Emotional strength has been historically misperceived to be, essentially, a lack of feeling. Up until very recently, emotions were seen as the antithesis to reason. So when we think of emotional strength, we actually imagine a form of numbness, one that just happens to present itself like superiority and unwavering toughness.
In reality, emotional strength actually has little to do with toughness, and a lot to do with resilience -- and they are not the same thing. As positive psychology has branched into a more researched and developed topic over the past 15 years or so, one thing has become clear: it is not how little chaos we experience in life, but how we respond to it, that counts. Here, a few traits of people who genuinely embody emotional strength:
1. They display peace more than they do power.
Genuinely strong people often do not put forth the quintessential traits of dominance or aggressiveness or power. They know that real power is in being your own locus of control. Peace is the most unwavering, unshakable, resilient strength you can possibly possess. The need to display "power" is what people feel when it doesn't seem self-evident to them, or in other words, they feel it doesn't exist.
2. They are willing to feel pain.
Most people spend their whole lives running away from their emotions. They take refuge in relationships, in money, in sex, in beauty, in a desire to seem socially superior. Yet emotionally strong people are strong because they allow their feelings. It is in denying and suppressing feelings that we ultimately lose control, as they are then expressed in far more insidious ways.
3. They are open to being wrong.
Emotionally strong people are sound in themselves, and know that you do not need to be "right" all the time to be smart, or worthwhile, or interesting, or worthy. The need to be right is the same as the need not to be questioned. The need not to be questioned is the same as the fear that being wrong will deconstruct some essential aspect of who you are or how others perceive you.
4. They focus their attention on how to maneuver past obstacles, not on the obstacles themselves.
They see blocks in the road as signals to imagine different routes, while many people are paralyzed, anxious, stuck and unhappy because they assume these obstacles are the end of the road.
5. They seek respect more than they do attention.
The very human desire to be loved and accepted by the group (the "tribe") either manifests itself superficially or not. Chronically unhappy people seek this feeling by trying to create social superiority. Emotionally healthy people seek it by trying to earn the respect of those around them.
6. They do not try to invalidate their feelings by using logic to stop them.
Even if they do not understand or agree or like those feelings, they acknowledge that they exist. They recognize that often uncomfortable feelings aren't rational in nature, and so using logic to dismantle them can be ineffective.
7. They do not try to invalidate other people by seeking out their flaws as a means of diminishing their strengths.
They do not measure or quantify other people's worth, and because they see people independently from what they can do and achieve, they also inherently validate themselves outside of just what they can accomplish within society (or how they appear to be).
8. They know that to change their lives, they must change themselves.
They assume full accountability for whatever is happening in their lives. They regard every experience as feedback. They do not cast blame as a means of deflecting their responsibility; they do not complain, as though crying loudly enough about an injustice will result in the universe rectifying it.
9. They can identify and express their needs to others -- emotional, physical and otherwise.
They do not assume they are inconveniencing someone else with their needs, because they don't see someone else's feelings as being more valid than their own. The opposite of this -- denying yourself for the sake of what someone else will think -- is a common trait of kids who were raised to believe that their parents' needs were more significant than their own, and that how other people think is more important than how they do.
10. They see failure and criticism as feedback, rather than taking it as a sign that they are unworthy.
They aren't seeking external validation for themselves, so they are able to learn from failure and criticism, and give up when it's necessary. They don't project some moral assumption onto any one of these things. They view these things as tools to help them grow -- much like everything else.