Developing Inner Strength

“… the point to my life is my growth or strengthening and (this) lies not merely in expanding but in ascending, which involves overcoming previous states of myself.

– John Richardson

Forward Motion

It occurred to me recently, when walking up a steep track on the hill by my home, a hill I power up regularly, that it is important to develop a strong upward, and forward motion in life, no matter what lay across the path ahead, or what has gone before.

I have come to love this feeling of personal power and agency. It is something I urge all my clients to develop, because this feeling of strength comes with a sense of meaning, mastery, security, and accomplishment. These feelings are undoubtedly an antidote to mental ill health.

I emerged from childhood injured, maybe we all do to a greater or lesser degree. If parents are to hold and guide their children, and to provide something of a secure base, mine had not exactly succeeded. If they are ideally to model good health, in the myriad of ways one can be healthy, mine had failed, not entirely, but significantly and in some major areas.

Addicted, unavailable and chaotic, lost to their own drama, they failed to provide the consistent nurturing I needed to grow in predominantly healthy ways. This used to hurt, and I thought it was unfair. It took me a long time to accept that my family, with all our dysfunction, was mine to make sense of, and more importantly, to heal from.

Personal Agency

A major turning point occurred for me when I understood in no uncertain terms, that I was responsible for the quality and outcome of my life no matter what I had encountered as a child. Part of this involved being able to clearly, and honestly identify personal weaknesses, so that I could work out how to overcome them and grow in strength, and as a person.

In this way, strength became one of the central focuses of my life. I learned how to consciously choose to turn my attention towards difficult things and over time began to enjoy the process of mastering them.

When it comes to the development of strength, I have found it helpful to narrow my attention to a manageable list of things. Once I have a list, in my head, or on the fridge, I am then clear about what exactly I am working on at any given time. This helps me to remain focussed, but also reduces overwhelm, and the hopelessness that threatens when I try to address too much in one go.

In my experience, the list I have is forever changing, as in time, and with enough care and attention, I become skilled at addressing whatever issue I have identified. I then get to cross something off the list. I know when I have become stronger in some significant way because my life improves. This personal development and strengthening of the self are a true victory for the individual, and a fantastic feeling! It is far preferable to being rendered stuck in the realm of perpetual victim.

When I have successfully made a positive change and grown, I make sure that I acknowledge it clearly. It is celebrated in some way.  I give myself a good pat on the back or share my victory with a loved one. I then set about identifying what weakness is next and I create a new list.


At the beginning, in my early twenties, when I realised what a mess I was and what I might have to do to develop a life that resembled something like a real success, the things on the list were big, and felt almost too overwhelming. Some of the things I had to address were very painful and complex, and they took ages to fix, and when I say ages, I mean exactly that. I had to reverse maladaptive behaviours and beliefs that related to my dysfunctional childhood, and this was far from straightforward. Patience really is a virtue.

I got help where I could and when needed, but more importantly, I set to it, determined to succeed no matter what.

In time, things started to improve, and my life became more stable. I began to feel more whole, more capable.

Now the things on my list are generally less overwhelming and are often even fun. Rather akin to something like pottery, where you start with a lump of cold hard clay, wondering where on earth to start or what you might end up with. The whole endeavour eventually becomes more defined, sophisticated and beautiful the further into the project you journey.

The key, is to not give up when you are arm deep in dirt and mess, wondering what the hell you ever started for. Don’t give in to self-doubt. Have faith, be kind to yourself as you go, and proud that you have the courage to try to make something beautiful out of your life.

“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

– Marcus Aurelius

Aiming ‘Up & Out’

Many give into hurt and loss and the difficulty of it all, perhaps they become bitter, weary, or cynical and stop trying. Fuck that! Dare to keep dreaming, and to love, and to recreate yourself. Aim up and out, and picture yourself in a stronger, saner and healthier place.

Stand firmly on the top of your own mountain and take in the view. Look down on your courageous journey, to the bottom where depression and anxiety threatened to take you over. Acknowledge the times that you chose not to give up and forged on instead.

As the years passed by, I have noticed that there are a few central themes when it comes to the development and maintenance of strength. Some things that never come off the list so to speak. I think this might be due to the essential role that they have played in my overall health and wellbeing and are therefore aspects of strength I am always working on.

Maybe they are just types of strength that I love the most, things that I have identified as hugely meaningful to me. I am sure yours would be different, but maybe not. This is a wondrous aspect of our individual humanity; we must work such things out for ourselves.

Alternatively, we can flail around aimlessly, hopelessly, helplessly, praying that things somehow get easier or improve by chance. Or we can outsource our wellbeing to the ‘experts,’ hoping that they are being honest about their solutions, their quick fixes, and take our chances that this next miracle cure will somehow alleviate our suffering for us.

I’ve worked out that I’d rather be working for something personally than be left with prayer alone, or some other type of magical thinking. Or worse, wait for someone or something outside of myself to make it all better for me.

It is worth noting that my journey in each area of strength has been far from seamless, and I have observed that this has bothered me less and less the older I get. There are a lot of ways to gain strength after all, so as we get strong in different ways, it is natural that our focus might shift and diversify over time.

I have become convinced, as many before me have, if we are to cope with the challenges of existence, we must remember to stay strong in as many ways as we can.

No pills, no pain relief, and no cowering away within endless distractions. Just grit, and determination and a whole lot of character, the way we used to know it needed to be done! Don’t build your houses out of straw or sticks.

Getting to Work

Here are some suggestions for areas of strength which I have found personally invaluable. Certainly not an exhaustive list but something to get anyone started should they need some inspiration.

  1. Be as physically strong and healthy as you can.
    Get clear about what is good for you and what is not. Move lots and be outdoors often so that you develop a deep and nourishing relationship with nature. Sleep well, eat whole foods and deal with any harmful addictions that you have.
  2. Be as honest as you can, with yourself and with others.
    Apply yourself to thinking and speaking as clearly and truthfully as you are able. Stop lying. Strive to live in such a way that means you no longer need to lie.
  3. Develop a strong, predominantly positive, and stable mind.
    Address any repetitive and damaging mental negativity that you have. Avoid anything that fills your mind with useless or harmful information. Devote time to solitude, quiet and experiences that promote space.
  4. Develop healthy, nurturing, and secure relationships.
    Get clear about who is good for you and who is not. Remove truly harmful people from your life like your life depends upon it, because it does. Make the relationships that are important to you strong, sane and secure. Spend time with people who are strong enough to challenge you and who will tell you when they think you are wrong, and who compliment you specifically when you deserve it.
  5. Develop a sense of personal value.
    Become sure about who you are. Stop doing things that make you feel ashamed of yourself. Develop a life that you would be proud of others seeing to the smallest detail as this is real freedom.
  6. Become increasingly present in and grateful for your life.
    Learn how to show up in each moment and chose to love and accept life as much as possible despite the problems and suffering it involves. Own your own propensity for negativity and pay attention to the damage it causes both you and the world.

To conclude, ideally as we age, we are continuously developing personal strength in a plethora of ways. It is meaningful to do so. This is true from day one, and I hope possible until we take our last breath.

Leading the Way

We must keep working out how to become strong and how to stay that way. The challenges we each face in life are a crucial part of that process. Because of this, we must learn to face such things with courage, increasing wisdom and resolve. A person with this attitude is a true gift to their loved ones and to the world as they model this way of approaching life and remind us to do the same.

Humans, at their best, are courageous, hopeful, and resilient. Ideally, we do not cower from life, and we are not rendered paralysed by death or the difficulty of it all.

We must stride out into the world despite its inherent risks and inevitable losses, and fully inhabit our own lives. And we must develop the courage to love, and to give, and be useful and creative.

And when things are hard, which they will inevitably be for us all, we must dig deep, learn to suffer well, and with grace and great heart.

And once you have developed something like profound and genuine personal strength, be loving, and generous, and scoop as many people up as you can along the way and encourage them that they can do the same.

The answer to the inevitable and intrinsic hardship of life folks, is to be strong.

Laura How
Laura How

My name is Laura and I have been a counsellor since 2011. I am also a happy wife, mother, exercise enthusiast and personal growth fanatic.

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