Therapy Works

Strong or unbreakable? A guide to increasing our inner strength by Ana Marcela Rodrigue

Our culture and society confuse strength with defense mechanisms. Kind of like armor, defense mechanisms shield our inner selves and give people a different first impression (and second and third…) when they look at us. Defense mechanisms help us present what we want others to see. Examples may include not crying, not talking about those ugly emotions, not talking about things that may make others uncomfortable, not touching on sensitive issues, and not confronting an issue. Used like armor, these defense mechanisms can make us seem unbreakable. I remember a lot of peoples commenting when people close to someone died saying “he’s super strong, he didn’t shed a tear”. “Look how strong he is, he didn’t even take

time off work when his mom died.” It’s as if life rewards people who endure without expressing their feelings. Although there is no prize, it seems we often compete for that trophy of “I don’t cry, it doesn’t hurt and I don’t need anyone”.

Inner strength is just the opposite of relying on defense mechanisms. It takes strength to be vulnerable. This strength allows a person to break and be okay with it. This strength permits us to talk about the emotions that scare us, about the issues that “we should keep hidden.

Strong is the one who says “I can take it anymore, and I need help” Strong are my patients who tell me “this is overwhelming and I want to process it”. Strong is the one who cries without apologizing. Strong is the one who says NO, knowing that it is going to complicate things.

Being strong is a skill that can be acquired.

First, you need to know yourself very well… this requires a process of deep introspection to discover who you are – this is essential.

Learn to identify the emotions you feel and let them live in you for as long as necessary. By the way, emotions last minutes — and there is no one who has cried non-stop for 24 hours, so dont be afraid of emotions or the bodys reactions to these emotions.

Name the emotions and share them with someone you have a close and trusting

relationship with. Talking about how we feel — contrary to what we might think — makes us feel better, even when these emotions are negative. The importance of being with someone we love and loves us is extremely important because a basic human need of us is to BE SEEN. We need them to see us and validate us.

Get close to your pain – know it… you need to know it in order to deal with it. You have to talk about what hurts you the most. If you keep running to the opposite side of the pain, one day it will catch up with you, catch you unawares and sweep you away. (Believe me, being swept away or knocked over is not pleasant at all.)

A better idea is to get to know your “monster” – get to know him so well that you know where he came from, how he got there, and what his purpose is – and one day invite him out of your life. Sometimes they resist, but the more you work with him and not against him — the faster he will go.

Set limits. My favorite author, Brene´ Brown, is a researcher and social worker who found in her research this meaning of limits. I love this: limits are the space where I love myself, and I love you, and you love me, and you love yourself. Setting limits is doing things that benefit me and stop doing things that do not benefit me, even if this means making you uncomfortable.

Maybe I´ll make you uncomfortable because I´m not going to do what you want or expect from me, but I won´t carry the resentment of taking it at my expense. This way I can continue loving you and loving myself.

Everything is more beautiful in words — doing it is more complicated; but I promise you that when you practice setting BOUNDARIES you will find that you are more at ease with yourself and with others. This tranquility often does not come instantly — it is with practice and with the accumulation of this constant practice.

And as you see isn’t easy to be strong – Hopefully we meet more strong people and have real testimonies and guides on how to do it. I wish you a lot of strength – this strength is what will really get you ahead and will allow you to live a fuller life.


Ana Marcela Rodríguez is a marriage and family therapist and the founder of Therapy Works Counseling- the first 100% Hispanic practice for Hispanics in North Texas. She and her team provide psychological therapy to the Latino and bilingual community in Texas.

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