness?
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming an observer (or ‘witness’) to your life and your emotional reactions. When we’re mindful, we view our lives with curiosity and acceptance in whatever circumstance in which we find ourselves. We notice our breath, its quality, and its rhythm, and we accept it.
We notice our physical sensations, such as areas of tension or relaxation, warmth, heat, pleasure, and pain in the body. We also notice our inner state, our feelings, our emotions, our thoughts, and our beliefs about ourselves and the world around us.
Mindfulness is the key to emotional resilience because it allows an individual to transcend their stresses, worries, anxieties, negative self-talk, and other types of emotional pain enough to look at it all objectively.
The practice is not to be confused with denial or suppression of our experiences. It’s about the opposite.
When we practice mindfulness, we look with no filter at what we’re experiencing.
We notice our feelings, and instead of running or hiding from them, we bring them right into view. At the same time, we stay centered and focused on our breath and our sensations.
We have a thought, and we allow it. We may even judge that thought as good or bad, but we don’t see judgment as ‘bad’ or as something we must stop doing so that we can be mindful of it. Instead, we notice the judgment, and we allow that to be there.
4. Be adaptable in the face of change
Attachment is the root of all suffering. When we get attached to how things are, to relationship dynamics, structure, routine, and expectations, we’re bound to feel disappointed, lost, and confused when things inevitably change.
Life is changing, so if we get stuck on an expectation or demand about how things should be, we create an internal resistance that compounds the already existing stress associated with uncertainty.
‘It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive, but those who can best manage change.’ – Charles Darwin.
If you want to be a more emotionally resilient person, it’s important to learn how to embrace change. That doesn’t mean that you can’t have a preference for how you would like things in your life to be, but it means that when things can’t be a certain way that you choose not to suffer excessively.
For example, two people in similar jobs, similar circumstances financially and socially, both are let go from their respective companies. How each person responds to this change will depend on how emotionally resilient they are.
An example of emotional resilience in the face of change
Person one. Brian isn’t very emotionally resilient. He gets let go from work and struggles to accept and process it. He feels hard done by and down on his luck. He spends the entire morning in bed and doesn’t feel like getting up at all.
He’s not depressed just yet, but he’s not doing much to help himself. The negative emotions associated with losing his job keep him down and prevent him from being more proactive and motivated.
Person two, Jeremy, is much more emotionally resilient than Brian. Jeremy feels bad about the job loss too. He liked the job and had some friends in the office.
Still, he figures, the decision came from the higher-ups, who didn’t think he was a good enough fit for the company to let him stay there. Instead of wallowing, Jeremy chooses to focus on his energy in the near future.
He takes some time to relax and unwind, to process and let go of the stress associated with the loss of his job, then gets himself up and active to seek a new job or seek support during his job search.
“The stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.” – Bruce Lee.
5. Let go of what you can’t control…
Emotionally resilient people know where to focus their energy. They understand that to be strong and grounded regarding emotions requires the ability to let go of things outside of their control.
Life is full of unexpected twists and turns, of joys as well as disaster, so to try and control all aspects of life is futile.
Not only is it futile, but it’s extremely exhausting and even anxiety-inducing. The more you can learn to let go of things beyond your control, the happier you’ll find yourself.
“You have power over your mind―not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ―Marcus Aurelius.
6. …and focus on what you can control
Understand that letting go of control in this sense does not mean relinquishing all control in your life, throwing caution to the wind, and taking no responsibility.
It’s about placing your time, energy, and thoughts into those things that are within your control, such as your breath, how you spend your time, what you choose to eat and drink, the way you treat yourself, and what you give your energy to.
7. Develop independence and resourcefulness
“We must endeavor to be whole, whether in or out of a relationship, basing happiness on our internal resources rather than relying on someone else to fill the perceived gaps in our lives.”– Shane Eric Mathias, The Happiness Tree: Grow Your Happiness by Cultivating a Healthy, Creative and Purposeful Life.
Don’t be afraid to go it alone. Strong connections and bonds with others indeed go a long way in helping us achieve optimal health, but don’t think that you can’t develop emotional strength and emotional resilience on your own.
Learning how to survive and even thrive on your own is a great way to become a more independent and resourceful person.
When you find yourself with almost nobody to turn to but yourself, you find the strength that you may have never realized you had. Further, people tend to respect and appreciate independent and resourceful people.
8. Embrace challenges
Emotionally resilient people don’t shy away from challenges. Instead, they see them as an opportunity to grow, manage stress, and become emotionally stronger.
Life is full of challenges, but if we tend to shy away from them, we miss out on valuable opportunities to grow and develop as a person.
Sure, some challenges can be daunting, like actually getting that promotion at work. You may have been waiting for it for a long time, but now that you have the chance, you realize all of the extra skills and responsibilities required to succeed in your new role.
An emotionally resilient person would look at their fear and concern about their new role and take the risk. They must prepare and upskill as much as possible to give themselves the best chance of success, then dive in headfirst and try their best.
So, next time you’re faced with a challenge, take it on. Sure, you might not succeed, but even the most successful people don’t succeed at every turn.
They fail more often than they succeed.
What differentiates most successful people from others is that they are not afraid of failure. They shift their negative thoughts and perspective away from fear and instead perceive failure as yet another chance to grow and develop as a person.
It’s almost needless to say that exercise offers a broad range of physical health and mental health benefits. Most physical and mental illnesses reduce in severity when regular exercise is incorporated into a person’s recovery, and for good reason.
Aside from helping us manage stress, regular physical exercise drastically improves our physical strength, significantly reducing our risk of disease such as heart ailments, diabetes and cancer. Exercising improves our ability to sleep and eat well, boosts our cognitive function, and combats symptoms of depression, anxiety, and many other mental health issues.
Exercise and confidence
Regular exercise also boosts your self-confidence, making your comfortable in your own skin. In the short term, exercise elicits the release of powerful and mood-improving chemicals in the brain known as endorphins.
Regular exercise and working towards a fitness goal feel good in the long term because we get to watch ourselves progress. Further, self-confidence is key to emotional resilience, so the more you can develop, the better.
You don’t become emotionally resilient overnight. In other words, it takes consistent practice and conscious effort.
While some people are fortunate enough to be born into a family dynamic that promotes their greatest growth, you don’t even need to come from healthy family background to develop this valuable life skill.
So, if you’re struggling with emotional resilience today, understand that you can change that. It all starts with a decision.