What Is Strength?

Strength is an interesting thing.  I’m not talking about muscles and physical strength.  I’m talking about personal strength, emotional strength.  That intangible strength that we mean when we say someone is a “strong person.”

While strength is a trait in all genders, I want to specifically discuss what it means for males.  I frequently work with men who feel one of the primary attributes for being a “good man” is to be strong.  The issue I run into is that I frequently don’t agree with them about what it really means to be strong.

It seems our culture has created a certain image of a strong male.  That image has characteristics like these: 1) Don’t acknowledge emotions with the exception of happiness and anger; 2) Don’t admit you are wrong or made a mistake; 3) Don’t apologize, and; 4) Never appear vulnerable.

The trouble with those characteristics is that they really aren’t about strength.  They are the fence that prevents everyone from knowing if you are strong.

Think of it this way.  If you get a dog and put a really strong, high fence around the yard, the dog doesn’t have to be very strong to defend the yard.  Oh, it might be a ferocious Rottweiler.  But it might also be a cuddly little puppy.  The fence prevents us from knowing because we can never connect with the dog.

That’s how those traits work.  They prevent other people from ever truly connecting with the “strong” man.  All we get to see is the fence that is around him.

So what is real strength?  In my book it is the ability to face all of those things that the fence tries to keep out.  It is be able to admit that you have an emotional reaction and to experience those emotions…good or bad…and survive them.

It is also about being able to accept when you make a mistake.  Strength allows us to recognize and acknowledge our errors.  In turn those errors can make us even stronger because we learn from them.

A strong man also apologizes when he has hurt or offended someone.  Instead of seeing it as a sign of weakness he understands that it is an acknowledgment of being human.  And a desire to repair and/or strengthen a relationship. It lets the other person know that you care enough to make it right.  And it will add to your credibility as a man.

The most important way to demonstrate strength is to admit vulnerability.  Try as we might to deny it, we are all vulnerable.  A truly strong man can expose that vulnerability and withstand what comes his way.  It is easy to defend the parts that are invulnerable…but facing life with our vulnerabilities is truly a show of strength.

You might ask why would any one want to be vulnerable?  The answer is because it is through vulnerability that we truly connect in a deep, emotional way.  The deepest connection comes when we can turn to another person and trust them enough to expose our vulnerabilities.  Having that level of trust, to say “I am willing to risk exposing my most vulnerable side to you” creates the type of bond and connection we all seek.

If you don’t believe in the value of vulnerability, watch this incredible video by Brene Brown.

I challenge you, no matter what your gender, to consider what it means to be strong.  Does it really mean avoiding and protecting and denying?  Or does it really mean the ability to face and expose and accept?  I firmly believe it means the latter.

About awentherapy

I am Jay Blevins, LMFT (www.awentherapy.com). I am a licensed systems therapist with a private practice in Madison, WI. While I work with individuals and partners around a wide variety of issues, my primary focus in on alternative relationship structures, alternative sex and sexuality, and power dynamics. I am a contributor to various relationship and sexuality blogs and publications and have been a frequent presenter at alternative lifestyle events and psychotherapy conferences.
This entry was posted in Awen Therapy, Brene Brown, Emotions, MFT, Psychotherapy, Strength, Therapy, Vulnerability and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What Is Strength?

  1. Jen Burkel says:

    Hey Jay:
    nice piece on strength. There is a group in DC called Men Can Stop Rape. This program works with high schools and does Men of Strength campaign. It is currently being assessed by the CDC. Also there are a great number of men that are doing work around men’s non-violent strength (Tony Porter, Jackson Katz, Ben ?) – I can’t remember them right now but if you are interested let me know.
    be well.

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