Cultivating Inner Strength

SeagullsDuring challenging times when we feel stressed, experience losses, illnesses, and pain we may need the help of a therapist to rebuild resilience and inner strength. A therapist can assist you in discovering inner resources—or your own inner strengths.

Rick Hanson (2014) describe them as including:

capabilities (e.g., mindfulness, emotional intelligence, resilience), positive emotions (e.g., gratitude, love, self-compassion), attitudes (e.g., openness, confidence, determination), somatic inclinations (e.g., relaxation, grit, helpfulness), and virtues (e.g., generosity, courage, wisdom). This is the good stuff we want to have inside ourselves.

Why are these inner strengths important? Because they helps us deal with our challenges in a more open, kind and fearless way as well as give us a sense increased effectiveness in our everyday life.

You can grow your inner strengths alone; however, this process often takes a lot of discipline and determination. Or, you can meet with a therapist regularly to increase your capacity for cultivating them. Together in the therapeutic relationship you could learn to:

Identify the issue and the root of the problem. Sometimes it’s related to our world, our situation or sometimes it’s located in our body. The least we can do is noticing it and relate with our reactions to it.

Rick Hanson continues on posing the following questions, which could be address during therapy:

What psychological resource – inner strength – if it were more present in your mind, would really help with this issue?

This is the key question. It can be interestingly difficult to answer, so an initial confusion or struggle with it is common. Clues toward an answer could come from exploring these questions:

  • What – if you felt or thought it more – would make things better?
  • Does the issue ever get better for you – and if so, what factors in your mind (e.g., perspectives, feelings, motivations) help it be better?
  • Deep down, related to this issue, what does your heart long for?

There could be more than one resource, of course, but for simplicity and focus, it does help to zero in on just one or two key resources at a time.

Sometimes we need to grow an intermediate resource (e.g., capacity to tolerate feeling rejected, so that we are willing to risk experiencing that feeling) in order to get at the key resource we need to develop inside (e.g., inclination to ask for love).

How could you have experiences of this inner strength?

In other words, how could you activate it in your mind so that you can install it in your brain? It could be that the resource is already present and you just need to notice it (e.g., the feeling that the body is basically alright right now). But often, you need to deliberately create it (e.g., call up a sense of determination from the emotional/somatic memory of times you pushed through a difficulty).

How could you help this experience of the inner strength really sink in to you?

In other words, how could you enhance the installation, the neural encoding, of this experience to grow this resource inside yourself?

If you like, you can be aware of both the resource (e.g., feeling determined) and one or more psychological aspects of the issue (e.g., feeling helpless) so that the resource starts associating with and helping with these aspects of the issue.


Hanson, R. (2014). Grow a key inner strength – Just One Thing. To subscribe to his newsletter click here.

© Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

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