8 Habits That Make You Emotionally Strong

Emotional strength is acquired gradually over time by those who choose to prioritise personal development. The stronger your emotional strength, the easier you can rebound from hardship and form resilience. Tough times do not hinder you from working towards your goals and aspirations. 

What is resilience? 

Resiliency is the ability to conquer gruelling situations and spring back into shape. Sequoia National Park in California is the home for many Giant Sequioas, which are the largest and oldest living organisms on earth. These trees originate from a tiny cone and eventually they grow bigger and taller with age. These trees are not immune to fire, however they are able to survive it because of their thick barks which contain tannin. Fire clears the undergrowth, which opens the cones, permitting the germination of seeds. Furthermore, a growth spurt in the trees would soon follow the forest fires. 

What can we learn from these Giant Sequioas? As we navigate our lives, there are many challenges that we have to face. Therefore, learning how to tackle these challenges with emotional strength allows us to experience growth. 

So…, Psych2goers, have you ever wondered how you can develop your emotional strength? Below are 8 habits that you can cultivate to nurture your emotional strength:

  1. You practice gratitude

One good habit that you can cultivate is gratitude. Gratitude turns what we have into enough. Learn to count your blessings, no matter how small or big. Sometimes, when we are going through a hard time, our mind has the tendency to highlight all the negative things that happen in our lives while neglecting the good. 

Look at it this way, there is always beauty in the “negative space”. In art or photography, negative space is the empty space that surrounds the main element of interest (the subject) which itself can be called positive space. Negative space may be most evident when it forms an interesting or artistically relevant shape, and such space occasionally is used to embody the artistic effect as the “real” subject of the image. A negative space often lacks any sort of detail or colour, thus one might think that it is not an important element of the composition itself. However, that is certainly not true. Like everything in the photograph, it too has a visual “weight”. At first glance, it “lessens” our subject, makes it smaller, seemingly drowning it in the empty space. However, if we look closer, we could see that our subject grows by becoming smaller. 

This principle of negative space is relevant to the practice of gratitude. As we live on, we will definitely encounter countless positive and negative moments, be it in terms of studies, financial, career, health, or relationship. Similar to negative spaces, negative moments are lacking in colours and “gloomy”. When at first we are stricken by a negative experience, we tend to be drowned in it and all the positive experiences in our lives are nullified by it and seem insignificant. However, when we look at the bigger picture, we will be able to see that the negative moments are definitely needed to shift the focus towards positive aspects in life. We will be able to learn how to see the “unseen” …If it is not for the bad things that we have experienced in life, we will not be able to realize the sweetness and beauty of good moments that we often take for granted. 

2. You stay true to your values 

One crucial component to mastering your emotional strength is to create a life that is in line with your values. 

First and foremost, how do you define a “value” anyway?

Psychologist Barb Markway and Celia Ampel in “The Self-Confidence Workbook” stated that values “are the principles that give our lives meaning and allow us to persevere through adversity,”. 

When we are able to identify and pinpoint our values, we can start to design a life which is aligned with our true self, avoiding the sense of “losing yourself” and cultivating real happiness in our own terms. 

Authenticity. Balance. Bravery. Compassion. Community. Creativity. Determination. Generosity. Honesty. Integrity. Justice. Kindness. Love. Optimism. Respect. Responsibility. Social connection. Spirituality. Stability. Status. Wealth. Wisdom. 

Ask yourself, among the values listed above, what are the six top values that you prioritise the most?   For what do you stand? For what will you fight? These values become a guideline on what you want to be and what you will choose in every aspect or your life. An easier way to identify your core values is to list your role models or heroes. The people whom you respect and admire. What is it about them that makes you aspire to be like them? List their characteristics that deeply resonate with you. 

Your values help you to navigate tough times. When you face a difficult decision, looking for the values underlying a specific choice can assist you to move forward. The result of that particular choice may not turn out that well, however at least you know why you have made the choice in the first place. You will focus on your valued reasons and thus will be able to avoid regret and self-blame. 

3. You are a realistic optimist

Statement A: “Don’t worry, this is just a small problem and things will turn out just fine.”

Statement B : “This problem is indeed difficult, however I believe when we take the right steps, we will be able to find the right solutions. Hey, it is worth trying, right?” 

Compare statements A and B above, what do you think? 

Statement A represents unrealistic optimism, whilst statement B portrays realistic optimism. 

Unrealistic optimism is harmful to emotional health. This unhealthy optimism may hinder us from letting our loved ones express their emotions in a healthy way and as a consequence, the latter will tend to bottle up their feelings. This kind of optimism prevents us from acknowledging their pain and problems. On the contrary, realistic optimism enables us to accept the hard situations that our loved ones are facing, but at the same time letting them know that things might change if they actively work for it.  In other words, a realistic optimist tends to take action and contribute to solving problems, and is not afraid to take up new challenges for a brighter future. 

4. You focus on the things you can control

Sometimes, as humans, we may find it hard to accept the vicious truth in life : You have no control over many of the things that happen in your life. A licensed psychotherapist, Amy Morin (2017) stated, “Some people who resist this truth become control freaks.” These people believe that bad things can be prevented when they gain enough control over other people and the situations that they encounter. As a consequence, they micromanage and desperately try to force things to go their way. 

In order to be emotionally strong, you need to determine what you can control. You can’t always prevent a storm from coming, but you can always make preparations for it. Other people’s behaviours and reactions are not in your control, but you can always control how you react. 

5. You set healthy boundaries 

What is a healthy boundary? 

Boundaries comprise of your physical, emotional, and mental limits that you create to help you determine what you are comfortable with and how you would like others to treat you, but at the same time being responsive to others. 

It is definitely not an easy task to establish boundaries in our interpersonal relationships. Some may have very rigid boundaries, whereby they are swift to say “no” and slow to say “yes”; which can turn into a defensive shield that steers people away. On the other side of the spectrum, some may have very “flimsy” and weak boundaries, whereby they tend to be people pleasers, sacrificing their needs in order to fulfill what other people want from them (Amodeo, 2020). 

We create boundaries to survive and protect ourselves from harm. There is no shame in defending your own survival before others. Highlight: before others, not at the expense of others. The proper and most effective way to set your boundaries is by knowing yourself and your values that you abide by, and try to establish your boundaries based on these values. 

6. You make peace with the past

“Let go,” your best friend gives you advice when you ask about a certain matter from the past that is weighing you down. 

However, this phrase sounds so simple, yet for you, it feels so difficult. You can’t move on. You still hold onto a grudge or betrayal. It’s like carrying a heavy rucksack on your back while hiking up the Himalaya in windy, cold weather. 

Indeed, people who are emotionally healthy are introspective and reflect on the past, so that they are able to learn from the previous mistakes. However, they never ruminate on it. They are able to accept their past, embrace the present, and plan for the future (Razzeti, 2020). 

Forgive yourself. I know saying it may seem so easy, but practicing it in your daily life will be quite hard after going through tough times. Letting go of the past is to let these stories shape you but never to define your identity. Only by letting go, you are able to make space for new, positive experiences in your life. 

7. You create your own definition of success

Another great habit to build your emotional strength is to owe it to yourself to define the meaning of success in your life. You need to figure out ways to live a successful life on your own terms, instead of what the people around you or the society expects you to do. For some people, they may define success from external acknowledgment, for example, the number of views of one’s post, the promotion in a workplace, the awards or trophies that they obtain. It is not entirely wrong to define your success based on what you get physically, however the limitation to these definitions of success is that they can easily turn out to be egocentric and show an inflated self-worth, instead of self-actualization. One easy way to delineate between these two, is to ask yourself the question, “Why?”. Why do I want to obtain the promotion to my coveted role? Is it because I want to show off to my friends who are still struggling to obtain a stable job? Or is it simply I want to do it for my own self-accomplishment and fulfillment? 

8. You modify your unhealthy beliefs

A licensed psychotherapist, Amy Morin, LCSW (2019) have identified three types of unhealthy core beliefs that are detrimental to emotional strength: 

  1. Unhealthy beliefs about themselves – Thinking you’re a loser or that you’ll never be as good as other people
  1. Unhealthy beliefs about others — Concluding that everyone is out to get you or that you can’t trust anyone
  1. Unhealthy beliefs about the world — Believing that the world is against you or that the world is too tough to thrive in

These unhealthy beliefs imprison you in the world of pessimism, leading you to practice unhealthy habits. By believing that the world is such a cruel place, the people are out to get you, and you will never achieve success, unfortunately, you will tend to develop a victim mentality and feel sorry for yourself. However, you need to move yourself from a position of pain and victim mentality to a position of positive affirmations and power. Remember, what we constantly feed our mind is what we become. Give yourself the love and encouraging words that you will give to your loved ones. 

“Your pain is valid”, “You can ace this with some plan and a little help”, “If anyone can win at this hardship it is you”, “Look how far you have come”, “Your loved ones trust you and want the best for you”, “The world is a beautiful place with all its sweet and not-so-sweet and challenging moments”. 

Utter the words above everyday. Soon you notice that you are able to shift your unhealthy beliefs to healthy ones. 

Final thoughts

Building emotional strength is the key to grit, perseverance, and resilience. This is a lifelong process and requires you to be in a state of continual improvement. Optimal emotional strength enables us to live a life that we love, helps in our ability to challenge new things, and build positive self-esteem. If you are reading this right now, and happen to be on a journey to improve your emotional strength, I wish the best for you, and may the above tips help you in some way or another in developing your emotional strength. 


Amodeo, J. (2020, July 3). Creating Boundaries That Don’t Bind Us. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/intimacy-path-toward-spirituality/202007/creating-boundaries-dont-bind-us. 

Morin, A. (2017, January 8). 10 Strategies to Make Yourself Mentally Stronger. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201701/10-strategies-make-yourself-mentally-stronger.

Morin, A. (2017, May 9). How to Stop Worrying About Things You Can’t Change. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201705/how-stop-worrying-about-things-you-cant-change.

Morin, A. (2019, August 8). One Thing Mentally Strong People Have in Common. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/what-mentally-strong-people-dont-do/201908/one-thing-mentally-strong-people-have-in-common.

Razzeti, G. (2020, February 13). How to Let Go of the Past. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-adaptive-mind/202002/how-let-go-the-past.

Sellg, M. (2018, November 27). 9 Surprising Superpowers of Knowing Your Core Values. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/changepower/201811/9-surprising-superpowers-knowing-your-core-values.

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