Human strengths are physical, spiritual, psychological, and social characteristics typical to humankind and used to their advantage. The dictionary definition of strength as used in this context is “a beneficial quality or attribute.”
Hence, human strengths are qualities which sustain us and keep us alive. They enable us to overcome obstacles and to succeed. These strengths influence human life by enabling survival and interactions with ourselves and other aspects of nature. They make life worth living.
Conversely, lacking these qualities makes people fit the definition of “inhuman.”
We’ll focus on psychological strengths. I’ll use “psychological strengths” and “human strengths” interchangeably to mean the same thing.
What are Psychological Human Strengths?
Psychology of Human Strengths is a growing area of study in human behaviour.
Psychological human strengths are mental and emotional characteristics or attributes which promote adjustment to new conditions at the individual or social level.
They make you capable of developing and transcending personal and societal circumstances.
You always apply human strengths in daily life. For example, when working toward a specific goal or solving a problem with mental resources and skills, you apply human strengths.
However, individual dispositional traits like intelligence, resilience, optimism and other positive qualities often associated with a better quality of life, are representative of a small part of psychological strengths.
Dispositional: relating to a person’s inherent qualities of mind and character, an inclination or tendency.Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2004.
Unique situations in the social, developmental, or personal context influence the way strengths manifest in specific people.
Particular circumstances can either encourage or hamper the action of human strengths.
So, at an individual level, it may appear as if one human is better than another at some human strengths. Where one excels, another may not.
Otherwise, human strengths are collective and interpersonal. It’s the levels of expressions of these human strengths that differ from individual to individual.
Where another fails, another can raise him. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen in the current world.
Perhaps it will remain a Utopian dream. Nevertheless, with all the hype about mental strength as people are becoming more and more concerned about their mental well-being, there is hope.
Collective: done or belonging to all members of a group.Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2004.
Interpersonal: relating to relationships or communication between people.Concise Oxford English Dictionary, 2004.
Anyhow, here are a few of the common research-verified characteristics of human strengths.
Quick Facts about Human Strengths
- They are part of your nature.
- Every human being has them, not a select few.
- Individuals possess them at different degrees.
- Circumstances such as social group, age, and gender influence human strengths.
- Human strengths are dynamic in the course of an individual’s life span.
- Human beings can regulate when and how to apply them according to their individual needs.
- Psychological human strengths comprise both positive and negative constructs. They may involve both positive and negative states in the same way a human has polar emotions.
- Societal norms and culture influence the expression of human strengths.
8 Types of Psychological Human Strengths
The term “human strengths” is slightly different from “mental strength.” The difference is that we often use “mental strength” to refer to an individual. Human strengths encompass all of us in general. Hence, “human strengths” is a broader term.
Research in Positive Psychology has led to interventions which focus on mental strength. They often target the strengths I’ll outline in this article.
1. The Ability to Grow
Psychological growth is an essential part of human strength. Growth occurs gradually with age when all factors are at an optimal level. If there is no illness or other debilitating factors, the growth curve is automatic and consistent.
However, personal, social, and economic factors can influence the speed and intensity of personal growth.Also, humans experience sudden psychological growth.
For example, when extreme life events happen, especially those which involve trauma, you may be motivated to develop a new mental framework hence leading to psychological transformation.
You develop muscles by pushing them to their limits. Psychological strengths develop in the same way. You may utilise existing frameworks (e.g. psychological interventions) to grow.
It’s important to note that you have to make the growth choice or its opposite. You can grow. Yet, it reaches a time when the growth is not automatic, and you have to put in the effort to attain it.
2. The Ability to Choose
Remarkably, choosing is an inborn human strength. Also known as the conscience. In religious contexts, it’s called the free will, and God is the source because He made you so.
Being able to select what to pursue in life and what to dismiss, is a manifestation of psychological strength. No wonder most societies look at being indecisive as a negative attribute.
Yours or other people’s experiences influence many of the decisions you make. Hence, you’ll exercise this ability differently in a lifetime. If you look at your younger self, there are decisions you made that you can’t do now.
You can choose what to do, but it’s normative because you have to make choices which are not harmful to yourself or society.
3. The Ability to Change and Adapt
You can change your perspectives and behaviour. You can adapt to a changing environment or social situations. Therefore, many aspects of you are not the same as you were when you were born. Both physically and psychologically.
It’s this ability to adapt to changes which help you grow. You become more complex and capable of handling bigger problems.
Still, it reaches a point when you must change. It’s at this point that many people encounter difficulties. When a situation requires change, it’s for your best interest to.
For example, in the event that you lose an intimate relationship or a career, bemoaning and resisting might lead to depression, anxiety, or substance abuse.
Since you can adapt, you can leave paths that don’t work out for you and follow alternative ways.
4. The Ability to Persevere
Psychological human strength is conveyed by resilience to challenges. Your ability to go forward when faced with adverse situations like failing, loss, illnesses, and traumatic events is perseverance.
Like all other strengths, the level of perseverance differs from person to person because of their unique situations. Some of us lose this because we get into a habit of not persevering. But it doesn’t mean you don’t have this strength. It’s only that it is weakened.
The reason you can cope with stress or adapt to unexpected changes that ruin your plans is the ability to persevere. So, when you lose sight of this innate ability within you, life may seem unbearable. However, it’s only when you practice perseverance that you’ll realize you have the strength.
5. The Ability to Connect with Others
Forming bonds with others and maintaining them is crucial for survival. It’s a proven scientific fact that close relationships with others boost overall health and happiness.
The psychological strengths discussed are enhanced or hindered because of how you behave towards other people. Thus, being able to love and care for other human beings is the greatest human strength.
For example, to grow, you depend on other people to raise you, until such a point that you can think for yourself. And to persevere, you also need other people to give you support.
The loneliness which may result when you cannot form connections with other people makes it hard for you to tap into your ability to persevere. And if you don’t persevere, you thwart your ability to grow. It goes on like that.
It’s through your relationships with other people that you discover your strengths. Consider traits like kindness, empathy, forgiveness, and cooperation. You can only develop such attributes because of interpersonal interactions with others.
Humanity survives through cooperation and compassion toward one another. On the contrary, conditions like psychopathy arise in those whose ability to connect has weakened.
Even as you relate with people, remember to choose wisely. You can either benefit or lose depending on your close associations.
6. The Ability to Believe
Psychologists emphasize on having positive beliefs and minimizing the limiting beliefs. This is because positive beliefs like optimism have been demonstrated to enhance the ability to cope with negative circumstances such as terminal illness.
If you tap into your strength of believing, and focus it on the positive, you will deal better with unpleasant situations. The ability to believe goes both ways. It can either be positive or negative, and both schisms are equally important.
Drawing on the strength of believing needs you to tap into your ability to choose. Consequently, you can appreciate the positive aspects of your life without diminishing or assuming the reality of negative situations.
Even though you may experience a horrendous situation, what you believe can increase or diminish your state. Strengthening positive beliefs can help you see advantages to your negative situation. Then, you will appreciate aspects of your life that you may have taken for granted.
Believing is a human strength which elicits constructs like hope, faith, and confidence. Many religious interventions capitalize on this strength.
7. The Ability to Disengage
The wisdom of the crowd states that you should not give up in life. That’s an inspirational view, which often emphasizes that failure is not the end of life.
No matter what, keep going on with life and pursue your goals. Not giving up is one of the human strengths discussed under “perseverance” in this article.
However, giving up is not always undesirable. Sometimes, it’s a necessity. How so? In the sense of disengaging from toxic people, things, or situations. This kind of disengagement is a human strength rather than helplessness.
It’s the knowledge of what is within your power to do and what is beyond your control. It’s about choosing battles that are worth fighting for and not wasting your energy on those that are unworthy.
Detaching yourself from failed efforts is critical to your mental health, and sometimes for your survival. For instance, when you give up a job that doesn’t resonate well with you to start a business or leave an abusive marriage.
This ability makes you willing to change and grow. You give up things that are distressing you in favour of those that will be beneficial to you. Hence, instead of reducing your enthusiasm when you fail, you choose a novel way of doing things and giving up the old that is no longer serving you.
I believe in encouraging myself and others by this cliché, “don’t give up.” The mantra of this blog includes the phrase “don’t give up” to hint at not choosing suicide. I end every blog post like that. Also, I have a book based on the same maxim. It’s entitled The Big Dilemma and its subheading is “do life or quit life?” It’s a tool for suicide awareness. In Chapter 10, I outline some things to give up instead of giving up life. Check it out and let me know your thoughts about it.
8. The Ability to Be Wise
Wisdom is acquiring knowledge and applying it. Every human being is capable of wisdom. How else would you explain how people in the past built houses without nails or survived without the advanced technological interventions we rely on now?
Wisdom is a fundamental human strength. It grows with the implementation of knowledge and experience. It manifests in how you manage your life and optimize the resources available to you.
Some view themselves as the wisest people on earth and such. Are they? After all, all human beings are born with psychological strengths. There’s an African saying; “Wisdom is a baobab tree, one person cannot embrace it all.”
As stated earlier, individual circumstances can inhibit or boost the development of human strengths, including wisdom. That’s why developing human strengths takes a collective effort. Such that if someone lacks wisdom, you can guide them and recognise they can be wise.
Wisdom is a fundamental principle in psychological interventions. When you go for therapy, you are seeking to regain wisdom. It’s unethical for your psychotherapist to demean you, whether aloud or in their mind. Instead, without a judgmental attitude, a self-aware mental health professional listens to you as you regain your wisdom.
Wisdom encompasses all the other human strengths. The reference point of your ability to change, choose, grow, persevere, connect with others, and to detach from debilitating concepts is wisdom.
Links to more inspirational material:
10 Characteristics of a Mentally Strong Person
You are human and strong. Strength is in your very nature. Therefore, if you can boost the psychological strengths, you have you can experience an improved quality of life despite the tough occurrences that may come your way.
The basis of all psychological interventions stems from the understanding of human strengths. However, when one or more of these innate human strengths weakens, it causes negative consequences in your life. Others, or yourself, may observe some symptoms of psychological dysfunctions.
A common term used to describe the compromised state is a mental disorder or mental illness.
In fact, at some point, everyone is compromised in one strength or more because of particular circumstances. Due to biological, environmental, social, or geographical factors, some may not have the resources to develop their human strengths to an ideal level.
Therefore, the quote by Rudyard Kipling that “everyone is more or less mad on one point” is a reasonable observation.
Perhaps if we all learned to recognize each other for the strengths, we possess within us because of being human; the stigma surrounding mental illnesses would reduce.
Instead of hiding in embarrassment, or opting to commit suicide, more people would seek mental health care because they understand that one of their key psychological human strengths is deficient, and they need help.
Now that you are more aware of your strengths, find the best within you. You are not a lesser person, neither are you hopeless. Seeking the help doesn’t mean you are unworthy. It means you will revive your human strengths
Life is for living. Keep living. Don’t give up.
Well, maybe give up toxic things, just not life.
Did you enjoy reading this article? If yes, you’ll like this book too—The Big Dilemma: Do Life or Quit Life? Click the link to buy.
Aspinwall, L. G., & Staudinger, U. M. (Eds.). (2003). A psychology of human strengths: Fundamental questions and future directions for a positive psychology. American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10566-000
Burgess, N. (2019). Positive psychology: the scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. Fourth edition, Educational Psychology in Practice, 35:3, 354-355, DOI: 10.1080/02667363.2019.1602302
Carr, A. (2011). Positive psychology: The science of happiness and human strengths. Routledge.
Goodman, F. R., Disabato, D. J., & Kashdan, T. B. (2019). Integrating psychological strengths under the umbrella of personality science: Rethinking the definition, measurement, and modification of strengths. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 14(1), 61-67.
Hamby, S., Taylor, E., Mitchell, K., Jones, L., & Newlin, C. (2020). Poly-victimization, Trauma, and Resilience: Exploring Strengths That Promote Thriving After Adversity. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 21(3), 376-395.
Lopez, S. J., Pedrotti, J. T., & Snyder, C. R. (2018). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. Sage Publications.