When you think about strength, what kind of strength do you think about?

Let’s consider physical strength for a moment. Some consider there to be 7 types of physical strength:

1. Agile strength – how quickly we can pivot and change directions
2. Endurance strength – how long we can be strong
3. Explosive strength – how quickly we can accelerate into high intensity
4. Maximum strength – how heavy a load is our top capacity
5. Speed strength – how fast we can go
6. Starting strength – how we begin a movement without any starting momentum
7. Relative strength – how strong we are now compared to where we started from, taking our body type and history into account

Of course, strength doesn’t only exist in the physical. We also have emotional and psychological strength (and depending on who you talk to, so many more).

What could be worth considering is this: no matter what kind of strength we’re talking about, those 7 types of physical strength still apply. If we’re struggling with any of them, or simply want to get stronger, the way we build physical muscle is the same way we build emotional and psychological “muscle”: one step at a time.

As you read through the following reflections by Dr. Rebecca Bailey, Jaycee Dugard, Margie McDonald, and Carmen Theobald, consider what “strength” means to you.

Reflections on “Strength” from trauma therapist, Dr. Rebecca Bailey

What is strength? It can be operationalized in many ways. Strength can be the moment a survivor speaks up and out regarding the perpetrator. Or the time a child faces fear and reaches their hand towards a large horse, at the same time unconsciously remembering a moment in time when they were overpowered by a person bigger than them. It can also be what it takes every day to get up and face chronic pain, crippling grief, or food, shelter, and housing insecurity.

What it isn’t is contempt, resentment and hostility. Humans are by nature resilient and strong. We all have it in us to manage unthinkable events and to maneuver through the most challenging circumstances. Inside each of us lies a warrior able to muster through the unthinkable. How is it possible to help others access their strength when resources are spent and emotions are frayed? To be strong, we need support, and support takes connection. Sometimes connection can feel frightening. Strength comes in pieces and waves. Firsthand, I have seen the power of horses and their ability to remind and reawaken long ago forgotten fragments of strength. Strength begins and ends with the ability to connect with self and others.

Reflections on “Strength” from trauma survivor, Jaycee Dugard

This has proven to be quite a tough word for me. My mind rejects it. Why? People have told me I am strong from the moment I was found but I don’t think I’ve ever really taken this word in. Having the strength to endure years of captivity or abuse is hard. When I think back on those years, I would never say I was strong. I would say I endured. Even to this day, I can’t say I was strong one day of my captivity. Every day was a struggle. Everyday felt like it would never get better. I have said this word to others countless times, to those that have come to The JAYC Foundation and even to my own daughters, yet why can’t I apply it to myself?

Do I feel strong now? Yes. Maybe you have to be away from a bad situation in order to see yourself better. Yet I still would not apply that word to myself during my captivity, even after all these years. Strength can be the physical kind, such as horses, for example. They are the embodiment of strength to me; powerful yet so gentle. Strength can also be mental. The ability to be strong in your convictions and what you believe in, even if it opposes others. Maybe that’s why the word strength doesn’t feel like it applied to me back then. Because my self-worth was wrapped up in the nonsensical lectures and opinions of a madman, maybe I need to give myself more credit than I think. Perhaps we all do. When faced with overwhelming odds, it’s ok to just survive. Finding our strength makes us really see who we are and who we can be.

Reflections on “Strength” from horse specialist, Margie McDonald

My thoughts on this subject are twofold. First there is the aspect of physical strength, of being strong, or muscular fitness. This “strength” is incredibly important to the training and care of horses and the correct training of horses is all about strength training. It takes years to develop the strength that the horse will need to perform well and remain injury free. It is important to build correct muscle for the horse to perform the movements or tasks that are asked of him.
Without proper strength training, the horse will not have sufficient muscle development to move well and with ease. Many people force horses into artificial body positions using harsh bits, restraining equipment, and punishing paraphernalia focused on making the horse do things that his body is not strong enough to do. He has not had the chance to develop the strength to accomplish the movements without causing pain and possible injury. Horses need to feel comfortable and confident in order to express their brilliance. Whether they are performance horses, who compete on a regular basis, or they are simply pleasure horses who enjoy trails or light riding, it is important to take into consideration how physically fit the horse is for the job and how to develop his body in an appropriate manner.

The second part is about mental strength or courage, confidence. This is the part of training the horse that is most rewarding and enjoyable. To do this, I like to introduce the horse to interesting obstacles and help them figure out how to negotiate their way through them. For instance, I will sometimes ask the horse to walk over a plastic tarp. This can be very challenging because the tarp will make an unusual crinkling noise when walked on and may activate a feeling of suspicion and possible fear of the unknown. My goal is to allow the horse to explore the tarp in a way that is most comfortable for him. I encourage him to decide what is the best
way to accomplish walking on the tarp that will make him the most comfortable and confident. By showing the horse these kinds of entertaining obstacles, I am building his ability to problem solve and develop confidence, courage, and mental strength.

Reflections on “Strength” from empowerment coach, Carmen Theobald

When I began my farrier career (hoof care for horses), it took me 45 minutes to pull off my first horseshoe. My legs were shaking, I was covered in sweat and out of breath, my back was screaming at me, and my hands felt completely incapable of doing this task. But I knew that if I gave up, if I didn’t push through the challenge and pain of that moment, I would regret it forever.

To me, being strong doesn’t always mean being capable. It now takes me about 30 seconds to pull a horseshoe. Does that mean I’m stronger now? In some ways, absolutely! But in other ways, not at all. It took way more strength for me to get through that moment, to be determined in my psychological and emotional self, to dig deep into a belief that I could do it, even when it felt impossible.

We’re all stronger than we think, even when we feel weak. When we need to ask for help, or rest, or cry, that is a kind of strength. It’s strong to be vulnerable, to be imperfectly human, and believe that we can get stronger one small step at a time.

Now it’s your turn!
What does “Strength” mean to YOU?

Dr. Rebecca Bailey
Author: Dr. Rebecca Bailey

Dr . Bailey is a leading trauma therapist who specializes in complex case scenarios. She has over 30 years of experience in the field and continues to be dedicated to the notion that authenticity, common sense, and kindness are the most important elements of effective treatment. She is a lifelong equestrian and animal lover who continues to believe animals, in particular horses, have much to teach humans about curiosity and compassion.