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7 Signs of Mentally Strong People

They deal with their past, self-monitor, and self-correct.

Key points

  • Mentally strong and resilient people overcome adversities and learn from them.
  • Research finds that mentally resilient people have personality traits that help them cope with adversity.
  • They tend toward emotional maturity and make an effort to process negative events from their past.

As discussed in Part 1 of this series, mentally strong and resilient people overcome the adversities in their lives over time, learn valuable lessons from them, and can often become enlightened by seemingly impossible setbacks. They generally possess emotional maturity and adaptive defense mechanisms (Metzger, 2014).

Resilience is negatively correlated with psychopathology and correlated with good mental health, proactive coping skills, personality flexibility, and adaptability. Resilient people tend to be able to see another’s perspective during disagreements, solve problems over time, and have more positive outcomes in life than negative ones.

Good mental health is connected to resilience. Most people feel depressed or anxious at some point, but mentally resilient people use the resources they have available to work on getting better. For example, because they tend to be emotionally mature, they see reality for what it is, reach out for support, and are proactive in solving their problems.

Mentally resilient people tend not to struggle with emotional immaturity, which is often a hallmark of more severe psychopathology, including several personality disorders. Emotionally immature people may only see things from only their own perspective, feel their problems are larger than others', and blame other people for their own self-created problems. Further, their perceptions of reality are often overruled by what they “feel”—not facts and reality.

So, how do resilient people bounce back from setbacks so well? Often, by exhibiting the following characteristics:

1. They deal with reality for what it is and deal with challenges directly. Mentally resilient people take stock of facts, research, and feedback from professionals and loved ones. They do not mentally alter history or reality, nor believe revisions to events that have happened. Dealing with reality often includes planning and seeing the situation clearly and frequently conferring with others so they are prepared for the consequences of their behavior and for whatever life throws at them.

2. They accept the consequences of their choices. They take responsibility for their actions and the effects of their decisions. They don’t ignore hurts or pains that occur as a result, and they don't adopt a “victim” role by blaming others for problems they cause themselves. They are also self-compassionate toward themselves during hard times, knowing they are making an effort to do their best in any given circumstance.

3. They possess the ability to self-monitor. Self-monitoring means that one can have an awareness of their behavior, feelings, and thoughts, and regulate their feelings and responses based on the demands of the situation. Proactive about their issues, they reach out for help for problems. They take responsibility for their actions and see how their actions affect others.

4. They possess the ability to self-correct. They adjust their responses in any given situation to produce positive consequences. Because they learn from their mistakes, they produce more positive consequences in their lives than negative ones. They are reliable and consistent in their responses and limitations.

5. They can make meaning of their past hurts and experiences and have a spiritual framework to make meaning of the bad things. Transcendence is key to resilience. “One cannot solve a problem with the same level of consciousness used to create it” (Einstein). Mentally resilient people can transcend their negative experiences in many ways by making “lemons out of lemonade.” For instance, according to Valliant (2000). Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony by channeling his despair over his deafness; in the process, he transcended his challenges into a beautiful contribution to the world of music and art. Mentally strong people often try to use their experiences of struggle and hurt to help others.

6. They do not engage in affective realism; they can access feelings and facts at the same time. Affective realism is basing reality on how one "feels" about events in the world. In this pattern of thinking, emotions overrule and can affect how one perceives content and determines reality, which may be distorted because it is based on a purely emotional lens.

Although mentally strong people can be overcome by emotions like anyone else, they engage in reality testing. This is the ability to recognize the difference between their internal feelings and the external world. Therefore, they can access their rational minds consistently. Accessing your rational mind after a short period and applying facts and logic to a situation is paramount in both emotional maturity and mental resilience.

7. They deal with their past; they don’t bury events. They can recognize and deal with emotionally distressing events in their past, as well as recognize that their past may be affecting their current functioning. Symptoms of “burying” emotions or traumas can include overeating, eating disorders, alcohol or drug use, or other compulsive or problematic behaviors. Mentally strong people seek professional help or find some other way to metabolize their pain such as connecting with trusted loved ones, journaling, or seeking out healing via self-care. By being able to process these events and disappointments or traumas, they do not accumulate into larger-scale problems later in life.

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Childs E., White, T., & Whit, H. (2014). Personality traits modulate emotional and physiological responses to stress. Behavioral Pharmacolology. 25, 493-502. doi:10.1097/FBP.000000000000006.

Metzger, J. A. (2014). Adaptive Defense Mechanisms: Function and Transcendence. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 70(5), 478–488.

Godwin, A. & Lester, G. (2021). Demystifying personality disorders. Clinical Skills for working with drama and manipulation. (PESI)

Turnipseed, D (2018). Emotional intelligence and OCB: The moderating role of work locus of control. Journal of Social Psychology. 2018;158(3):322-336. doi:10.1080/00224545.2017.1346582

Vaillant, G. E. (2000). Adaptive mental mechanisms: Their role in a positive psychology. American Psychologist, 55(1), 89–98.

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