Emotional strength has been historically misperceived to be, essentially, a lack of feeling. Up until very recently, emotions were seen as the antithesis to reason. So when we think of emotional strength, we actually imagine a form of numbness, one that just happens to present itself like superiority and unwavering toughness.
In reality, emotional strength actually has little to do with toughness, and a lot to do with resilience — and they are not the same thing. As positive psychology has branched into a more researched and developed topic over the past 15 years or so, one thing has become clear: it is not how little chaos we experience in life, but how we respond to it, that counts.
Here, a few traits of people who genuinely embody emotional strength:
1. They display peace more than they do power.
Genuinely strong people often do not put forth the quintessential traits of dominance or aggressiveness or power. They know that real power is in being your own locus of control. Peace is the most unwavering, unshakable, resilient strength you can possibly possess. The need to display “power” is what people feel when it doesn’t seem self-evident to them, or in other words, they feel it doesn’t exist.
2. They are willing to feel pain.
Most people spend their whole lives running away from their emotions. They take refuge in relationships, in money, in sex, in beauty, in a desire to seem socially superior. Yet emotionally strong people are strong because they allow their feelings. It is in denying and suppressing feelings that we ultimately lose control, as they are then expressed in far more insidious ways.
3. They are open to being wrong.
Emotionally strong people are sound in themselves, and know that you do not need to be “right” all the time to be smart, or worthwhile, or interesting, or worthy. The need to be right is the same as the need not to be questioned. The need not to be questioned is the same as the fear that being wrong will deconstruct some essential aspect of who you are or how others perceive you.
4. They focus their attention on how to maneuver past obstacles, not on the obstacles themselves.
They see blocks in the road as signals to imagine different routes, while many people are paralyzed, anxious, stuck and unhappy because they assume these obstacles are the end of the road.
5. They seek respect more than they do attention.
The very human desire to be loved and accepted by the group (the “tribe”) either manifests itself superficially or not. Chronically unhappy people seek this feeling by trying to create social superiority. Emotionally healthy people seek it by trying to earn the respect of those around them.