Reality Check: What does it mean to be strong?

When people face difficulties, observations are often made about the strength of those who are suffering. It is admirable to be strong in the face of adversity. Strength is also beneficial for a helper who wants to support others through difficult times.
Whether you want to bolster your strength for yourself or for others, let’s start with a few clarifying questions. What does “to be strong” mean to you? When you are being strong, what exactly are you doing?
Your interpretation of strength may well be at odds with someone else’s. Fortunately, all of us don’t have to agree for the questioning to be useful.
The famous Rudyard Kipling poem offers one picture of strength. “If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs…”
Is “keeping your head” an inherent characteristic? Are we either strong or not and if we’re not, are we out of luck? Or are there actions and habits that can help us develop strength?
Dr. Glasser’s perspective on human behaviour is that its four components: acting, thinking, feelings and physiology, are connected in a specific hierarchy of control. Thus, we can have more control than we might otherwise think.
Here’s how it works: The actions we choose influence how we think. Different actions encourage different thoughts. For example, choosing to engage with people encourages different thoughts than avoiding people. Staying in bed all day encourages different thoughts than when we get up and complete our tasks.
Similarly, our thoughts influence our feelings. Thinking optimistic thoughts encourages different feelings than thinking pessimistic thoughts. Thinking that we are competent and capable encourages different feelings than thinking that we are overwhelmed and incapable.
The resulting feelings influence our physiology. Whether we feel anxious, calm, angry, hopeful, and so on influences whether our stomach is queasy or our head hurts.
The upshot is that we may have more choice in our feelings than we think. While we may not be able to choose, “I will be strong” directly, we can choose actions: “I will pick up the phone and have a conversation; I will get some exercise; I will make a visit even though it’s uncomfortable for me.” Those actions lead to different thoughts and different feelings.
Rather than letting feelings rule, we can keep our heads by choosing actions that will lead us to the thoughts that we need to be strong.
Does strength imply that we are to repress our feelings? Especially when we’re trying to help someone during a hard time, we might believe we must avoid showing our own sadness. “If I start to cry, I will make it worse” is a valid concern.
Personally, I don’t perceive that strength means never letting the tears flow or the anger show. However, dramatic breakdowns don’t necessarily indicate deeper caring. I respect that others may disagree. The assessment of which is better—to share your emotions or not—is up to you. The big takeaway here is simply that it is helpful to know that a method exists that can help you gain some control over feelings.
If you could have someone be strong for you in a crisis, what would you like them to do? Similarly, if you want to be strong for someone else, what would you be doing?

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