It is peculiar to me how strength is defined in the mind. The description can sometimes be one dimensional and very specific and at other moments, polymorphous and vague. There are occasions when that which we think is strength is not strength at all and other occasions in which we demonstrate strength unaware. Emotions elicit strength, moral conscious calls upon it, and our ego-driven survival system demands it. Unlike courage, which is a confidence that encourages and sustains us, strength can be blind.

I would posit that the strength which serves us best is the one we are consciously engaged in. There is less likelihood we will injure ourselves or others if we can see it at work in us. Strength seems an ambivalent force which when employed consciously, can liberate us from a caustic condition, and when employed unconsciously, can restrain us in that same corrosive condition. As a therapist, I often witness an ever-present strength in clients even when weakness is manifest. That strength, when hidden, lives in defiance to a healing journey. A hidden and uninterpreted strength is an impotent strength and the price for salvation through an impotent strength is a subtle tyranny of pseudo-safety over real growth. Sometimes an allied strength is an adversary.

Our culture admires strength, even when it is unrecognized at times as unmitigated failure. Perhaps it is the idea of strength that we admire more than the outcome. Strength without courage is impotent. The strength to hold fast to deadness, sickness, and failing projections is no strength at all. The strength to let go takes fortitude, fueling life; the strength to hold on invokes paralysis, fueling fear.

I have learned that strength is not a switch but a dial. It is always with us and the frequency needs tuning as all things do. Strength unattended by courage acts as if it is cowardly and at its core is the refusal to let go. Letting go is a threshold moment, a change of ethos, a creative act of taking hold of the life that has waited patiently for us. Perhaps John Keats understood this when he wrote, “That which is creative, must create itself.”

There is a price to be paid, even in sanctuary. It costs you your projections, myths, understandings, and perceptions. It pays the dividend of a limitless potency in pursuit of potential still further and unknown. To exchange all that you are certain of for the ambivalence this dividend offers can exhaust your basic illusions… but that, according to Arthur Miller, is how an era ends and a new one begins. Change awakens us into a more conscious strength.

Arbor Family Counseling has helping professionals who can guide this change of era and assist in the interpretation of your strength. I hope you will partner with us in your healing journey.


Originally Published as “The Impotence of Strength“ by Steve Thomas,