We all want to feel the benefits that come from having a strong character. But what does it mean to be “strong?” What are some characteristics of strong people? Who exhibits strength? How do we build our strength? We will be exploring these questions in this article. As always, I will end this post with a few questions for your consideration

I often hear clients say “I wish I was stronger.” They also say “I wish I was more like so-so who is so strong.”  What they are really saying is this:

-if I was stronger, I could resist certain temptations

-if I was stronger, I could make myself do the things I know I should do

-if I was stronger, I wouldn’t have this problem

-if I was stronger, I wouldn’t let fear run my life


In the field of psychology, we think of strength in terms of what is innate or natural to us. For example, you may be naturally gregarious or naturally introspective. When you understand and make use of your strength’s life feels like less of an uphill battle. When our strengths are aligned with our goal’s life is easier.

However, we cannot always rely on innate tendencies. Life can be challenging. To feel happy and successful we need both natural strengths and the willingness to shore up our capacities with skill-building.


  • Rebounding quickly after being knocked flat on your face as opposed to spending days, weeks, months or years laying in the quagmire feeling desolate without making a plan for action).
  • Looking at life’s little gifts, savoring and being grateful, even when it feels as though things are not turning the way you expected
  • Evaluating ideas critically & testing assumptions, as opposed to blindly accepting ideas and borrowed beliefs without testing them
  • Being hopeful while at the same time having a healthy realism.
  • Spending time on activities or with people that bring meaning to your life, or having a sense of purpose.
  • Having personal integrity, understanding yourself and being true to your values and beliefs, after you have consciously tested them.
  • Knowing what brings you healthy pleasure and what brings you pain and doing what you can to maximize the former and minimize the latter.
  • Having a sense of being in control of your thoughts, feelings and behaviors as opposed to seeing yourself as a victim of life circumstances.
  • Caring about your future self and curiously wondering “what else is possible for me?”


-The person who identifies as an addict or problem user but chooses to experiment with new coping methods after relapse is exhibiting strength.  

-The person who identifies as being “anxious” but learns and practices new skills, to discipline their thinking, is exhibiting strength.

-The person who identifies as depressed but uses reserves of willpower to make themselves eat and walk around the block is exhibiting strength.

-The person who identifies with being overweight but keeps hope alive by getting back to a healthy diet and exercise routine is exhibiting strength.

-The person who despite their best efforts to fix an unhealthy relationship, decides to preserve their spirit by walking away, is exhibiting strength.


Having thoughts, feelings and behaviors that are aligned with a sense of being strong is not something we are necessarily born with. For most of us, it is something we deliberately, consciously and incrementally develop. Strength of character is built incrementally, just as a muscle is. Muscle tears as it builds and often it is our trauma and challenges that build our strength. Strong people see adversity as an opportunity to grow.

There are specific mindsets that allow people to feel strong, happy and successful.

-the willingness to learn how to discipline our thinking.

-the willingness to learn how to discipline our imagination.

-the willingness to move out of our comfort zones and take new action.


1.      What does being strong mean to you?

2.      Who do you know that exhibits this way of being?

3.      Are your decisions and actions coming from a place of strength or fear?

4.      What one thing can you begin to incorporate into your life that will grow your sense of being a stronger person?

Terri Lee Cooper MSc. RSW