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What Does it Mean to be Emotionally Strong?

I have heard it said many times when people discuss being emotionally strong, “I can’t cry”, “I have to be strong”, “I have to do this by myself” Or “I have to “man-up.”  While reflecting on the idea of being “strong”. In the movie the Wizard of Oz the Lion was called cowardly due to his fear, The Tin Man rusted when he cried, the scare crow lost his hay when he showed anger.  Fear, sadness, anger; how would they ever be able to help Dorothy?

Being emotionally strong

By Don Minkoff, LCSW

The question becomes, are our feelings a weakness?  Emotions are a part of us, they are what we all experience each day.  The statements above recognize that feelings are experienced.  However, it comes down to how one expresses those feelings.

One of my resources for this article stressed that, conversations tend to focus more on what we’re doing or what we’re thinking. In fact, most people find it easier to start sentences with, “I think…” instead of “I feel…” simply because it feels less awkward 1.”  The author talks about how “most of us are never educated about feelings. Instead, we’re supposed to learn socially acceptable ways to deal with feelings by watching the people around us 1

Emotional Strength

Emotional strength is not just the feelings we experience at the moment, but what we do afterword’s. Expression of feelings creates the opportunity for emotional release, finding peace within self, then the freedom to connect with others and act.  The person who responds with feelings and then goes forward to resolve the issue is an emotionally strong person.

Emotionally strong people are able to:

  • Be less discouraged by setbacks.
  • Be more adaptable to change.
  • Have the skills to recognize and express their needs.
  • Focus on getting around a hurdle rather than on the hurdle itself.
  • Learn from mistakes and criticism.
  • Have the ability to see the larger perspective in a challenging situation.
  • Recover more quickly from emotional wounds such as failure or rejection. 3

Identifying Your Feelings

So what are techniques for learning to identify feelings?

  1. Examine your physical response. There is a physical reaction when we experience feelings. Reactions such as tight chest/shoulders, stomach tightness or pain, face flush or tears. As you experience those physical reactions; step back and ask “what is going on?”
  2. Identify the Feeling. Talk to someone, a friend, family member or social worker to assist you in examining and identifying what your body is expressing.
  3. Be Still. As you experience these feelings, don’t turn to something to distract you.  Reflect on what you are experiencing so can you grow into remembering the feeling.
  4. Write. Take the time to write a journal or a summary of what you are experiencing and what is going on that is causing you to think and feel and how you are expressing that feeling. Learn what and how you are reacting to the life events.
  5. Listen to music. All forms of music elicit feelings.  Tie the music to a particular feeling.
  6. Reflect. Spend the end of the day thinking about your day; what made you happy, angry, nervous, etc.  Use the journal to review what happened during the day.  Look at how you reacted, what worked and how you could have reacted differently; learning how to express the feeling in a healthy way.

The Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow

Growing into knowing and experiencing your feelings can be difficult when you have not developed the skill base to think about how you feel. However, with practice one’s ability to recognize, experience and learn how to express your emotions in a healthy way will improve yourself and your interpersonal relationships.

The Lion, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow were all able to embrace their emotions.  However, that was the movie ending, remember if you need help processing your emotions, the social workers at Jewish Family Service are here to assist.