When psychotherapist Amy Morin wrote the piece “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do,” she never imagined it would become one of the most read articles of all times and lead to a book of the same title.
Here the best-selling author shares how the lost of her mother, husband, and father-in-law in a short period of time was a life lesson on the importance of avoiding unhealthy pitfalls. As she learned, developing mental strength isn’t about acting tough or ignoring your feelings – it’s about learning how to regulate your thoughts, manage your emotions, and behave productively despite your circumstances.
Your article “13 Things That Mentally Strong People Don’t Do” has taken a life of its own. What was the basis for the list?
I’ve always been interested in mental strength and positive psychology, which is why I chose to become a psychotherapist. But, in 2003, my quest to learn about mental strength became personal. My mother died suddenly from a brain aneurysm. Then, in 2006 – on the third anniversary of my mother’s death – my 26-year-old husband died suddenly from a heart attack. Throughout my grief, I learned that it’s not always enough to have good habits. It only takes a few bad habits to hold you back.
A few years later, my father-in-law was diagnosed with terminal cancer and I found myself starting to think things like, “Why do I always have to lose all my loved ones?” But if I’d learned anything from my grief, it was that exaggerating my misfortune wasn’t going to be helpful. So I sat down and wrote my list, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, as a reminder to myself of those things I’d need to avoid if I wanted to face another loss with as much strength as possible. I never imagined that list would go viral – it’s been read by over 20 million people. And I certainly never set out to write a book. And although I’m grateful I’ve been able to share my story, ultimately, that list was a letter to myself during a time when I needed it most.
The letters I receive from people have been a highlight of the publishing process. I’ve had people tell me that their desire to increase their mental strength has led to life changing decisions. One person said he left an unhealthy relationship he’d been in for years because he realized he was giving away his power. Another person said she had stayed stuck in a bad job for over a decade simply because she feared change. After reading my book, she felt empowered to make a major shift in her career.
I’ve had lots of parents tell me that reading my book has fueled their passion to raise mentally strong kids. That’s really exciting to me because I think it’s important to teach kids to prepare for life’s challenges.
I learn a lot from readers who take the time to send me their reactions. I work hard to respond to teach and every email.
I’m often told that I’m strong; however, I don’t see myself way. Do you think that people are born mentally strong or is it a learned behavior?
Just like no one is born physically strong, people aren’t born mentally strong. We all have the ability to develop mental strength, and no matter how strong we might be already, there’s always room for improvement. Building mental strength is about creating good habits, and getting rid of the unhealthy habits that can hold you back. So whether you haves a mental health issue like depression, or you experienced a difficult past, you can still take steps to build mental strength.
In the book you discuss the dangers of self-pity. How can someone break the vicious cycle of feeling sorry for themselves?
Self-pity drains our time and energy and makes it impossible to feel strong. Self-pity goes beyond healthy feelings of sadness. It involves exaggerating your misfortune and dwelling on your problems. It keeps you stuck in a place of pain.
Gratitude is one of the simplest yet most effective ways to extinguish self-pity. It’s impossible to demand you deserve better when you’re busy focusing on feeling grateful for all that you have.
Another way to break the cycle of self-pity is to actively take steps to improve your situation. Even when you can’t solve a problem in your life – like a major health issue – you can still take steps to improve your situation.
What’s the number one thing that parents can do to raise mentally strong children?
Teaching kids about emotions is the number one step parents can take to raise mentally strong children. Kids need to know healthy ways to deal with their feelings so they can cope with anger, sadness, fear, and other uncomfortable feelings in a healthy manner.
Unfortunately, when kids aren’t educated about emotions, they tend to avoid things that will cause them to feel uncomfortable because they lack confidence in their ability to tolerate discomfort. A child who fears failure may avoid challenging himself and a child who doubts her ability to handle rejection may never try out for an activity where she might not make the team. Teaching kids to identify their emotions and to deal with their feelings in a healthy way can help set them on a path toward being mentally strong.