A few weeks ago, I was facing a quite stressful situation. My mother, who lives at a one and a half hour’s drive from us, had to stay at the hospital so I had to manage this situation along with my two sons and my full-time job. When I explained the situation to a good friend of mine, their reaction surprised me. They told me that they weren’t worried about me as I always managed to handle difficult situations. I know they didn’t mean to be hurtful but I could easily understand that they were convinced the situation was a piece of cake for me.
This conversation made me think and I started to wonder what actually defines an emotionally strong person. I quickly realized that there are many misconceptions about it.
Common misconceptions about emotionally strong people
They were born strong
Often people think that either you are strong or not. Actually, building up strength is a journey shaped by your experiences and how you handle them.
They are unemotional
Another myth consists in thinking that crying or showing any other so-called negative emotion is a sign of weakness. However, strength doesn’t mean not having or ignoring your emotions. Much to the contrary, it consists in feeling and acknowledging your emotions but not letting them control you.
They are fearless
It’s often believed that mentally strong people are fearless – but fear is part of human nature. Showing strength is embracing these fears and finding a way to overcome them.
They never complain
Being strong doesn’t mean you never complain. It’s OK to complain about a difficult situation as well as to express your emotions and despair. What makes the difference is that, at one point, a strong person will make the conscious choice to accept the situation and find a way to do something about it.
They don’t ask for help
An emotionally strong person will use any resources they have to resolve their situation including reaching out to personal or professional help.
They never doubt
A common belief is to think that strong people are always self-confident and don’t second-guess themselves. But isn’t questioning oneself the essence of growing? Strength is daring the trial and error and persevere despite failure.
As you can see, the concept of emotional strength can be misleading and, despite its name, it has little to do with actual strength. Actually, we should rather talk about emotional resilience.
The word “resilience” comes from the Latin “resilio” describing the “act of rebounding”. Emotional resilience refers to one’s capacity to efficiently handle challenging life experiences and to bounce back from adversity. So contrary to many misconceptions, emotionally resilient people are affected by life’s setbacks just like anyone else but they show the ability to accept and adapt to difficult situations and overcome them.
“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.” Carl Jung
Build up your emotional resilience
The good news is that emotional resilience can be learned. I have listed some tips that I found helpful to develop this ability as a parent.
Take responsibility for your life
Get away from the “why me” mentality and stop blaming others for your feelings or circumstances.
Learn healthy selfishness
Stop being a people-pleaser. Dare to say no and set healthy boundaries. This was and sometimes still is a tough one for me. It took me time to realize that I couldn’t and didn’t need to accommodate everybody.
Stand up for yourself and don’t hesitate to tell people what you think in a kind way. Learn to accept yourself with all your strengths and imperfections.
Embrace change instead of rejecting it. It’s worth getting out of your comfort zone to discover new horizons.
Accept constructive criticism
Obviously, nobody likes to have their flaws or mistakes pointed out to them. However, this might be a way to become aware of something you have missed.
Learn your lessons
Try to make the best out of your hardships. View these experiences as an opportunity for growth. Obviously, this is something we do afterward. In the middle of the crisis, we need all our energy to focus on handling the situation.
Be kind to yourself
Make peace with the past and forgive yourself. The challenges you faced are part of your journey and you wouldn’t be who you are if you hadn’t lived them.
Use your emotional energy sensibly
You need your energy for yourself and your family, so spend it wisely. Focus on the present instead of dwelling on the past. Don’t hesitate to let go of toxic relationships or situations.
Practice realistic optimism
Even though you know that the situation will not magically resolve without you taking action, try to stay positive and trust in your ability to cope and make the right decisions.
Listen to your intuition
When the intellect and logic fail, and there seems to be no outcome, we should pay attention to our gut feeling. Trust yourself and listen to that inner voice or feeling even if it’s suggesting an unusual approach. Especially as parents, it’s important to trust our instinct. Parenthood is a very personal experience and every family is different so who better than you should know how to act?
Keep your sense of humor
Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress and pain. Not only does it allow you to relax physically and mentally, but it will help you shift your perspective.
Emotional resilience and parenting
The other good news is that by modeling resiliency, you will teach your children a valuable skill which is the ability to deal more easily with life’s unexpected events. We should try to let our children make mistakes and not provide them with all the answers. This approach will allow them to improve their problem-solving skills. If we cannot eliminate all risk, we can definitely provide them with the tools to handle difficult situations.
Obviously, we all have areas in which we are doing well and others which still need to be developed. Maybe, like me, you already know how to laugh at life’s frustrations and be optimistic but, on the other hand, you are struggling to be indulgent with yourself and tend to waste your emotional energy. Or maybe you are doing pretty good at accepting yourself but you find it difficult to embrace change. As emphasized earlier, it’s important to keep in mind that this is a journey and that everyone is at a different stage and moves at a different pace.
Feel free to drop a comment and let me know what being emotionally strong means to you and how you deal with challenging life experiences.