Most of us want to feel strong, and recoil from any sense of ‘weakness’. But I think we often confuse strength with ‘power’ – which is actually a kind of cowardice because it usually involves getting compliance from someone more vulnerable by threatening them in some way. ‘Empowerment’, on the other hand, is about helping other people feel stronger. It’s the opposite of being a bully, who may have power over someone for a while but will never be respected. To me now, that’s the greatest kind of strength.
Some men are naturally physically stronger than other men; and some women are physically stronger than some men. But like with a penis, it’s not the size of my biceps which matters, but what I choose to do with them. In fact, physical strength is the easiest kind to develop – it just takes repetition of whatever challenges my muscles. I’ve found emotional strength is much harder to grow, but much more important for helping me have a happy and fulfilling life in which I’m managing my emotions rather than letting them control me.
Some of us have been socialised to believe that having a mental health problem is a ‘weakness’ and something to be ashamed of, so that even though we need help, we carry on pretending we’re fine, even when behind the mask everything is getting worse. And we never know how many other people are feeling the same as us because they’re all hiding it as well. Fortunately, things are changing for the better as more high-profile male and female role models are admitting to the emotional problem that they’ve faced, and their willingness to seek out help when they’ve needed it
To me, emotional strength means being brave enough to be completely honest with myself, and everyone else about how I feel, what I want, and what I need. It’s not always easy, because there is always the risk that I’ll be rejected; but real self-honesty means I can be at ease with myself and not dependent on anyone else’s approval.
It takes practice, just like building physical strength. But if you’re clear about what’s important to you, and the limits to the compromises you’re willing to make, you can practice acting only in ways that feel right for you – whatever anyone else might say. So next time your partner is angry with you, for example, instead of retreating or getting defensive, ask them to share more with you about how they’re feeling and why, and what they’d like you to do about it.
This way an argument can create closeness instead of difference. Think of it like an opportunity for an emotional work-out to help build your emotional muscles. There’s