There are many ways that we confuse strength. We confuse strength with lack of emotion. We confuse strength with asserting control. We confuse strength with self-sufficiency and shouldering burdens on our own. We confuse strength with perfection and unfaltering confidence and direction. We confuse strength with status and following. When you think of someone who is considered “strong” what picture comes to your mind?
I think that if we really peeled back the layers of authentic strength it would look much different from the image that domineers our cultural ideas and images. It would look much more vulnerable, much more broken, much more brave and much more humble.
But let’s start with the facts.
Life happens to every single one of us.
Matthew 5:45 says that God “sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.”
While you may feel very alone and misunderstood, you are not the only person experiencing the extremity of the hardship you’re facing. And having faith in Christ doesn’t exclude you from the rain. There are some things you never imagined you would have to face and these things may have caused you to question your own strength and standing in your faith or the image of the person you’d thought you became.
It can seem like others appear to shoulder pain and setbacks more confidently. But someone, somewhere, is and has been in your shoes, in the place you’re in, and came out on the other side. You can come out too.
I know being in turmoil can feel like an eternity. Coming out on the other side can feel like an impossibility when your heart is trapped by hurt and confusion. When will it ever end? How do you push through when you don’t have the strength to push? How do people actually come out stronger from something so devastating that seems emotionally unrecoverable?
Despite what we assume, it’s not that the emotionally strong have fewer problems or a special set of powers (although genetics and upbringing can play a role in our personality and how we approach the world).
It’s the way that they journey through their pain.
Here are 5 qualities I’ve found to be important at the core of leveraging authentic strength.
They don’t deny their emotions.
Culturally, we’ve associated a lack of emotion with strength, but many times this is nothing more than denial. You harden your heart, put your trouble behind you and refuse to let it affect you.
However, real emotional healing is progressive. And that progression to recovery begins with confronting the reality of what’s at work within you.
Your emotions through this painful and confusing process are not your enemy and they’re not all-powerful, they’re simply indicators. You can use these indicators to dig toward the root issue of your heart. That work can begin with prayer and labeling.
Prayer is always a first resort because God can unearth and bring things to our attention that we may have never come to see naturally. “God show me where I am hurting. Help me see the root of my heart”, is a prayer that God can answer through personal revelation and through others for us.
Labeling your emotions, by putting a name to them, will allow you to be real with yourself and why you are being effected the way you are. For example, “I feel hurt because…”, “I feel rejected because…”, “I feel out of control and it makes me anxious” etc. Some of us have lost touch with the basics of emotional intelligence because at some point we were taught that emotions were bad, weak and we needed to protect ourselves from the big bad world and the people in it.
But being self-aware of how you honestly feel can allow you to emerge from this broken moment into a moment of learning and discovery into who you are, where your wounds are and where to begin recovery.
The emotionally strong are not emotionless or in denial. They allow themselves to feel, to work through the pain and rise by letting it bring insight to themselves and others. Remember wisdom is many times healed pain. And processing through authentic healing brings authentic strength.
They take personal accountability.
It’s so easy to play the victim when a crisis hits or someone else’s actions have set us back. But the truth is that pointing fingers and blaming others doesn’t get us anywhere. It brings no progress to our recovery. It only keeps us bound to lives shaped by the result of everyone and everything around us. And we both know that’s no way to live. This is a life that is reactive and never proactive.
The emotionally strong make the decision to take personal accountability for the choices they’ve made and the changes they need to make going forward. You can’t always change others or what’s happened but one thing you can always take responsibility for is yourself. This is the part where you self-reflect on your role in the situation or what is your part to work on so that you can act with more wisdom and maturity in the future.
They’re solution oriented.
Let’s come back to the idea that the authentically strong take responsibility for and are proactive with their own life, progress and recovery. While being in reality of the broken state they’re in, they are also intentional about getting back on their feet. There will always be events that hurt us and knock us down that are out of control, but we are still very responsible for that which is still in our control. Whether that means getting counseling, committing to more devotional time with God in prayer and Bible reading or finding other resources that will provide practical aid in the moment, the authentically strong may break down but they don’t stay down. After letting the emotional waves of shock and hurt pass through, they seek ways to work themselves back up, even if it’s little by little, one step at a time.
They don’t go solo.
“Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble.” -Ecclesiastes 4:9-12
This is the humility of the authentically strong. They know that there is greater redemption in numbers. While failure and weakness can feel like something to be ashamed about, it isn’t. Remember the rain falls on everyone alike. At some point, they are humble enough to know that it is time to seek help and lean on someone else. The fact that they can admit they are weak is a testament to their strength. It takes a lot to reach out when your flesh wants to withdraw or maintain it’s kept-together and in-control image.
It is because of the support of friends, a church/community group, a counselor, mentor and family that the authentically strong bounce back at better rates than those who breakdown under the overwhelming burden of their own load.
A quick word on reaching out for help:
I’ve gotten to a place in my life where I have defined at least 5 dependable people I know I can run to and be my most vulnerable self within the face of a crisis- where I can confess my sins, my flaws, my confusions, my hurts. Sometimes we hesitate to do this because we think either people will not understand, they can’t fix it anyway and we feel guilty for letting someone else bear our burden. But bearing each others burden is a purpose of the church. God knew we were never meant to do it alone. He didn’t create you to go through life alone. The isolated life is limiting your growth.
And if you have support that is a loyal presence in your life and a believer, they will be in this journey with you just like you would for them. Also, the purpose of confessing our sins and burdens isn’t always for the goal of finding a solution, but many times opening up the soul to a God-flow through love in the simple practice of just being there for one another. There are many times that talking out my problems has helped me work out the truth in the midst honestly expressing myself. Never underestimate the importance of the role that reaching out plays in your recovery.
“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” – James 5:16
They practice a reasonable self-talk.
Our minds are constantly making meaning of the events around us whether we are attuned to it or not. We internalize these thoughts and what they say about ourselves. Unfortunately, many of the beliefs we automatically internalize are a major contribution to our downward spiral.
- Someone not responding to your text or call might be translated as rejection, saying that no one really cares for you and you aren’t worthy of love or attention.
- A slightly degrading comment from a superior at work might be translated that you can never do anything right and aren’t smart enough.
- Scrolling through social media and witnessing the success of others might be interpreted as a lack of your own standing in life and bring on the battle of comparison, which is always a losing battle.
Whatever may be floating in the back of your mind, it’s time to pay attention to the underlying belief system you’re feeding when life hits, because it’s either making things better or worse.
Committing to a healthy self-talk when you’ve had an unhealthy view of yourself for so long can be one of the greatest challenges of your life. Especially when thoughts pass through so easily and without effort. Renewing your self-talk means being intentional about undoing a habit that has been present every day for most of your life.
It’s not that the authentically strong never have a defeating thought about themselves, but there is some thought regulation at play. This means taking a step back and very, very honestly evaluating how you are translating your hurts and losses and how you are viewing yourself because of it. From this place, you’re going to have to separate yourself and start practicing a more reasonable truth.
Just because the relationship didn’t work out it doesn’t mean that I’m unlovable and bound to be alone, it just means that this was not what God has planned for me, there are better plans ahead and I need to get back on course with my life.
Just because I lost my job it doesn’t mean that I am invaluable and incapable as a human being, it just means that I may need to better some of my skills or search and pray for something that better suits me.
Just because this person reacted to me in a hurtful manner doesn’t mean that their opinion is a complete reflection of me, but possibly a reflection of their hurting self.
Sometimes journaling can be a great way to reason through such thinking and I highly recommend it.
Can I tell you a not-so-secret secret?
You’re stronger than you realize. You have survived 100% of the things that have happened to you up to this point and you did not come this far to only have come this far. You will keep going. But my encouragement to you is to start or continue progressing through life with authentic strength. This is the strength that will transform you, better you and maintain a heart of humility, bravery, and compassion within you.