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March 3, 2023 12:00 pm

Unleashing Mental Toughness

The Islamic-Psychological Perspective on Finding Strength Through Vulnerability

By Wasim Kakroo 

And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient (Qur’an: 2:155)

Vulnerability is the key to building strong relationships and achieving true intimacy.” – Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

MENTAL toughness refers to a psychological trait that describes an individual’s ability to cope with and perform efficiently under pressure, stress, or hardship. This quality is characterized by having a resolute and optimistic mindset that enables individuals to overcome obstacles, concentrate on their objectives, and withstand difficult circumstances without giving up. People with mental toughness possess the ability to regulate their emotions and thoughts, remain motivated, and maintain a realistic outlook in challenging situations. They are not discouraged by setbacks or failures, but instead use them as opportunities to learn and develop.

What is vulnerability?

Vulnerability refers to a state of being open or exposed to potential harm, whether it’s physical or emotional. This feeling of weakness arises when our defenses are down and we’re susceptible to criticism or danger. Emotionally, vulnerability involves expressing our true thoughts, feelings, and emotions to others without fearing rejection or judgment. This requires us to accept our imperfections as a natural part of being human.

Although it may be difficult to embrace vulnerability, it is a crucial element in building strong relationships and connections with others. By being vulnerable, we can deepen our relationships, foster greater trust and understanding, and create a sense of intimacy. Brené Brown, a research professor and author, has extensively studied vulnerability and believes that it is the source of innovation, creativity, and change. She encourages individuals to embrace vulnerability as a means of personal growth and fulfillment.

How is vulnerability an essential part of mental toughness?

It may seem counterintuitive, but vulnerability is an essential part of mental toughness.

Being vulnerable means accepting our limitations and understanding our limitations is the first step towards building mental toughness. We must be honest with ourselves about our abilities and acknowledge where we fall short. When we recognize our limitations, we can develop strategies to work around them and find solutions to overcome challenges. However, it takes vulnerability to admit that we cannot do something, that we need help or that we may have made a mistake. Acknowledging our limitations requires us to be open to feedback and receptive to criticism, which can be uncomfortable. But when we embrace our limitations and vulnerabilities, we can work towards personal growth and development.

Accepting our weaknesses is another aspect of vulnerability that is essential for mental toughness. Everyone has weaknesses, and no one is perfect. By accepting our weaknesses, we can handle self-judgment and criticism. We can also become more compassionate and understanding towards others when they make mistakes. However, accepting our weaknesses requires us to be vulnerable because it means exposing our imperfections. It means admitting that we are not always in control, and sometimes things do not go according to plan. But accepting our weaknesses and vulnerabilities can also help us build resilience, adaptability, and perseverance.

Learning from our mistakes is perhaps the most critical aspect of vulnerability and mental toughness. Mistakes are inevitable, and they provide an opportunity for growth and learning. However, it takes vulnerability to acknowledge our mistakes and take responsibility for them. It can be challenging to admit that we have made a mistake, especially when we fear judgment or criticism. But when we own our mistakes, we can learn from them, and we can avoid making the same mistake twice. By learning from our mistakes, we can develop a growth mindset, which is essential for mental toughness.

When we embrace vulnerability, we can develop the resilience, perseverance, and adaptability necessary for mental toughness. We can also become more compassionate and understanding towards ourselves and others. So, the next time you feel vulnerable, remember that vulnerability is not a weakness. It is an opportunity for growth and development.

What does Islam say about the importance of accepting vulnerability in developing mental toughness?

The Quran and Hadith emphasize the importance of resilience and mental toughness in dealing with the challenges of life. Here are some teachings from the Quran and Hadith that highlight the importance of vulnerability in developing mental toughness:

1. Acknowledge your weaknesses:  The Quran instructs us that being flawed and weak is a natural aspect of being human, and we should acknowledge our shortcomings. In Surah al-Nissa, verse 28, Allah says, “And Man was created weak.” This verse reminds us that humans are inherently weak and vulnerable, and we should not be ashamed of our limitations.

2. Embrace vulnerability: Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was renowned for his modesty and openness to seeking counsel from his companions. This demonstrates that being vulnerable is not a flaw, but rather a characteristic of strength. In one Hadith, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “The strong believer is better and more beloved to Allah than the weak believer, but there is good in both.” The Hadith implies that displaying vulnerability can actually demonstrate one’s strength and faith.

3. Trust in Allah:   According to the Quran, we should believe in Allah and have confidence in His design. In Surah al-Baqarah, verse 216, Allah says, “But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not.” This verse reminds us that we must trust in Allah’s plan, even when we face difficulties or challenges.

4. Seek support: The Quran advises us to seek assistance from others when we encounter difficulties. In Surah al-Isra, verse 23, Allah says, “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, and that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor.” This verse highlights the significance of seeking assistance from our relatives and close associates, particularly when facing challenging situations. In Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah says, “And cooperate in righteousness and piety, but do not cooperate in sin and aggression” (2:189). This verse emphasizes the significance of seeking assistance from individuals who are virtuous and devout.

Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “A believer to another believer is like a building whose different parts support each other” (Bukhari). This Hadith emphasizes the significance of receiving assistance from others as we strive to develop resilience in our mental state.

5. Patience and perseverance: The Qur’an highlights the significance of patience and perseverance in the face of hardships. In Surah Al-Baqarah, Allah says, “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient” (2:155). This verse reminds us that challenges and hardships are a part of life, and we need to have patience and perseverance to overcome them.

6. Self-reflection: The Quran inspires self-reflection as a way of personal growth and development. Allah says in the Quran, “And those who, when they have committed a shameful deed or have wronged themselves, remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allah? – and [who] do not persist in what they have done while they know” (Quran 3:135). Being vulnerable can lead to self-reflection and personal growth, which can ultimately lead to greater mental toughness.

7. Positive thinking: Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, “How wonderful is the affair of the believer, for his affairs are all good, and this applies to no one but the believer. If something good happens to him, he is thankful for it and that is good for him. If something bad happens to him, he bears it with patience and that is good for him” (Muslim). This Hadith reminds us that accepting our vulnerability in hard times and thinking positively while having faith in Allah’s plan is essential in developing mental toughness.

How to develop mental toughness through vulnerability in light of psychology?

Mental toughness is a crucial trait that enables individuals to persevere through difficult situations and achieve their goals. Developing mental toughness requires a willingness to confront one’s vulnerabilities and embrace them as opportunities for growth. By cultivating vulnerability, individuals can develop the skills necessary to become more resilient, adaptable, and self-aware.

Following are the ways through which we can develop mental toughness through vulnerability:

  1. Embracing change and new challenges:

Many individuals are resistant to change because it can be uncomfortable and even scary. However, to develop mental toughness, it is essential to embrace change and take on new challenges. Doing so requires individuals to step out of their comfort zones and confront their fears head-on. When individuals take on new challenges, they learn to adapt to new situations, develop problem-solving skills, and become more resilient. By embracing change and new challenges, individuals can develop the mental toughness necessary to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals.

  1. Practicing self-compassion:

Developing mental toughness requires individuals to confront their vulnerabilities, which can be a difficult and emotionally taxing process. Practicing self-compassion can help individuals be kinder and more forgiving of themselves, which can, in turn, make the process of developing mental toughness more manageable. Self-compassion involves acknowledging one’s mistakes and weaknesses without judgment, and treating oneself with the same kindness and understanding that one would offer to a friend. When individuals practice self-compassion, they learn to be more accepting of themselves and their limitations, which can help them build the resilience and mental toughness needed to face challenges and overcome obstacles.

  1. Cultivating self-awareness:

Developing mental toughness requires individuals to be aware of their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Self-awareness involves being honest with oneself about one’s strengths, weaknesses, and areas for growth. Cultivating self-awareness requires individuals to reflect on their experiences, thoughts, and feelings, and to examine how these factors affect their behavior. When individuals cultivate self-awareness, they learn to recognize their patterns of thought and behavior, which can help them identify areas for improvement and develop strategies to overcome obstacles. By cultivating self-awareness, individuals can develop the mental toughness necessary to persevere through difficult situations and achieve their goals.

In conclusion, developing mental toughness through vulnerability requires individuals to embrace change and new challenges, practice self-compassion, and cultivate self-awareness. By doing so, individuals can develop the resilience and adaptability necessary to face obstacles and achieve their goals. Developing mental toughness is not easy, but it is a skill that can be learned and developed with time and practice. Through vulnerability, individuals can unlock their full potential and become the best versions of themselves.

  • The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar) and works as a consultant clinical psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services (CMHS) at Rambagh Srinagar. He can be reached at 8825067196.

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