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7 Characteristics of Emotionally Strong People

... and why criers can be just as tough as anyone else.

Key points

  • Emotional strength involves a person’s ability to deal with challenges and bounce back from them, not how they respond in any given moment.
  • Emotional strength is something that can only be assessed over time.
  • Emotionally strong people are more adaptable to change.
Blend Images/Shutterstock
Source: Blend Images/Shutterstock

Emotionally strong people manage the stresses of daily life more effectively and recover more quickly from challenges and crises when they arise. Since emotional strength refers to a person’s internal coping abilities, can we accurately judge a person’s internal fortitude based on what we see on the outside?

Popular culture often portrays emotionally strong people as quiet, stoic types who never complain and whose emotional expression during crises is limited to jaw-squaring, fist-clenching, and silent dramatic stares into the horizon. Any signs of emotional "leakage" (i.e., expressing emotional distress in any way) or tears (especially in men), is often viewed as evidence the person has difficulties coping and is emotionally weak.

Such notions are not only incorrect but tremendously misleading.

Emotional strength has little to do with stoicism and even less to do with any momentary reaction. Rather, emotional strength is something that can only be assessed over time. By definition, it involves a person’s ability to deal with challenges and bounce back from them, not how they respond in any given moment.

For example, if two entrepreneurs invested five years in a startup that fails, which of them is emotionally stronger—the one who feels heartbroken and bursts into tears when funding falls through, or the one who feels heartbroken but keeps their emotions in check?

The answer is neither; it was a trick question. (Sorry.)

The person’s immediate reaction matters much less than what they do thereafter. Someone might break into tears in the moment, feel terrible for a week, but then bounce back and start working on their next big idea. A seemingly stoic person might appear to cope better in the moment, yet feel so defeated that they give up their entrepreneurial dreams altogether. In such a comparison, the "crier" clearly has more emotional fortitude than the "jaw-squarer," despite displaying greater emotional distress in their immediate response.

Many of us judge ourselves incorrectly in such scenarios. If we react emotionally or tearfully to challenging situations, we chastise ourselves for being "weak," even though we intend to persist and move forward, or even when we believe we will eventually succeed.

Tears are usually a sign of frustration and disappointment, not defeat. What you believe about your future chances of success and how discouraged you feel in the long term is far more important than how your tear ducts respond to stresses and bad news.

Wondering if you have emotional strength? Here are 7 ways to assess yourself and others:

Emotionally strong people ...

  1. are less discouraged by setbacks and disappointments.
  2. are more adaptable to change.
  3. are able to recognize and express their needs.
  4. focus on getting around a hurdle rather than on the hurdle itself.
  5. can learn from mistakes and criticism.
  6. tend to see the larger perspective in a challenging situation.
  7. are able to recover more quickly from emotional wounds such as failure or rejection.

If you don’t register strongly based on this list, take heart, because you can build emotional strength and resilience by working on your mindset and learning more adaptable responses to the daily distresses of life.

Copyright 2015 Guy Winch.


The Conner-Davidson Resilience Scale, Depression and Anxiety 18:76-82, (2003)

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