10/24/2012 12:19 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2012

What Makes People Strong?

After giving advice recently, I was told, "But I'm not strong like you." "I don't know how you survived." I replied, "You would have been strong, if you had to be," and I continued, "Sometimes, being strong is the only choice you have." Until this conversation, I had never given a lot of thought about our capacity to be strong, and I wondered -- are we inherently strong, or do we become strong only after being tested through adversity?

I believe each of us has an innate capacity for strength and throughout our lives, we develop -- through conditions we find ourselves in -- the skills to be secure, passionate, formidable and determined. However, when we experience trauma and crisis, some of us lose those skills needed for determination, and in turn lose our capacity to "self-right." Life is a little like math -- we can't skip algebra, or else geometry and calculus won't make sense. Likewise, in life we can't move past trauma, we must go through it, experience it fully, or we simply won't have the information or the skills necessary to do well.

What Are the Traits That Make People Strong?

1. Resiliency: Resiliency is the ability to adapt to life's changes and crises. We generally feel safest when we have a sense of control or predictability; but when we find ourselves upside down and not in control, having the capacity to be resilient may be critical in weathering turmoil, and it may be the key to a healthy and productive life. Becoming more resilient means we must be able to be healthy, have energy and cultivate positive feelings during the hardest and darkest of times. When we can improve our problem-solving skills and cultivate the ability to see setbacks as opportunities, we can learn to successfully bounce back from stress, crises, and trauma. We become resilient in order to overcome the many adversities we will face and so that we can bounce back from those problems with more determination and skills, which can lead to better problem solving in the future.

2. Self-Esteem: Life is filled with moments of bad luck, hardship, sorrow and setbacks. Overcoming adversity teaches us to be strong, survive and even thrive under the challenges of life. Those of us who have lived with and overcome obstacles have learned that there are times that require strong action -- and when we step up to meet that need, we learn how to handle new situations, deal with great pain and stay stable and focused. When we face difficulty and disaster head-on and with fearlessness, we strengthen our self-esteem and develop self-confidence. On the other hand, giving in to the hardships -- when we do not handle stress, are unable to endure pain, or are unsuccessful and choose to not stand up for ourselves -- we are at risk for losing respect for ourselves, and our self-esteem will not thrive in these conditions.

3. Love: Strength grows when we have people who love us enough to set limits so we stay out of danger, individuals to show us how to do things right and help us when we are in need. When we have role models who show concern and respect, and who help us be responsible for what we do, we begin to expect that things will be all right. There are situations when we find we are stronger for another's behalf than we would be for ourselves. Mothers who resonate with a child's internal state will, if needed, put their own safety and survival on hold for the sake of the child. We can learn through attachments and caring that there exists help when we need it the most, and that we are never truly alone -- unless we choose to be. Showing our concern for others through devotion, compassion and tenderness supports our ability to find ways to solve problems that we will face, and to develop the skills needed to be strong.

4. Faith: Faith is, at its core, firm convictions. Convictions are the beliefs that ground us and establish the circumstances in our life -- optimism, hopefulness, tolerance and the belief in something. There are many people who don't know what they really believe in. When you lack convictions, instability can create opportunities for weakness instead of strength. I'm suspicious that it is true: "If you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything." Regardless of what is happening in your life, take a stand for what you believe in -- and when we can stand firm when difficult times arrive and when we can hold it together when everyone would understand if we fell apart, we will develop a powerful strength within.

5. Acceptance: To accept our strengths, weaknesses and that situations that will not change, is both wise and strong. We all have weaknesses, and when we address them we develop the ability to be tenacious in our resolve to become stronger; and at the same moment, we give ourselves permission to be human.

During challenging times, my husband will often give this advice, "Life is like a game of golf -- It's a constant game of recovery because sooner or later you will find yourself in the rough." Any one of these traits -- resiliency, self-esteem, love, faith or acceptance -- can help us to become strong and recover from the "rough." When we dedicate our efforts at developing more than one trait, however, we will see exponentially huge rewards in our life and the lives of those we share.

"The weak fall, but the strong will remain and never go under!" -- Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

For more by Linda Durnell, click here.

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