"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places." - Ernest Hemingway
Growing up, I was raised to believe that the world was a scary mean place and you need to be tough to survive in it. Sensitive little girls and boys need to learn to be tough so they don’t get picked on or walked all over. So, I went though most of my life thinking that being tough meant not crying, and being strong meant being able to take care of myself without anyone’s help.
There are many misconceptions about being strong and tough, and the two are actually different things. Misconceptions: Being strong means being able to do it all on your own. Being tough means being able to make others scared of you. Being strong means pushing aside all your fears. Being tough means placing yourself in dangerous situations, etc.
The difference between the two is that toughness is more defensive and strength is more offensive. In other words, being tough is how you react or handle whatever life throws at you. Being strong is what you bring forth within yourself, not only to react to life, but to change it.
Khaled Allen, a MovNat trainer and self-defense coach, guest writes on the blog Art of Manliness in an article titled, “You May Be Strong… But Are You Tough?” No one is born tough, but instead it is a skill that must be learned and practiced. His definition of physical toughness can also be applied to the overall meaning of it, “Physical toughness includes the ability to take abuse and keep functioning, to recover quickly, to adapt to difficult terrain and contexts, and to tolerate adverse conditions without flagging.”
The Singapore Government Health Promotion Board mostly agrees with Allen, but adds a little extra, “Being "tough" here doesn't mean being physically strong or emotionally aggressive. It means being mature and smart enough to weather the challenges that life sends your way.” They add that emotional stability is essential to strength. They explain, “Emotionally stable here means being in touch with your emotions, that you recognise what you feel.” They also address a misconception, and believe that being tough doesn’t mean that you need to be insensitive or unkind.
Toughness is easy to define, but strength is something a little more complex. There are many different kinds of strength, and according to Ryan M. Niemiec, Psy.D., the education director at the VIA Institute on Character, there are seven types. He looks at our strengths as the abilities we possess, which are: character strengths, talents, skills, interests, values, learning styles, and resources. But, he says that character strengths are the “driving force” for all the other categories.
The 24 strengths fall into six categories of virtues:
Wisdom and Knowledge
Love of learning
Forgiveness and mercy
Humility / Modesty
Appreciation of beauty and excellence
An extensive list of definitions and a personality test can be found in this link 24 Character Strengths (also below under sources).
This list shows that we possess many strengths, and we don’t even know how strong we truly are. The biggest lesson I’ve learned in life is that strength means doing things that are really hard to do. Not just lifting heavy objects, but overcoming different obstacles. And it doesn’t mean that you ignore or hide your weaknesses to get through it. It means you accept them.
Anyone can hide their feelings. Anyone can put on a tough face. Anyone can close themselves off in the belief that they are being strong. But it’s easy to do all of those things. Being strong means doing the hard scary things, the things that make you so uncomfortable and terrified, because other people rely on you to do them. Opening up to someone you love. Exposing your weaknesses. Expressing your real opinions. Asking for help. Those are the truly difficult tasks.
When I tried being tough and closed off to emotion, I felt weak. But when I fully embraced who I am – a sensitive, emotional, loving, tough, strong, and brave woman – I never felt stronger. Now I cry more openly. I admit that someone hurt me with mean words. And I try to live life with vulnerability because living that way is hard, but completely necessary to being strong. Never believe that you are weak just because you are human.
p.s. Finding strength from within yourself often means leaning on the strength of others.